Lessons from across The Pond - what could we learn from Junior High?

Conversation turns to education quite often in our house, and on 4th July, Independence Day in the US, it turned unsurprisingly to American education.

Having listened just a couple of weeks before to a talk by Sarah Jayne Blakemore, an expert on the adolescent brain and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, we were again struck by the fact that Junior High – that place we could never quite identify in Saturday morning television shows – is a brilliant idea.

Grades 6 to 8 (11 to 13 years old) have a school of their own. They’ve outgrown the primary years and are ready for bigger things: a larger school, more subjects and more sports, but most have not yet hit puberty and many are not ready for the cut and thrust of a large senior school.  More importantly, they are undergoing enormous physical, psychological and intellectual changes and the type of school you think will be right for your 11 year old may well be quite different for the one you’d choose at 14.

Of course the independent sector in the UK used to recognise this, to some extent.  Girls would move school at 11 or 12, but boys – generally thought to mature later – would be at a prep school for an extra two or three years.  But with the move towards co-education, this has changed significantly.

Now, we wonder, is everyone losing out?  According to Professor Blakemore, girls and boys are both at a unique phase in their development for the early adolescent years (11-13).  So neither boys nor girls really benefit from being either left behind or pushed forward at 11 years old.  They deserve to be treated uniquely, not tacked on to anyone else’s educational needs.

  • Early adolescence is a time of change and reinvention for children – does changing schools at 14 allow them to present their new selves to friends and teachers?
  • Five years is a long time in the life of a child.  Many pupils are unsurprisingly itching to change schools after that time – is sixth form a good time for that to happen or would the break better be made earlier?
  • In schools that pre-select at 11 for entry at 13, are they really selecting the right child for the school? 

The American system suddenly looks rather appealing to us – giving each phase of a child’s development its time and space and educating them according to that phase.  Is it time to stop fiddling with our exams and start restructuring our schools?

4th of July heralds the very end of school term for many... something of a hiatus for everyone, but if you find that the down-time ushers in thoughts of what next? Talk to us. It's business as usual until the end of July! 

The 7 traits of an A*student - it's not all about natural ability

What makes the difference when it comes to getting A*? 

Friday saw the publication of a hotly anticipated research project, 3 years in the making, which set out to distil which factors can be isolated from the way that the best independent schools teach that contribute to an able child attaining the best possible grades, i.e. an A or A*.  What makes the difference?

It’s fair to say that the project seems to have taken the ‘highly able’ as the starting point, but it is evident that there is a great deal that needs to come together to take even the able to the pinnacle of the A*.

The aim of the research was to plough the findings back into state school practices. The lead state school was Christ the King Sixth Form College and some of the partner schools involved included Eton College, St Paul’s Boys’ School and North London Collegiate School.

The whole report makes very interesting reading – plenty to consolidate what one might look for when hunting for a school to support an academic child – but here we’ve summarised what we thought was of most immediate use for parents – which is, what is it that will particularly help your bright child get an A* - these are things that of course are going to be assisted by the right school, but many of them are more an attitude to studying or way of working that the determined and resourceful at any school could aim for? Here they are. 

The 7 approaches to learning and character traits that help students achieve their A*/A potential

  1. An exceptionally strong work ethic coupled with a commitment to developing a sound understanding of taught and independently learnt subject knowledge
  2. Investing the time to ‘keep up’ and achieve clarity of understanding of lessons taught in class
  3. Determination to succeed when faced with learning challenges
  4. Willingness to take risks, despite fear of failure. Willingness to learn from mistakes.
  5. High intrinsic motivation: engage all of the time, whatever the task and enjoy learning for its own sake.
  6. Intellectual curiosity: keenness to know irrespective of whether the exam requires it, proactively asking questions, willingness to apply knowledge flexibly
  7. Taking ownership of learning, developing independent study habits and admitting confusions, misunderstandings.

Extracted from “What Makes the Difference” © 2016 Christ the King Sixth Form College

To join in the conversation on the educational hot topics of the day do join us @schoolhuntersuk, we'd love to see you there. 

8 ways to get more Bang for your Buck from a UK education

image credit: Unsplash

image credit: Unsplash

In celebration of one of our favourite nights of the year - Bonfire Night - here are just a few suggestions to maximise your financial investment in your child's education. With school fees rising at speeds as rapid as any Guy Fawkes rocket, you'll want to ensure the vast sums do not all go up in a cloud of smoke. 

Mix and Match

Mix and match between state and independent as suits your child, your budget, your ability to be flexible i.e. perhaps re-locate and your area’s educational make-up.

The possibilities now are endless and go far beyond the commonly dubbed option of ‘state ‘til 8’ – which means taking advantage of state early years education until prep school, which in reality usually commences at 7+. In a grammar school area, one might go all out with an independent school until 11+, particularly for a girl, hoping to save on senior school fees. Another family with an academic child, might go state primary all the way – moving to be as sure as possible of entrance to good candidate – and then aim for an independent of their choice at 11+. Some might even leave it as late as the GCSE years of 9, 10 and 11, or indeed the sixth form to take advantage of excellent university preparation before making a switch between sectors. All can work brilliantly. 

Create your own "extra-curricular"

One cost-effective route we know that has worked well for academically inclined children is a state primary coupled with a whole raft of wonderful extra-curricular sports, language tuition, amazing trips, music camps and competitions sought out and paid for in addition to school provision. It’s amazing what just a fraction of 7 years of independent school fees can buy!

Be your child's own tutor

Do you have a university education you can put to good use? Not for everyone and we don’t suggest that there are not advantages to hiring a professional but for many able parents, with some time and the ability to be patient and encouraging (if it’s going to be “homework 2.0” and you’re inclined to tear your hair at the thought it’s not for you!), you can find the right text books to support you and easily provide tuition in 11+ tests such as English, Maths and Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. With up to a third of parents now paying for tutoring at around £40 per hour, and tutoring running for up to two years prior to the entrance tests, you could save at least enough for a family holiday. If your child then gains entrance to a selective state school, the savings will run and run.

Bursaries and scholarships

With scholarships for academic, musical, artistic and sporting merit, often running to 10 per cent of fees, it won’t make the difference between a school being possible or not, but it is definitely worth turning up for a scholarship audition. Bursaries meanwhile are quite rightly rigorously means tested. But for those who qualify can be far more significant. Quite a few of the major UK independent schools have re-visited their bursary provision in recent years, but are keeping quite quiet about the new level of funding available, we’re talking larger numbers of 50 or 100 per cent fee reduction. DO investigate.

Savvy financial planning

This may come more naturally to many but it is eye-opening how much thinking ahead and planning tax effectively can suddenly bring a hugely expensive independent school education within reach. Talk to the school about 'fees in advance schemes' or to investment specialists such as Killick & Co, or look at pay monthly providers such as SFP

Educational grants

There are several  grants , charitable trusts and funds that provide fee assistance for education IF you fullfil the criteria – these could be by dint of your location, county of birth, choice of musical instrument, need to travel, vulnerability, disability, family in the services or many more.  They can particularly come into their own if a family with children part way through independent school education falls upon harder times. See the Educational Trusts’ Forum website. 

State Boarding

If you think that boarding schools are the preserve of the super-wealthy, then think again. There are fees to pay, but they are greatly reduced as often simply the cost of lodging, rather than tuition, plus lodging. All the fun of Mallory Towers at a greatly reduced price. 

Choose the right school

And finally, there can't be anything that feels more like poor value than paying for a school, where your child isn't happy. So, investing the time in the selection process initially will pay dividends later. Sometimes, even with enormous thought and effort a school does not deliver, we say vote with your feet - it may seem daunting, but your child will thank you. 

Take a look at our latest testimonials to see how we have helped families do just this. Do get in touch, we'll always return your message within 24 hours. 





Time to get your skates on and visit the UK's highest performing state sixth forms - it's not too late to think of a switch

image credit: Unsplash

image credit: Unsplash

The nights are drawing in but it's time to head out..

November is a big month for Sixth Form Open evenings, so we present you with our helpful round-up of the big hitting state schools, those who achieve most highly at A Level and IB and when to see them. There's no time to waste!

We're very open to the opportunity that switching schools at sixth form presents. Of course it's not right for every child and many want to complete their education alongside their long-standing friends, but for others, it could be the chance to up their game, finding that a school that was not an option at 11+ is now a real opportunity. Exciting stuff. 

Over the next few weeks we'll be thinking ahead about sixth form switching. If your child has only just started senior school, then when do you need to start thinking about it ideally (you'll see some schools open evenings for 2017 were earlier in the year), what are the options, why do it and what are the experiences of those who do? 

Don't forget we're here to help. Contact us below, or join us @schoolhuntersuk for insider tips, bright ideas and deadline reminders to help you help your child to a happy education. 


King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, Chelmsford, Essex Wednesday 30 November, 5pm

Colyton Grammar School, Colyton, Devon November 2016, date tbc, 7-9pm

Dane Court Grammar School, Broadstairs, Kent Thursday 1 December 2016

Reading School, Reading, Berkshire Thursday 1 December 2016,6.30-8pm

Heckmondwike Grammar School, Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire Tuesday 10 January 2017, 6.50pm

The Blue Coat School, Liverpool Thursday 21 January 2017

Pate's Grammar School, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire Tuesday 24 January 2017, 5pm

Wirral Grammar School for Boys, Wirral, Merseyside Wednesday 25 January 2017 at 6.30pm

Sir Thomas Rich's School, Gloucester Tuesday 31 January 2017

Wirral Grammar School for Girls, Wirral, Merseyside Sixth form choices evening January 2017, contact school for information.

High School for Girls, Gloucester January 2017

The Blue Coat CofE School, Oldham, Greater Manchester Open evening has passed, applications by Friday 27 January 2017.

King Edward VI Handsworth School, Birmingham Contact the school for more info and prior to January application deadline.

Lancaster Girls' Grammar School, Lancaster Open evening has passed, contact school to view prior to February application deadline.

St Michael's Catholic Grammar School, London Application forms should be received by 28 February 2017.

Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, Altrincham, Cheshire Open day already passed, contact the school for further information.

Chelmsford County High School for Girls, Chelmsford, Essex Open day already passed, contact the school for further information.

Tonbridge Grammar School, Tonbridge, Kent Open evening already passed, contact the school for further information.

The Becket School, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire Open evening has passed, contact the school for further information.

Loreto Grammar School, Altrincham, Cheshire Open evening has passed, contact the school for further information.

King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, Birmingham Open evening has passed, contact the school for further information.

Wolverhampton Girls' High School, Wolverhampton, West Midlands Open evening passed. Contact school to visit or see website for application form.

Queen Elizabeth's School, Barnet, Barnet, Hertfordshire Tours are all booked, contact the school for more information.

The King's (The Cathedral) School, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire Open evening has passed. Contact school for more information.

Colchester Royal Grammar School, Colchester, Essex Opening evening has passed, contact the school for more information.

Colchester County High School for Girls, Colchester, Essex Open evening has already passed, contact school for more information.

Southend High School for Girls, Southend-on-Sea, Essex Open evening has already passed, contact school for more information.

There's plenty of sparkle, ooh and ah to come - we round up November school open days

image credit: Unsplash

image credit: Unsplash

Remember, remember...

Whether you're looking for co-ed or single sex schools, in London or the surrounding counties, the good news is there is still time to see many schools in action before the year is out. Here we provide a helpful round-up of those offering plenty of whizz, bang and pop (head to the science labs!). 

As you'll see, this is a shorter list than our round-ups for September and October. It would be as well to think now about booking any must-see schools you are curious about which are not listed here. Watch this space for our Book Now for 2017 list. Desperate to be done by Christmas?  Then do contact registrars to see if they can arrange a personal tour and time with the Head, sometimes, anything is possible, it may be more hit and miss as to what you see, but it can also be more relaxed and dare we say 'real' to drop in on an ordinary day. 

Do check websites to ensure there are spaces remaining and let us know what you think - we can compare notes @schoolhuntersuk

And if you don't know where to start with a short-list of UK schools with a good chance of being the best possible fit for your child or family, then please do get in touch. Here are just a few of the recent comments we've received from parents about our service: 


Bancroft's School, Essex

Saturday 19th November 2016, 10am

Reigate Grammar School

Thursday 17th November 2016, 9.15am

Caterham School, Surrey

Contact the school about visitor mornings: Wednesday 9th November, 2016

City of London Freemen's School, Surrey

Friday 11th November, 2016, 9.15am


Guildford High School for Girls:

Wednesday 9th November 2016, 10am Thursday 1st December 2016, 10am

St Mary's School, Ascot, Surrey

Saturday 19th November 2016

South Hampstead High School, London:

Wednesday 9th November 2016, 2.30pm Thursday 27th November 2016, 9.30am


St Paul’s School, London:

Saturday 5th November 2016 - email to ensure a place

Dulwich College, London:

Wednesday 16th November 2016, 11am

St Albans School, Hertfordshire*:

Saturday 19th November 2016

Reed’s School, Cobham*:

12th November 2016, 10am

  • = co-ed sixth form




Time to get your skates on for October school open days - here's how with our handy highlights lists

image credit: Unsplash

image credit: Unsplash

Last week, we posted our highlights list for single sex senior schools, London and the South-East. By no means exhaustive, but with time running out to book spaces at all of these highly popular open days, we hope you may find it a useful round-up to get started. Expect glorious sunshine (hopefully), winningly enthusiastic pupil tour guides, lots of checking out the competition (parents not pupils) and sometimes even a spot of lunch. What will your favourite facilities be: the climbing wall, the pottery wheels, the 3D laser printer, the on-site art gallery, the 'temple to maths' or the learning pods? 

Now it's the turn of the co-eds. Do let us know about the delights (or otherwise) @schoolhuntersuk. 


Latymer Upper School, London: Saturday 8th October 2016

Alleyn’s School, London: Wednesday 2nd November 2016, 2pm

The Perse Upper School, Cambridge: Autumn date has now passed

Brighton College: Autumn date has passed, book now for the new year. Saturday 28th January 2017, 9.30am

Wellington College, Berkshire: All Autumn dates full, book now for January 2017

Bancroft School, Essex: Saturday 19th November 2016, 10am

Highgate School, London: Saturday 8th October 2016, 9am

Reigate Grammar School, Surrey: Friday 14th October 2016, 9.15am Wednesday 2nd November 2016, 9.15am Thursday 17th November 2016, 9.15am

Kingston Grammar School, Surrey: Autumn date has now passed.

Epsom College, Surrey: Saturday 8th October 2016, 9.45am

Caterham School, Surrey: Open day has now passed. Contact the school about visitor mornings: Wednesday 19th October, 2016 Wednesday 9th November, 2016

City of London Freemen’s School, Surrey: Friday 11th November 2016, 9.15am

The high jumping classes of 2016 - A Level Results Day

It's been a day of celebrations and high leaps for many of the class of 2016 - Heads and teachers getting in on the act very often. For those whose little brown envelopes didn't enclose the hoped for grades, we hear staff, students, parents and clearing houses are working hard to ensure that Plan B's will very soon emerge. We've been sharing the high emotions with independent and state schools in London and Oxfordshire today and there has been much to celebrate.

The original high jumpers...without A levels we imagine (Image credit: Philippe Halsman)

The original high jumpers...without A levels we imagine (Image credit: Philippe Halsman)

These were just some of the headlines of the day: 

  • A fall in the national percentage of the top A* grades was widely reported in UK newspapers and news channels, but was actually a negligible 0.1% fall. Students did just as well in attaining the highest grades. 
  • Boys in Wales: it's so far a mystery as to why... but A*/A grades fell significantly.... more so than for Welsh girls, or English boys
  • We all know that girls out-perform boys, but did you know how small the performance gap is and that this gap is closing?
  • Fewer students are taking less academic subjects.... anything with 'studies' in the title which may not impress is out of favour
  • The top five subjects in terms of grades were Maths, Irish, Further Maths, German and French, BUT take up of modern foreign languages continues to slump. 
  • Whilst many a private school Head was tweeting with the dawn chorus State senior schools and sixth forms were not on the whole shouting their results from the roof-tops, not even updating their school websites. Whilst we're sure they were focused on their students rather than their PR, we'd love to see and hear more from them. In the coming days we'll be digging for more this space. 

Right now, we're off for a well-deserved one of these. 

(image credit: Unsplash)

(image credit: Unsplash)

Same time next week for GCSE Results Day: Thursday 25th August

Even now, we know that it's not too late to find a place in many UK sixth forms, so if your child finds themselves in possession of GCSE results that could potentially change things for them, we urge you to swing into action for the Sixth Form Switch. Do get in touch if you'd like our help and advice using the form below. 


Niggles - 13 things we'd rather not find on a school visit

Creativity is a messy, risky business. (image credit: Unsplash)

Creativity is a messy, risky business. (image credit: Unsplash)

It's Monday morning, we'd love to be on holiday and the country is in political turmoil - so we've found it rather therapeutic to get a few niggles from recent school visits off our chest: 

  • Draught-creating false eyelashes - worn by the pupils (not teachers). A big thing in some schools we've noticed
  • Jaded teen tour guides – unless it’s post-exam time
  • A too-tidy art room - let's have work-in-progress everywhere (not that we're against well-organised resources) 
  • Sports coaches only interested in the future Olympians: we know this goes on IN school but when the sports staff let this slip to prospective pupils and parents too you know it's not to be ignored
  • A Head thrown by our questions as to how trans-gender pupils are being thought about
  • The Head Girl having to hitch her skirt down
  • The Head Boy with the itty bitty tie
  • Teachers not showing courtesy to pupils
  • Heads who don’t even try to know their students by name – we know it’s hard with large numbers but there are many who do
  • Pupils not showing courtesy to teachers or each other
  • Litter around the site and in the hedges
  • A reception without a human being
  • School dinners as we remember them