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29 March 2021

If you live in London, have decided to forego the Covid trend of families upping sticks for the country and are wondering whether you can afford to educate your child privately, read on. Choosing to pay for independent school from finger painting to Freshers’ Week, will stretch even the most well-heeled budgets. You’ll be lucky to get change from £250,000 – and that’s in today’s money; average London day school fees in 2020 were £18,000 and the figure goes up every year, generally at a rate outstripping inflation. Taking uniform, trips, transport and other extras into account, an exclusively private education is moving beyond the reach of many London families on top of their already hefty outgoings, but is it feasible to mix and match state and private?

It’s undoubtedly true that even in the pandemic school places in London are at a premium at every level, but in a transient city, no decision is final and if ever something isn’t working out for your child, it’s almost always possible to change.

State ‘til eight? Moving school in years 3 or 4

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a borough with good state primaries, and you had the foresight to buy (or rent) a house within a stone’s throw, it can work well if your child is either extremely able, or conversely has learning difficulties or an EHCP. Plus your child’s friends will most likely also be their neighbours and a short stroll to school is a great way to start the day. Children in the middle of the academic spectrum may be the least suited to a busy primary school and a parent with a ‘just-getting-by’ child may decide it’s worth pinching pennies for the extra attention that a private school can provide.

A prep school’s benchmark of success is its leavers’ destination schools list, and as very few set KS2 SATs, making a comparison with the state sector can be tricky. Many London parents choose to use the state system for the early years, moving their child to a prep in years 3 or 4 to help them prepare for competitive entry at 11+ or 13+. Those linked to a top secondary school such as Westminster Under, St Paul’s Juniors, Highgate Junior or North London Collegiate Junior are considered a ‘golden ticket’ as smooth entry to the secondary school is all but guaranteed, and this makes entry extremely competitive. Don’t fear though - there are many other preps which have good track records at placing pupils at these secondaries – as well as some which may be less hifalutin but still offer excellent provision. Do register well in advance as lists can become full very fast.

Tackling the 11+ 

Independent schools, mindful of A level league tables, are keen to attract the brightest candidates so emphasis is on raw IQ, generally gauged by verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests as well as maths and English.

The high-flying City of London School, for example - which has always had a broad intake in terms of means and social class — takes half of its 11+ entrants from the state sector. Even academically and socially elite schools such as Westminster and St Paul’s are eager to attract the ablest 11-year-olds from the state sector into their own or allied prep schools.

IQ alone, however, is not the only factor and raw scores can be improved considerably with practice. Parents keen to make the transition at this point may wish to hire a tutor from the middle of year 5 (year 6 is too late!) to solidify their child’s literacy and numeracy and prepare them for the unfamiliar and idiosyncratic verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.

If you have your eyes on one of London’s 19 fiercely academic grammars such as Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet, Dame Alice Owen's or Henrietta Barnett, paying for a prep may help prepare them for the cut-throat entrance exams. However, if you feel your child doesn’t have the raw material to compete at this level, be prepared to go private all the way. 

Sixth form transfers

Notwithstanding contextual offers - where disadvantaged applicants are offered places with lower conditional grades - recent studies have shown that private school Oxford applicants with three A* grades at A level are significantly more likely to gain a place than those with the same grades from state schools, suggesting that public school polish can tip the balance at interviews - for now.

Sometimes a move after GCSE is an opportunity for a pupil to make a fresh start and can revitalise interest in academic work; a move from single sex to co-ed can also be a source of motivation. Catchment areas become more flexible at this level, as do religious schools’ requirements of church attendance.

You can find further information on choosing a school on our website and our London school experts are also on hand to help if you need further help or advice.


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