It's not just ability to pay
All things being equal, always have a go at the school you think is right for your child.
Even those independent schools you have 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pay school fees in advance. One terms fees in advance is the norm, you will forfeit these if you later decide to go elsewhere.
- 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.