While state schools are prohibited from interviewing any but potential sixth form (or boarding) students, the interview is an integral part of nearly every private school admissions process, and tends to send the applicant’s parents, rather than the actual applicant, into a spin. Parents feel considerably more responsible for their child’s social presentation than for his or her ability to do long division or conjugate French verbs. And, while a school may breezily describe the interview as ‘just a chance to get to know the child better’, this hardly quells fears about sending young Daniel or Daniella into the lion’s den.
The London prep or senior day school interview is perhaps the most straightforward. Over-subscribed at every point, the selective urban independent tends to concentrate on the academic. The majority usually only meet the child after a written exam (generally used as a first edit), and the interview itself will probably contain a significant component of maths, comprehension or reasoning. The aim here is to probe intellectual strengths and weaknesses in order to select from the central bulk of candidates or to pick scholarship material. Finding out a little about a child’s character is only of secondary importance.
Even the most academic schools, however, are not necessarily just looking for those guaranteed to deliver a stream of A*s. Some use interviews as an opportunity to create as balanced a community as possible:
‘I didn’t want all extroverts or all eggheads,’ said one ex-junior school head. ‘Most children who sat our exam scored between 40 and 65 per cent in the written paper, so I was looking for an individual spark. At the age of 7, particularly, the interview is a crucial counterbalance to the exam. Those born between September and December always scored higher marks in the written paper. At interview we would go back to the list and bring in some younger children.’
我不想要全部是外向型或者全部是书呆子的申请人。” 一位前私立小学校长说, “大多数参加我们考试的孩子，笔试成绩在40％到65％之间。我寻找能让人眼前一亮的孩子，特别是7+选拔，面试是和笔试互相平衡的关键环节。 9月至12月间出生的孩子在笔试中总是得分较高，面试时，我们会回到名单上，邀请一些月龄小的孩子。”
Concerned parents often do their best to control the outcome of the interview, but professional preparation is seen as a waste of time, both by those who interview and by teachers. ‘I always tell parents if they’re paying to coach 3-year-olds, they might as well burn £20 notes,’ says Jo Newman, headmistress of North London Collegiate Junior School, who has the daunting task of selecting 40 4-year-olds from 200 applicants in a two-tier interview. ‘The only useful preparation is to talk to them, play with them and read them stories.
担忧的家长经常会竭力控制面试结果，但看起来专业备考对于面试双方都是浪费时间。“我总是告诫家长，付费训练3岁小娃基本就是烧钱。”北伦敦女校（North London Collegiate）小学校长Jo Newman说，她负责通过两轮面试从200名申请人中选拔40 4岁女生。“唯一有用的准备就是家长平时多和孩子交谈、游戏和讲故事。”
Further up the system, the advice is equally non-prescriptive. The head of a west London pre-prep does her best to relax the 7-year-olds she sends to prep school interviews by providing them with as much factual information as she can beforehand. ‘I try to prepare them for what they’ll find. I usually describe the head — because I’m a smallish woman they might expect all heads to be like me — and I’ll tell them what the school looks like. Beyond that I just say, “Look them in the eye, answer carefully and be honest.” Children sell themselves.
Some pre-preps and prep schools provide mock interviews, some will carefully guide children on what books or hobbies that might show to best advantage, but most interviewers say they always know when a child has been coached, and honesty - at least in theory - is the quality they’re looking for. ‘I tell children,’ says one private tutor who prepares children for 11 plus, ‘to say what’s in their heart, not what their teacher told them to say.’
Personality, of course, will always be the most variable aspect of any interview and all interviewers have a personal bias. They may hate boastful children, or those who say their favourite leisure activity is computer games; they may prefer Arsenal fans to Tottenham supporters; but some schools do make a strenuous attempt to counteract the sense of one adult sitting in judgement on one child. City of London School, for example, sees candidates individually before sending them off to a lesson where they can be observed by another teacher as they work in a group. At Rugby, every child is interviewed by at least two people.
当然，个性一直是任何面试中最琢磨不定的方面，所有面试官都有个人偏好。他们可能不喜欢自吹自擂的孩子，或者那些称电脑游戏为最佳休闲活动的孩子；他们可能更爱阿森纳球迷而不是热刺支持者。于是有些学校做了艰巨的尝试，来抵消一对一面试的判断误区。例如，伦敦城市学校 （City of London School）在一对一面试之后，将候选人送入课堂，由另一位老师观察他们在集体中的表现。在拉格比公学(Rugby)，每个孩子将至少经过两位老师的面试。
The best interviewers can and do overcome the limitations both of the written examination and of the child. ‘Children, even very shy ones, like to talk about themselves, their friends, their families and their pets. I get them to describe what they did on Sunday, or I turn my back and ask them to describe something in the room. Sometimes I even get a child to sing or dance. I am looking for sparkly eyes and interest. If a child just sits there like a pudding, you usually don’t take them.’ Some schools get over the ‘what to talk about’ dilemma by asking children to bring along a favourite object. Rugby sensibly provides a questionnaire about hobbies and interests to fill in in advance, which not only provides a talking point, but also allows parents to feel they’ve done what they can. If, however, the child pitches up with a copy of Proust or boasts a collection of Roman ceramics, parents shouldn’t be surprised if the interviewer is somewhat sceptical.
Most boarding schools feel that the interview can identify serious pastoral concerns. ‘We sometimes discover that a child really doesn’t want to come to boarding school,’ said the registrar of Rugby. ‘The interview is also very helpful in establishing the academic level the prep school is working at. We ask children to bring in their exercise books. Some London prep schools are so geared up at that point that all the child is doing is practice papers. Country prep schools tend to be more relaxed.’
Although most heads are honest in their report about a child - after all, their reputation depends on it - the interview can also benefit them. ‘Occasionally, a prep-school head knows perfectly well that a child is not suited to our school, but the parents just won’t listen. Coming from us it doesn’t sour the relationship with the school.’
Parents in the spotlight
Boarding schools, of course, tend to have another layer to their selection process and interview when they match boys and girls to an appropriate house. Here the parent, even more than the child, can be in the spotlight. Dr Andrew Gailey, now Eton vice provost but formerly housemaster of Manor House, Prince William’s house at Eton, always tries to strike a balance of the sporty and industrious, the musical and the generally decent in his annual selection of 10 boys but, for him, the parental part of the equation plays an even greater role. ‘The boy is going to change, but you have shared management of the child’s adolescence with the parents and you have to have some common bond for that to work.’
当然，寄宿学校将男孩和女孩分别匹配到合适的宿舍时，往往会有另一个层次的筛选流程和面试。这时，家长甚至比孩子更会成为焦点。 安德鲁·加利博士（Dr Andrew Gailey）, 现任伊顿公学副教务长，以前是庄园宿舍（威廉王子在伊顿住过的Manor House）的宿监，在每年挑选10名男孩时，总是试图培养孩子们运动和勤奋、音乐和总体举止的平衡。对他来说，在教育的等式中，父母的部分发挥更大的作用。 “男孩会改变，你和父母一起交流分享对孩子青春期的教导，这时你必须和他们达成共识，以便开展工作。”
That’s a common theme for those interviews where parents appear — notably in London pre-preps. Most of the time the school is really interviewing you, and it’s you who need the preparation while your child can happily be him or herself. A balance between steady, respectful (schools are ever keen to avoid the parent from hell) and interesting (but nor do they like dull ones) is best.