Independent schools admissions - it's not just ability to pay

Article published 2nd June 2008

securing entry to state and independent schools

All things being equal, always have a go at the school you think is right for your child.

Even those independent schools you ha

ve been told are jam-packed may have a place.

Don’t restrict yourself to trying at the ‘normal’ entry periods. Dare to try mid-term and mid-academic year or even the day before term starts. If you get a no, don’t be afraid to try again.


NB Some independent schools (especially when it’s a providers' market) simply refuse to consider non-standard entries.


Oversubscribed independent schools 

(If a school is reviewed by The Good Schools Guide- and you are a subscriber or have a copy of the printed guide - read the section on entry - where we give a clear steer of what to do when).

As a rule of thumb you should:

  1. Visit the schools you have shortlisted, take a tour round them and talk with the head and/or housemaster or whoever is appropriate. V time-consuming but infinitely less so than making the wrong choice.
  2. Register your child’s name in the school(s) you have chosen. Telephone the school and it will send you an application/registration form. If your child is still in the cradle and the schools you have your eye on are very over-subscribed, you may decide to register before visiting.
  3. Fill in the registration form - this has to be done at the right moment or the ‘list’ may be ‘full’. Embryos are acceptable at some schools; the lists for many successful schools will close several years before the date of entry. It will usually cost a registration fee (usually non-returnable) ranging from £25 to £200 or more.
  4. Keep your current school on side. The school will then contact you and your child’s current school about the next stage (it doesn't hurt to telephone and check, though, if you think it may have forgotten you – and don’t forget to tell the school if you change your address). They will usually get a report from the head of your child’s current school and attention is paid to that.
  5. Prepare for assessment. Your child is usually, though not always, put through their paces, which might (at a young age) mean an exam, a test or two, ‘meaningful play’ or whatever. (NB You might also – openly or surreptitiously – be put through your paces as well: Are you a good parent? Is there discipline in the home? Are you educated? Are you a complainer or a worrier? Have you some wonderful attribute the school might be able to use?). For entry to senior schools there may be a scholarship/entrance exam or, in the private sector, ‘Common Entrance’ – a standard exam taken by applicants to a wide range of schools but marked by the school of first choice.
  6. Confirm/reject any offer. All being well, the school will then offer a firm place. You must write and confirm acceptance of this place or it may be offered to someone else. NB You will probably be asked for a large non-returnable deposit at this stage, which can be many hundreds of pounds – many, many hundreds of pounds in London (especially at the lower grade schools, which offer places earlier in a bid to catch the nervous parents of bright pupils). Those public schools that require prospective pupils to attend an exam/assessment when they are 10 or 11 may require a massive cheque when the child is still years away from leaving prep school.
  7. Pay school fees in advance. One terms fees in advance is the norm, you will forfeit these if you later decide to go elsewhere. 
  8. Read any contract you have to sign carefully: if in any doubt – such as what do they mean by ‘a term’s notice’? – a little legal advice at this stage can save you a lot of agony later.

There are a few variations on this theme. For example, some may accept entries up to the last minute, though there will be an official date for closing the ‘list’, from about three weeks to three terms before the entrance exam.


Help and advice

Advice servicesThe Good Schools Advice Services are personalised consultancy services offering expert, individual help to find the ideal school for your child - whether at home or overseas.  (A fee is charged for this service). 

If you want to find out how good schools really are see if they are featured in The Good Schools Guide, indicated by . If they are, be sure to check out our independent reviews - see what we gleaned during our extensive research and on our visits...Even if we don't review a school subscribers can use the extensive information on this site to inform their decision. Answer questions such as: Are their exam results really as good as they make out?  Is the school good for the subjects that interest your child? And you can compare schools to see how they stack-up.

We have a whole series of articles and advice to help you every step of the way; whether tentatively embarking on choosing a school, or part way through the school choice process.


For those new to the process:

From Embryo To Eighteen - How To Survive The Education Highway

Coming Into The British School System From Abroad

Sussing Out Independent Schools And Horses For Courses

Choosing A School For A Talented Child


For those visiting schools:

School Open Evenings

Questions To Ask Staff When Visiting A School

Questions To Ask When Visiting A School - Academic Matters

Questions To Ask When Visiting A School - Financial Factors

Questions To Ask  When Visiting A School - Beyond the Classroom

Visiting A School - Questions For Pupils


For those contemplating the admissions process:

Independent School Admissions - Insider Information On Getting In!

Mix And Match State And Private Education


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Subscribers will find detailed exam results and performance information on individual school pages. Visit these 'free to view' schools. Explore results - read our independent reviews*

Invicta Grammar School, Maidstone is a state school for girls aged from 11 to 18, co-ed sixth form

Rokeby School, Kingston upon Thames is an independent school for boys aged from 4 to 13

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Swiss Cottage School Development & Research Centre, London is a state special school for boys and girls aged from 2 to 19

Subscribers* to The Good Schools guide can examine:

  • School performance data* for KS2, GCSE and A-level
  • Value-added data* .Does the school make a difference to all pupils or just some?
  • University information*. Details of which universities pupils go on to and what they study.
  • And, for English state schools, make sure you make the right move by examining catchment area data and seeing which schools pupils come from and which schools they move on to. 

*We indicate on a school's page where data is available. We do not have data for schools outside of England.



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