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Ask Admissions: top tips for applying to private schools

Independent schools
Ask Admissions: top tips for applying to private schools

Are you considering a selective independent school for your child’s secondary education? Claire Jordan, UK Registrar at Box Hill School in Surrey, shares her top tips for parents.

Applying to Box Hill School?

Initial research

Compare fees

Have a look at the school’s fees (normally found in the ‘admissions’ section of the school website). Fees always include the cost of tuition, but may or may not include extras such as school lunch and refreshments, bus routes, extracurricular activities, and trips and expeditions. Bear in mind that school fees are usually subject to review by the board of governors, and are likely to increase year-on-year.

Look at the academic ethos

More often than not, a school’s exam results won’t be able to give you the full picture. Achievements are subjective; read the school’s approach to teaching and learning and see if it fits with both your own ethos and your child’s attitude to learning.

Explore extracurricular activities

Schools give a good indication of their available extracurricular activities through dedicated pages on their website (e.g. sports, the arts, drama and music). It’s also a good idea to look through the school calendar, so you can see what activities are taking place in real-time and get an idea of what your child could be involved in.

Check school timings

UK pupils normally start their school day between 8am and 8.45am, and often finish between 3.30pm and 4.30pm. However, if your child has existing activities and responsibilities outside of school – and if these are likely to continue – check if the timings of the school day will have an impact.

Look at sports fixtures

If your child is in a local sports team and is keen to get involved in a school team, check the fixture timings don’t clash with normal family life. Are they within the school day? Are they after-school? Are they on Saturday morning? This doesn’t mean that your child won’t have a chance at competing, but it just means that it’s fitted in the timetable and accounted for differently.

Research deadlines

Every school will have a slightly different admissions timescale. Some schools will prioritise early applications, while others give equal consideration to every application made before the deadline. Make sure you research the school’s admissions deadlines way in advance.

Mid-year joiners

If your child is looking to join a new school at an unofficial start date, make sure to call the school admissions office to find out more about the process. Even if the information isn’t available on the website, some schools are able to make exceptions and can talk you through the process.

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Visiting the school

Attend a variety of events

Visiting your child’s potential school at least once before making an application is essential, but it’s also important to attend different types of events. Formal open events, taster days and private tours will give you the opportunity to speak to different people, and you’ll get a different perspective on how the school runs.

Make appointments in advance

Schools are busy ecosystems with a lot of diaries and interviews to manage. If you’re looking to arrange a private tour and a one-on-one meeting with a member of staff, make sure you call ahead in advance to arrange your preferred slot.

Consider who to bring

Some parents like to make an initial visit to a school without their child, while others prefer to bring them along. Open events can appeal to both pupils and parents, but this is entirely down to your personal preference. The majority of schools run a booking system for events so they can manage on-site traffic, adhere to fire and safety regulations, and prepare venue spaces accordingly. Make sure you book a place and adhere to any restrictions on the number of tickets per family.

Assess transportation

Visiting a school is a great opportunity to assess your child’s potential travel routes. If your child will use public transport to get to school, it’s a good idea to use the same routes on your visit. This will help you map out potential journey times and logistics to see if it would be feasible for your child on a day-to-day basis.

Look at the smaller details

When you’re touring the school site, pay attention to the wider environment. Try to pick up on the smaller details if you can, such as whether the school environment is well-maintained and cared for, and look at the information on display on notice boards.

Consider social interactions

Your child’s school needs to suit your family as much as the school needs to suit you. If your child attends the school from Year 7 to Year 13, this relationship will be ongoing for seven years. Consider the social interactions you have with pupils and staff; do you feel welcomed? Are staff and pupils polite and happy to answer your questions?

The admissions process

Read information carefully

Set aside some time to read the details of the admissions process. There will normally be some basic information in the school prospectus or supplementary brochures, but make sure you read carefully through the admissions pages on the school website – especially the admissions policy.

Check the entry requirements

While every school is different, most schools tend to apply the same general criteria. Your child will usually take entrance tests – typically English and maths, and sometimes additionally verbal reasoning and/or non-verbal reasoning. Schools want to look at your child as an individual and get a sense of their interests and personality to see if they’ll thrive in the environment, so it’s likely your child will also have an interview with a senior member of staff. Most schools will request copies of your child’s latest school reports and may get in touch with your current school to ask for a confidential reference.

Ask lots of questions

No question is too big or small and the admissions team will be able to get all the answers for you from different departments. Give the admissions team a phone call or if you have lots of questions, sending an email may be easier.

Have school reports on hand

Most schools will ask for copies of your child’s latest end-of-year school reports (normally up to the last two years), which you’ll need to either attach to the registration form, or send to the admissions office shortly after applying. You’ll likely be able to download these from your current school’s parent portal; if in doubt, get in touch with your child’s teacher.

Mark key dates in your diary

There are multiple steps in the admissions process, which means lots of dates and deadlines to remember. Write down all the key dates in your diary or calendar, including the registration deadline and bursary/scholarship application deadlines (if applicable), the entrance exam date, interviews (normally in a ‘window’ of up to a few weeks), scholarship assessment dates (if applicable), offers day, and the acceptance deadline.

Trust the process

Entrance procedures are designed to help staff decide if your child will be able to maintain the academic requirements and personally thrive in that particular school. Schools take a range of factors into account and consider each child as an individual before carefully deciding whether to offer a place. When emotions are high, try to remember that everyone wants the best for your child and try to trust the process!

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