As we greet the news with excitement* of two brand new senior schools joining their preps in Central London to create all-through schools, we think again about the pros and cons of tots to teens all-through schooling.
On your marks...
Before too long anyone with a child, or even a baby in London, as soon as schools arise as the all too frequent topic of conversation, is confronted with a bewildering and often incomplete picture of the hoops to be jumped through to gain a place at the school of one's choice: 2+, 3+, 4+, 7+, 10+, pre-test, 11+, 13+, 16+ are all common entry points for independents, with their own testing (in every sense of the word) requirements and registration dates.
Such competitiveness has fueled what at times, seems likes an educational arms race which makes it hard to find a way in, if one isn't 'in the know'. Parents not on the inside of the playground cliques can particularly struggle.
Are all-through schools the answer?
Whilst state school parents have been protesting this year about the culture of testing in state primaries, with SATS and reception base-line testing (now abandoned) the battle-ground, entry testing for selective independent schools seems inevitable, but are all-through schools - very much on the rise in the state sector due to parental demand, economies of scale and the Free School - movement the answer?
Surely it's a savvy move to gain a place for your child from 4 to 18 years, based on an informal assessment morning, perhaps nothing more taxing than being able to join in, follow instructions and complete a farmyard jigsaw, without so much as a tutor in sight?
- Less pressure throughout school life for every child and more time devoted to valuable curricular and extra curricular activities.
- Keeping it simple and far more stress-free for parents. Do the schools search homework once, visit schools from pre-prep to senior school and if it feels right buy into the whole package.
- A co-ed, all-through must surely be the simplest of all? A school that takes children of all ages and both sexes certainly simplifies the school run and holidays and if you’re not lucky enough to be down to one sports day and one carol service, at least they shouldn’t clash.
- More and better shared facilities
- Easier transitions from primary to senior when many pupils can fall behind or feel over-whelmed
- Shared specialist staff and curriculum development
- sometimes, not always, greater resources for learning support
- enabling pupils of a broad age range to work together, play together and inspire each other
Things to think about
No Head can absolutely guarantee that the school that is right at 3+ will be right at 11 onwards. But, you would completely expect to be kept informed of any thoughts along these lines very early and to be assisted in finding a more suitable alternative for senior school.
Not all, all-through schools act like them. Many schools still follow a parallel process for prep school pupils, where they are required to sit the senior school exam and therefore may be rigorously schooled from year 5 at the expense of a richer curriculum, even though a place is more or less guaranteed. Some do not, it is worth finding out.
- A school chosen in the maternity ward might be the right school for the parent, but not necessarily this unique new arrival.
- Your daughter may thrive in a co-ed school, while your son might need to escape his sisters and would relish an all-male space. But you might well be making that school choice for your first born before even knowing the sex of your second. So, all-through for one, may not work for both, or several.
- It is almost inevitable that you will see at least two Head teachers at the helm over such a time span. The Head really does set the mood of the whole school. Will you be happy “under new management”?
- Many SEN won't be known about as a child joins a pre-prep. If these emerge the current school may not be the optimal choice. So, perhaps travel with a flexible outlook. This may not be 'it' forever.
- And sometimes, it’s simply nice to ring the changes, to meet new people, expand horizons, reinvent yourself. A new school is a chance for the introverts to leave their shells, for the jokers to start working, for the late-developers to take responsibility and for the nerds to become cool. Schools will of course say all that is possible under one roof, but what is acceptable for the school may not feel possible for the pupil and a chance to start afresh is enticing.
So, as another all-through school joins the market, this time Fulham Prep, growing upward till its current youngsters are university-bound, what do we at School Hunters think of this trend?
We think it’s exciting, with an asterisk. Exciting because it offers a solution to families, a simplification in an increasingly complicated world – a one-stop shop in education as the rest of our world explodes in choice, from super skinny lattes with extra foam to a pressure to change bank annually. But here comes the asterisk. While we don't believe in changing schools as often as you change your electricity supplier, we do believe it can be worthwhile to consider at each phase, nursery, pre-prep, prep, senior and sixth form, whether your choice is still the right place for your child.
Change is not always an easy choice, but sometimes it’s the right choice - each child deserves individual consideration.
If you need any help with the hoopla (or avoiding it) do get in touch, we're only too happy to help. Here are our latest kind words from parents: