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This month we help a family keen to set their son on the path to academic success from a very young age. 

Westminster School - targeting a top school15 December 2021

Q: We are very ambitious for our 4 year-old son and want him to attend a top academic day school. We’re at the planning stage now and are wondering how best to prepare him for success and how many schools to apply to. Tutors, pre-preps, entrance exams and interviews – it’s all so confusing! We live in London – although could move if we had to – and the competition is fierce. Help! 

A: Your situation is common to many families living in London who have the means to pay for the world class education on offer in our capital city. Our first piece of advice is to step back from the situation and take a deep (metaphorical or literal) breath; young children are masters at picking up on their parents’ stress. The famous London day schools - some of the best schools in the world without doubt - such as St Paul’s, Westminster, Dulwich CollegeKing’s College School (boys) and St Paul’s Girls School or Godolphin and Latymer (girls) are indeed brilliant for the right child but there are many less well-known schools that do an equally good job for their pupils so try to keep your minds wide open to these too and not become too fixated on a ‘brand’. The main objective is to find a setting where your child will be happy and flourish. In the first instance visit all the schools available to you – some may pleasantly surprise you. 

Places at the top performing academic schools in London are like gold dust, and success in the entrance exams can come down to a number of factors – not all of them within your control.  Certain London pre-preps – Merlin School or Wetherby School amongst others – are geared up to preparing boys and girls for 7+ exams for the most competitive prep schools, and if you are serious about setting your son on this path from London prep school to public school, it’s important to thoroughly research which in your area are the most experienced and successful at this. Please remember, though, that he is so very young and the best educational environments for this age group are focused on building children’s confidence and self-esteem and instilling in them a love of learning. 

Be wary of tutoring for 7+ entrance exams. Admissions teams are, of course, looking for academic aptitude but also a joie de vivre and enthusiasm for school; too much tutoring can dampen this. We know that the herd mentality means that tutoring is seen as essential but keep it focused on exam technique and familiarisation with the papers. But an overly tutored child will very quickly come unstuck at the interview stage and, worse still, if they are offered a place can end up struggling and relying on yet more tuition outside of school to keep up. 

How many independent schools should you apply to?

We hear of some children sitting entrance exams for six or more – and feel that this is too much at any stage of education. Head teachers and registrars tell us that the last thing they want children to do is to give up their trumpet, ballet or taekwondo lessons to make space for tutoring or cramming - you know what they say about all work and no play! Our advice is to choose three schools you really like: one ambitious target, one that you feel confident is the right level for your child and a back-up that you would be happy with. Finally, if the stress of choosing a school in London seems like too much and location is not an issue, remember that just a few short miles outside the M25 in any direction is a host of excellent schools that would be delighted to scoop your child up and give them a wonderful education in a country setting. Our team of expert consultants is always on hand to support your choice-making every step of the way, so please do email us at [email protected] – we can help make the process less stressful. Good luck! 

Photo credit: Westminster School

Do you want help from The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants?

Our expert education consultants can provide your family with one-to-one help on all of the issues raised in this article and many more. We regularly help parents understand the particulars of UK independent schools and assist them in mapping out potential educational pathways for their children. If you would like to find out more about our services, visit the Education Consultants homepage or to speak directly with one of the team email [email protected] or call 0203 286 6824

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