Looking for a way to avoid the educational hoopla - whoop, whoop for the rise of all-through schools?

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?

Why so

  • 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. 

Why not

  • 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: 







Is Sixth Form Boarding the Perfect Transition to Uni - find out at these November open events?

image credit: Unsplash

image credit: Unsplash

Boarding: a great way to hang up the keys to the taxi of Mum and Dad

We were struck when visiting a school in Kent that blends day and boarding rather well, what a liberating experience boarding is for not just the teenagers who enjoy almost 24/7 access to wonderful sporting facilities and all of their friends but the parents who otherwise in that country location with teenagers could have been spending so much of each week as the taxi of Mum and Dad. Is boarding one sure way to ensure that there will also be less temptation to fall into the lure of screen time of all kinds, we think it might be?

If boarding doesn't feel right for either you or your children at an earlier age, might it be tempting for the sixth form? After all, it's only two years until they may well be leaving home for adventures and universities. With this in mind, we round up schools with boarding who are throwing open their doors to their sixth forms this November and some dates looking further ahead into next year. 

November Open Events

Ermysted's Grammar School, Skipton, North Yorkshire (Boys, State) Tuesday 8 November 2016

The Mount School (York), York (Girls, Independent) Thursday 10 November 2016, 6-8pm

Hockerill Anglo-European College, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire (Co-ed, State) Saturday 12 November 2016, from 8.30am

Whitgift School, South Croydon, London (Boys, Independent) Wednesday 16 November 2016, 6.30-9pm

The Faculty of Queen Ethelburga's, York (Co-ed, Independent) Saturday 19 November 2016, 10.30am to 3.30pm

Queen Ethelburga's College, York (Co-ed, Independent) Saturday 19 November 2016, 10.30am-3.30pm

King Edward's School Witley, Godalming, Surrey (Co-ed, Independent) Saturday 19 November 2016, 10am or Thursday 2 February 2017, 10am

Sevenoaks School, Sevenoaks, Kent (Co-ed, Independent) Saturday 26 November 2016, 9.30am-12.30pm

And Further Ahead

Reading School, Reading, Berkshire (Boys, State) Thursday 1 December 2016,6.30-8pm

Harrow School, Harrow-on-the-Hill, London (Boys, Independent) Late applicant registration by Friday 6 January 2017, contact the school to visit.

St Clare's, Oxford, Oxford (Co-ed, Independent) Saturday 14 January 2017, 10am-2pm

Headington School, Oxford (Girls, Independent) Wednesday 1 March 2017, 10am-12.30pm

Tonbridge School, Tonbridge, Kent (Boys, Independent) Next open day Saturday 11th March 2017, 10am, but for specific Sixth Form enquiries contact the Admissions Office.

Windermere School & Windermere Preparatory School, Windermere, Cumbria (Co-ed, Independent) Welcomes visits year round and can arrange lunch with a particular year group or staff in subject areas (e.g. Sports, Faculty, SEN).

Do let us know what you think @schoolhuntersuk. We are sticklers for checking out good boarding facilities. In our experience they do differ wildly. If you'd like to enlist our help in finding the right boarding school for your child please do get in touch. Email: jessica@schoolhunters.co.uk or claire@schoolhunters.co.uk. 

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




It's the closest school sport to Quidditch, but really, what's the point of lacrosse?

Image credit: Unsplash

Image credit: Unsplash

'Nice school, but what's the point of lacrosse?' confided a mother currently dipping her toe into the all-new waters of secondary school open days and reporting back to me. 

So, is there a point to lacrosse? Writing as I sit and watch my daughter at a “hockey masterclass”, I am hoping that she loves it as much as I did and that it becomes her team sport of choice. 

It can be difficult for girls (let’s hope this is changing) who are good at sport, but not great at sport, to continue playing after they leave school, but some sports more than others do have a local club.  There is a hockey club in my local town, there was a hockey club in Singapore – I’m pretty sure neither had a lacrosse club.

So is it a sport for life? And, setting aside the fact that lacrosse is fast, exhilarating, skilful and the closest thing to Quidditch played outside Hogwarts, is it just a bit old fashioned, a bit intimidatingly "posh" if you've never encountered those funny sticks before?

A level playing field

Actually I realise, it's a brilliant secondary school sport. Because, it’s one of those sports that is generally only played at secondary school and so it offers a completely level playing field. 

It is all too easy for a school to take the easy option: who’s played hockey before? Who’s played on a team before? Who’s played for their county before? And ta-da try outs in September are a bit of a foregone conclusion: the year 7 squad and A team are sorted in an instant.  

So any sport that the majority of pupils has not done prior to entering the school is a bonus.  Lacrosse is great.  Rowing is great too.  And, if it goes really well, we know of really great lacrosse scholarships to US universities... those funny sticks, clearly travel. 

Just one of the many nuances of UK educational choices we turn our minds to. If you'd like to try us with your educational dilemma please do get in touch. You can find out more about our experience here: 

Westminster School Sixth Form - what is it really like for a girl joining this famous boys' school?

Image credit: Unsplash

Image credit: Unsplash

We are very alive to the opportunities that making a switch at sixth form brings. And have also been on a bit of a mission recently talking to girls in boys' schools with co-ed sixth forms to really understand the pros and cons, so we were delighted to have the chance to put our questions to a pupil we know who has recently switched from a highly academic London girls' day school to Westminster School. 

Why switch?

The stellar A level grades are tempting - 89.9% A*/A in 2016, but realistically only a number of grades above the highest performing girls' schools, but it is in university destinations that the school really pulls ahead - half of pupils exited last year to Oxbridge and more than a dozen more to the best in the US. It's an exciting proposition.

But, is the school's new pink and blue website a real reflection of how well the girls are integrated into the school?

Hearing from our interviewee, about the leap to a university style of education how its candidates are so exceptionally university-ready becomes clear. But, we wanted to know how resilient do you need to be to survive and thrive happily? 

We hope you find this interview helpful. Let us know @schoolhuntersuk. Or, if you need more help in thinking about alternative sixth forms, do get in touch below. We'd be delighted to hear from you. 

1. Why did you decide to leave your old school?

I was very keen to study History of Art, and at the open day the teachers at Westminster were immediately inspiring and it was clear that the course was much broader in content. The art department is engaging, liberal and has amazing resources. I was also drawn to the teaching style at Westminster; students are encouraged to not just prepare for tests, but to question the syllabus, explore way beyond it and develop our own opinions. I felt my current school prepared me to pass exams brilliantly, but not necessarily to think and enquire beyond that.

2. How would you describe your first year?

I found my first year at Westminster challenging to begin with, as it was hard to adapt to the new level of independence we were given in regards to our studies. The classes are similar to university seminars, with lesson time being used for discussion and most written work being done outside of class. There is also a huge increase in workload, especially as all my subjects are humanities and arts based and therefore involve many essays.  I usually stay at school until around 8pm, finishing work in the library or the art department.

However I have adapted to the new expectations and learnt to manage my time so that the work is done, even though this can involve staying at school until late, often eating three meals a day there.

It is important remember that the culture is that of a boarding school, and it is not unusual for many people to stay late to both work and socialise.

The school buildings are spread out around the streets surrounding Westminster Abbey, so the atmosphere is one of a university campus. Teachers are always around and also contactable via a comprehensive online system. Most homework is sent and submitted via email so it is essential to have a smartphone and check emails regularly. 

The opportunities are unrivalled, and I got involved immediately in Feminist Society, History of Art Society and multiple music groups. Invited speakers to the John Locke society have included Dame Carol Black, the managing director of Penguin Books, the CEO of Fortnum and Mason, journalists from ITV and The Economist, Nick Clegg, and Julian Assange via Skype. The new level of freedom, along with the central location of the school, mean that I can pop to exhibitions at the Tate and the National Gallery at lunchtime or in a free period. I also am taking a course in British Sign Language as a part of the Options Scheme, where we take on three additional unexamined courses per term. The choice here is vast, for example French Poetry, International Law and Human Rights, Medieval manuscript illumination and making sock puppets!

In my first year I went on an art trip to New York, History of Art trips to Paris, Venice and Florence, and a Spanish exchange in Madrid. There have been opportunities for music scholarships, research grants and volunteering.

A highlight of my first year at Westminster was PHAB, (Physically Handicapped Able Bodied), a week long course I undertook this summer in which 50 students became full time carers for 40 disabled people who came to live at the school. We slept in the same room as our "guest", cared for their personal needs and ran a range of holiday activities for them such as art and drama.

3. Boys: what have been the social or academic positives and negatives?

I can't answer your question in terms of principle, but I can certainly say that I feel I have gained from sharing classes with boys who have had a Westminster education. It makes a welcome change from the gossipy, often catty and rather tedious atmosphere I was used to! The conversations we have both in and outside the classroom are more wide ranging, challenging and therefore generally more interesting. 

Socially, however, it was quite difficult to adapt to the new co-ed environment, and for many girls it was their first proper experience of having to deal with offensive/sexist behaviour and language. However, as a woman going out into the world, perhaps it is no bad thing to have to learn to hold your own in a group of very clever but immature men.

4. Downsides/upsides?

The experience of being at Westminster is very intense and inevitably takes up most of ones "life".

It can feel like being in a "bubble"; events which in retrospect are not a big deal can at the time feel massive. For example a small drop in an essay mark or test can feel like an appalling failure because expectations are so high. Minor social ups and downs can also have a major impact at the time because a proper support network of like-minded people is really important.

However, Westminster is definitely an amazing springboard and I feel like the downsides I have experienced are only short term; the benefits of the school and the positive experiences are what will be formative and stay with me forever. 

5. What would you say to a girl about to join?

I would definitely first emphasise that it is an amazing school with endless opportunities and incredible teaching. However, a degree of intellectual and personal resilience is necessary to cope with both the academic and social demands of Westminster, and it is definitely not for everyone.

The academic expectations are very high, and paired with the new social aspects of the school it may feel quite overwhelming. I would say to a girl joining Westminster that it is important to remember that the experience at the school is not an experience of the real world, as you are surrounded by some of the brightest, but also most privileged people in the country.

You need to enjoy and make the most of the fantastic teaching and opportunities available and know that you will emerge from it stronger and a more independent thinker than if you had stayed in the "safer" same old environment of another school. 

Ten Tweaks from Parents to help Open Days Go with a Swing

image credit: Unsplash

image credit: Unsplash

Autumn open days are in mid swing and could not be more important for parents intent on the task of sifting fact from fiction, inspecting facilities, quizzing staff and trying to distill the atmosphere of a school in answer to the question 'is this the right school for my child?'.  If we were to jot down a few tweaks for a new Head planning an open day as prospective parents, we might suggest: 

  • The Head's Speech - short and snappy but full of vision, confidence and sparkle. We need to believe in your broad shoulders, want to work with you ourselves and believe our 11 year old could confide in you. If you can be funny and refreshingly honest and when we meet you give us 100 per cent of your attention despite the 3 million things on your to do list, you might just be THE ONE. 
  • Happy tour guides (yes, it's a Saturday, but...).  We don’t need our young guides to know everything about the school, but we like them to be keen to find out on our behalf and to be proud of the school they’re showing to us.  We like year 9's the best – they are old hands, but still a little unpolished.  Please, no year 7's.

  • Please do sell your school to us.  Just because it’s a popular school, don’t rest on your laurels.  We want you to want us too.

  • A full cohort of staff on hand for a chat.  The more the merrier.  We don’t want to wait in a queue to meet the representative maths teacher.  Where are the rest and why are they hidden away? Are they really all men with beards, surely not. 

  • It's all a bit of a bore for the younger siblings but sometimes they have to tag along - they'd love to be thought of and included in a few of the tempting looking activities that are going on. 

  • Day-glo: we got up early on a weekend and are feeling a bit frazzled. Parking attendants waving us in are most welcome. We know you might like to be discreet but signs from miles away are a relief too. 

  • Please do send us straight off on a tour or give us something to do whilst we wait for the Head's talk, so that we're not left eyeing up the other parents surreptitiously or making awkward small talk with ourselves. We're not ridiculously hard to please, but we are quite fond of the odd harpist, art displays or sixth formers to chat to.  

  • We love to see busy, bright music wings with packed “what’s on” boards and to see musicians playing, singing, improvising, whatever their thing is, giving us a taste of the acoustics and their enthusiasms. 

  • Lunches - we'd like to see them, but forgive us if we don't necessarily want to sit down for lunch and eat them - with two schools per day to see on three subsequent Saturdays we can't afford the time or the weight gain.

  • Please invite us back soon! We will try very hard to take it all in, but we may need a second look. 

How are you getting on with Open Days? Did you miss an important one, or don't know where to start? Or, can't choose between two great contenders? Just get in touch below, these are the kinds of dilemmas we encounter every day and we are ready to listen and advise. 

'Outstanding' single-sex education not just the preserve of the few - we go hunting for girls' state schools in the shires

Image credit: Unsplash

Image credit: Unsplash

Outstanding, single-sex education need not be an exclusive affair but it is undoubtedly hard to find. But, with so much evidence pointing towards girls-only senior school education favouring  girls' academic success, you may well want to hunt far and near. 

We went hunting for a handful of girls' schools open to all in the Shires.... a few more urban out-posts caught our eyes too as well within reach. In something of a crowd-pleasing move, a few open their doors to boys in the sixth form. 

If you've found inspiration. Do let us know and follow @schoolhuntersuk for more tips and tweets. 

Girls' Senior Schools Autumn Open Days

Didcot Girls' School, Oxfordshire
“Pupils achieve very well indeed. GCSE results are considerably above the national average. Pupils make rapid progress in all subjects and year groups.” Ofsted November 2015
Open evening: Wednesday 5th October 2016, 4:30pm
Open mornings:
Tuesday 11th October 2016, 9.30am (full)
Thursday 13th October 2016, 9.30am (full)
Monday 17th October 2016, 9.30am
Wednesday 19th October 2016, 9.30am

Bishop's Hatfield Girls' School, Hatfield, Hertfordshire
“The headteacher has created a culture where high aspiration has become central and the school’s abilities make very strong progress and achieve very high results across a wide range of subjects.” Ofsted February 2016
Open days Monday 26th to Thursday 29th September 2016

Hitchin Girls' School, Hertfordshire
“Teaching is consistently good and often outstanding. Students learn quickly and thoroughly as well as gaining high levels of enjoyment from their studies.” Ofsted 2013
Open events:
Thursday 29th September 2016, 9.30am
Wednesday 5th October 2016, 9.30am

Loreto College, St Albans, Hertfordshire
“Welcoming, polite, keen to succeed and eager to learn” Ofsted 2013
The Autumn event has passed but bookmark for Spring.

St Albans Girls' School, Hertfordshire
Ofsted outstanding 2013. “St Albans Girls’ School should be congratulated for their stunning achievement in securing some of the best GCSE results in the country.” Sue Williamson, Chief Executive of SSAT
Open evening: Thursday 6th October 2016, 6pm

The Hertfordshire & Essex High School and Science College, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
“An outstanding school with an outstanding Sixth Form”. Ofsted 2009
Open evening has passed, contact the school for more information.

Watford Grammar School for Girls, Hertfordshire
“What makes Watford Grammar School for Girls outstanding is the focus on each girl as an individual and an almost relentless drive to ensure that everyone achieves their very best.” Ofsted 2007, confirmed Ofsted 2011
Open evening: Monday 10th October 2016, 6pm

Northampton School for Girls, Northamptonshire
“This is an outstanding school of which students, parents, staff and governors are rightly proud.” Ofsted 2006, confirmed Ofsted 2010
Open evening: Monday 3rd October 2016, 5.30pm

Baylis Court School, Slough
“They enter the school with well below average and sometimes exceptionally low standards and make outstanding progress to reach just above average standards by the end of Year 11.” Ofsted 2007, confirmed Ofsted 2015
Open evening has passed, but morning tours are available on the following dates:
Monday 26th to Thursday 29th September 2016
Wednesday 5th October 2016, 9am
Thursday 6th October 2016, 11am

Bordesley Green Girls' School & Sixth Form, Birmingham
"The school provides an exceptionally high quality of education for its students." Ofsted 2014
Contact the school about open events.

Handsworth Wood Girls' Academy, Birmingham
“All groups of students make the same fast progress irrespective of their starting points or backgrounds.” Ofsted 2014
Open evening has passed, contact the school for more information.

Selly Park Technology College for Girls, Birmingham
“The outcomes achieved by this outstanding college are impressive” Ofsted 2009
Open evening has passed, contact the school for more information.

15 IB schools to kick-start your short-list and when to visit - it's sooner than you think

Autumn inspiration. Image credit (Unsplash)

Autumn inspiration. Image credit (Unsplash)

To IB or not to IB? 

The International Baccalaureate (IB) first appeared in UK schools in 1971 and is now offered by 130 schools. Whether you are committed to the idea of IB for your child, simply curious to find out whether he or she might be missing out with A Levels - is it really a passport to joining the global elite as some say - or confused, there's no better way to find out than visiting an IB school. And the time is now. Places for the most popular Autumn open days were disappearing almost faster than we could type today! We hope this handy list might get you started. 

Do let us know how you get on and share your findings @schoolhuntersuk. 

Ardingly College, Haywards Heath: Senior School and sixth form: Saturday 8th October 2016 Sixth form: Saturday 24th November 2016

Charterhouse, Surrey: Open mornings for sixth form girls, otherwise afternoon visits instead. Email: visits@charterhouse.org.uk for more details

Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Gloucestershire: Friday 2nd December 2016, book now for 2017

King’s College School, Wimbledon: Thursday 6th October 2016, 6pm

King Edward’s School, Birmingham: 16+ information evening: Tuesday 18th October 2016

Haileybury, Hertfordshire: Wednesday 16th November 2016. Book now, October dates are full.

Headington School, Oxford: Open day has passed

Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex: Sixth form: Saturday 8th October 2016 Year 7: Tuesday 11th October 2016

Marymount International School, Kingston: Open day has passed

Sevenoaks School, Kent: Saturday 26th November 2016, 9.30am

Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School, Buckinghamshire: Thursday 13th October 2016 Monday 17th to Thursday 20th October 2016

The Stephen Perse Foundation, Cambridge: Sixth form open evening: Tuesday 18th October 2016, 6.30pm

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

Westminster Academy, London: Wednesday 23rd November 2016

Whitgift School, Croydon: Saturday 24th October 2016, 9am Tuesday 11th October 2016, 4pm

Coming in to land: boarding schools within an hour of Heathrow

We scope out UK boarding schools accessible from overseas  (image credit: Unsplash)

We scope out UK boarding schools accessible from overseas  (image credit: Unsplash)

Whether you are looking for a UK boarding school for your children, whilst the family remains overseas or simply need to be within easy striking distance of Heathrow, this list might be just the ticket - a handy round up of just a few of our suggestions within the magic 60 minutes, traffic prevailing, with details of when to visit this Autumn and beyond. 

Don't forget to check details with individual schools - some need booking, all will arrange a tour to suit you if you are coming from overseas.

Those residing overseas will have a variety of additional hoops to jump through all of which require careful planning in advance. Some schools offer limited 'overseas' places and testing is likely to be rigorous. 

To find out more or find a speedy solution, do get in touch: jessica@schoolhunters.co.uk

Co-ed Prep Schools

Moulsford Prep School, Wallingford:
next dates in the Spring

Dragon School, Oxford:
Saturday, 8th October 2016 (day or boarding)
Saturday, 25th February 2017 (TBC)
Saturday, 13th May 2017 (day or boarding)

Eagle House School, Sandhurst (in the grounds of Wellington College):
Saturday 1st October 2016, 10am

Lambrook School, Ascot:
Saturday 1st October 2016, 9.30am

Beachborough School, Brackley:
Friday 7th October 2016, 9.30am

St Andrew’s School, Pangbourne:
Friday 7th October 2016, 9.15am

The Oratory Preparatory School, Reading (boarding from year 6):
Saturday 8th October 2016

Winchester House School, Brackley:
Saturday 8th October 2016, 10.30am

Hurst Lodge School, Ascot (from year 5):
Open day passed, contact school for tour

Brockhurst and Marlston House Schools – see single sex preps

St George’s School, Windsor:
Contact the school to arrange a visit

Co-ed Prep to 18

LVS Ascot, Berkshire (boarding from 7):
Wednesday 12th October 2016
Wednesday 8th February 2017
Tuesday 9th May 2017

Co-ed Senior Schools

Pangbourne College, Reading:
Saturday 8th October 2016, 9am (sixth form)
Saturday 5th November 2016, 9.30am (junior house, years 7 & 8)

St Edward's School, Oxford:
Saturday 13th May 2016 (13+ entry)

Leighton Park School, Reading:
Saturday 1st October 2016, 9.30am

d'Overbroeck's, Oxford:
Saturday 8th October 2016, 10am

Reddam House, Wokingham:
Saturday 8th October 2016

Luckley House School, Wokingham:
Saturday 8th October 2016, 9am

Padworth College, Berkshire:
Tuesday 18th October 2016, 1pm

Wellington College, Sandhurst:
Autumn dates fully booked, contact school to book for the spring.
Saturday 14th January 2017, 10.30am
Saturday 25th February 2017, 10.30am

Bradfield College, Berkshire:
Contact the school to arrange a visit

Boys’ Prep Schools

Summer Fields School, Oxford:
Saturday 8th October 2016

Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford:
Saturday 1st October 2016, 9.30am

Brockhurst School, Newbury (boarding from 9 years):
Saturday 15th October, 10.30am

Elstree School, Reading:
Saturday 15th October 2016, 10am
Saturday 4th March 2017, 10am
Saturday 13th May 2017, 10am

Papplewick School, Ascot:
Saturday 5th November 2016, 9am

Caldicot Preparatory School, Buckinghamshire:
Not yet announced

Cothill House, Abingdon:
Spring open day

Ludgrove School, Wokingham:
Register your interest to be invited to an open event.

Sunningdale School, Berkshire:
No open days – contact the school to arrange a visit

Boys’ Senior Schools

Abingdon School:
Saturday 1st October 2016, 9.30am

Shiplake College, Henley-on-Thames (girls in VIth form):
Saturday 8th October 2016 2016, 9.30am
Saturday 18th March 2017, 9.30am

Eton College, Windsor:
No open days, contact the school to arrange a visit.

The Oratory School, Reading:
The autumn open day has passed, but there will be another in the spring. A show round can be booked with the Head’s PA.

Radley College, Abingdon:
No open days, but get in touch to arrange a visit.

Charterhouse, Godalming: (with co-ed sixth form)
Open mornings for sixth form girls, otherwise afternoon visits instead. Email: visits@charterhouse.org.uk for more details

Harrow School, London:
next opening morning: Saturday 21st January 2017, 9.30am

Girls’ Prep Schools

Godstowe School, High Wycombe:
Saturday 8th October 2016, 10am

Marlston House School, Newbury (boarding from 9 years):
Saturday 15th October, 10.30am

Girls’ Schools 8 to 18

Rye St Antony, Oxford:
Autumn open day has passed but the school welcomes visitors on any day.

Girls’ Senior Schools

Headington School, Oxford:
Thursday 29th September 2016, 10am

St George’s Ascot, Berkshire:
Saturday 8th October 2016, 10.30am

Heathfield School, Ascot:
Saturday 15th October 2016, 10am
Saturday 4th March 2017, 10am
Saturday 20th May 2017, 10am

Wycombe Abbey School, Buckinghamshire:
Saturday 15th October
Saturday 4th March
Saturday 10th June

Queen Anne’s, Caversham:
Friday 18 November 2016 at 9.30am
Friday 10 March 2017 at 9.30am
Saturday 6 May 2017 at 9.30am

St Mary’s School Ascot, Berkshire:
Saturday 19th November 2016
Saturday 18th March 2017
Saturday 13th May 2017

Downe House, Thatcham, Berkshire:
Contact the registrar for invitation to open morning. Michaelmas dates are full – register now for the new year.
Saturday 21 January 2017, 9.30am
Saturday 18 March 2017, 9.30am
Saturday 22 April 2017, 9.30am
Saturday 17 June 2017, 9.30am

Wychwood School, Oxford:
No open days – contact the school to arrange a visit.

Schools to seek out in the shires this September (Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire)

(image credit: Unsplash)

(image credit: Unsplash)

On your marks...for open day season

It's time to set the alarm, get out the maps, plug in the Sat Nav, dust off your most penetrating questions (trying not to be too distracted by angelic children, home-made cookies, string quartets etc) and plot your route from school to school across the shires - it’s open season in the independent sector. 

To lend a hand, we've pulled together September's dates for schools that could be on your list. You may need to drop everything! Watch out for Saturday 24th of September THE most popular date of the year. We're going to be making suggestions to Heads that perhaps a few Sundays wouldn't go amiss in future. Keep checking back on the blog as we’ll be listing October’s dates in the next few days.

Do let us know what you find: how inspired are the speeches, convincing the pitches, or exotic the biology lab creatures and share any photos @schoolhuntersuk. No, we don't think there are explosions in the science labs every day either. 


Moulsford Prep School, Wallingford:
Friday 23rd September 2016, 10am and 1pm
Saturday 24th September 2016, 9am


Headington School, Oxford:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 10am
Wednesday 16th November 2016, 10am

Carrdus School, Banbury:
Friday 30th September 2016, 10am

Heatherton House School, Amersham:
Friday 30th September 2016, 10am
Saturday 1st October 2016, 10am
Further dates in the new year.

Crown House School, High Wycombe:
No open days – contact the school to arrange a visit.


St Teresa's School, Prince’s Risborough:
Thursday 22nd September 2016, 9am
Saturday 24th September 2016, 10am

Rupert House School, Henley upon Thames:
Friday 23rd September 2016, 10am

Dragon School, Oxford:
Saturday 24th September 2016 (boarding)
Further dates available for day places and boarding open days.

St Edward's Preparatory School, Cheltenham:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 9am

Stratford Preparatory School, Warwickshire:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 10am

Warwick Junior School:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 9.30am
Saturday 14th January, 2017, 10am

Sibford School, Banbury:
Wednesday 28th September 2016, 2pm

Chandlings, Oxford:
Thursday 29th September 2016, 9am

St John's Priory School, Banbury:
Friday 30th September 2016, 10am

St Mary’s, Henley:
Contact to arrange a tour


Warwick School:
Saturday 24th September, 2016, 9.30am

The Oratory School, Reading:
The autumn open day has passed, but there will be another in the spring. A show round can be booked with the Head’s PA.


King’s High, Warwick:
Saturday 24th September, 2016, 9.30am

Headington School, Oxford:
Thursday 29th September 2016, 10am

The Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Gloucestershire:
Autumn open days are fully booked, book now for December and the new year.

Rye St Antony, Oxford:
Autumn open day has passed but the school welcomes visitors on any day.


Akeley Wood Senior School, Milton Keynes:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 9.30am
Further dates throughout the school year.

St Edward's School, Cheltenham:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 9am

Cokethorpe School, West Oxfordshire:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 9.30am

Stowe School, Buckinghamshire:
Autumn open day fully booked, book now for the new year.


Most sixth form open evenings are later in the autumn, but there are a few in September.

Rugby School, Warwickshire:
Saturday 17th September 2016

St Edward’s, Oxford:
Saturday 24th September 2016, 9am

Magdalen College School, Oxford:
Open afternoon: Thursday 29th September 2016

Headington School, Oxford (girls only):
Thursday 29th September 2016, 10am

Time to go loop the loop - how about turning11+ entry on its head?

A different perspective on eleven plus selection (image credit: Unsplash)

A different perspective on eleven plus selection (image credit: Unsplash)

Roll up, roll up for some creative thinking...

Harold Wilson’s government began the phasing out of grammar schools in 1964 in an act of what Tony Blair described as “academic vandalism” and Margaret Thatcher abolished more than any other prime minister while David Cameron was lukewarm towards them and Theresa May wants to bring them back.  Sometimes it's hard to know which way is up!

The dilemmas we face with parents on the hunt for school places are very often about finding creative solutions to sometimes what can at first glance seem like very tricky scenarios. As we've listened to the constant debate on this hot topic,  and had a fair few of our own around the supper table, we couldn't help throwing out one that seemed to stick...

Top 20 per cent by school - too hair-raising, too simple?

First up. The postcode lottery, access to tutoring, opt-in testing, and prep schools are just some of the things that make the grammar schools inaccessible to many even before the eleven plus test. See our thoughts on barriers to entry around the test here 

If grammar schools are to be retained and even expanded, what if we returned to universal testing of all eligible pupils in the Local Authority area and awarded grammar school places by primary school?

Imagine. Every child takes the test, in primary school and during the school day.  The top twenty per cent of pupils from each primary school are then offered a place in a grammar school. Putting aside any reservations about the selective system, and on the basis of there being some selection within an area's state schools, it just might be more balanced than the current system. Whilst excellent primaries would still attract more reception applications than their struggling neighbours, there just might be less of a fear of missing out - when not everyone can re-locate adjacent to an 'Outstanding' school or indeed access tutoring - and just possibly a fairer social mix. 

Too stomach-churning? Perhaps Justine Greening could give it some thought.


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

Autumn School Open Days - don't delay, places are booking fast

Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and school open days. Image credit: Unsplash 

Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and school open days. Image credit: Unsplash 

Are you ready for Super Saturday?

It's open day season, and for some schools that means there is just ONE opportunity in the next 12 months to see the school on display. Many others have a few dates now and more in the spring. But if you are hoping to see a short-list of schools in the next few weeks then it might require some creative thinking - being in two places at once would be a useful skill to have. This weekend is something of a Super Saturday with open houses running all over the country. 

If you absolutely can't make the open days, then it's often possible to make individual appointments - sometimes even with some time with the Head on your own, but you will be sacrificing the opportunity to scope out... fellow parents!

Not all schools require booking, but very many do, so do check individual websites for further instructions. Here is our handy highlights list of open days for girls' and boys' independent senior schools, for year 7 entry in particular, for London and the South-East. Check here for our Co-Ed list for October. 

Do let us know how you get on.  We'd love to share your experiences or see your photos @schoolhuntersuk.


St Paul’s Girls' School, London: Saturday 8th October 2016, 9am Saturday 8th October 2016, 11.15am Monday 31st October 2016, 5pm

North London Collegiate School, London: Taster mornings instead Tuesday 11th October 2016, 9.15am

Wycombe Abbey, Buckinghamshire: Saturday 15th October 2016

Guildford High School for Girls: Thursday 13th October 2016, 10am Wednesday 9th November 2016, 10am Thursday 1st December 2016, 10am

James Allen’s Girls’ School, London: Saturday 8th October 2016, 10am

The Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, Hertfordshire: Saturday 8th October 2016, 2pm

Godolphin & Latymer, London: Wednesday 12th October 2016, 4.45pm

City of London Girls’ School: Tuesday 11th October 2016, 11am Tuesday 18th October 2016, 11am

St Albans High School for Girls, Hertfordshire: Saturday 8th October 2016, 9.30am

Notting Hill and Ealing High School, London: Wednesday 19th October 2016, 4.30pm

St Mary’s School Ascot, Surrey: Saturday 19th November 2016

Channing School, London Book a tour

St Catherine’s, Bramley, Surrey: Tuesday 8th November 2016, 9.15am

St Swithun’s School, Winchester: Wednesday 2nd November 2016, 1.45pm

South Hampstead High School, London: Wednesday 9th November 2016, 2.30pm Thursday 27th November 2016, 9.30am

The Abbey School, Berkshire:
Friday 14th October 2016, 9.15am

Wimbledon High School, London: Wednesday 2nd November 2016, 9.30am

Putney High School, London: Saturday 8th October to Friday 14th October – open week

Roedean School, East Sussex: Open Day now passed

Lady Eleanor Holles School, London: Monday 10th October 2016 Friday 14th October 2016 Tuesday 18th October 2016


Westminster School, London*: Separate tours. Contact registrar

Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Hertfordshire: Tours instead

St Paul’s School, London: Saturday 5th November 2016

Royal Grammar School, Guildford: The annual open day has now passed

Tonbridge School, Kent: Saturday 8th October 2016, 10am

Whitgift School, Croydon: Tuesday 11th October 2016, 4pm

Harrow, Middlesex: Book now for January 2017

Dulwich College, London: Wednesday 2nd November 2016, 11am Wednesday 16th November 2016, 11am

King's College, Wimbledon*: Thursday 6th October 2016, 6pm

St Albans School, Hertfordshire*: Saturday 19th November 2016

Trinity School, Croydon*: Open day has now passed

Reed’s School, Cobham*: 12th November 2016, 10am

  • = co-ed sixth form



Why Matilda didn’t go to grammar school - 8 barriers to entry under the current grammar school test system

Barriers to entry to 11+ schools (image credit: Unsplash)

Barriers to entry to 11+ schools (image credit: Unsplash)

When I grow up...

As self-motivated and brilliant as Matilda Wormwood was (our favourite Roald Dahl heroine) there would be one thing holding her back from a grammar school application today... her parents!

We believe in good schools and most importantly the right school for the right child. Whether you’re a believer or not in the grammar school system and whether you are pleased or aghast at their contentious proposed expansion - and do see Tom Sherrington's highly informative post on the ins and outs of the arguments - we suggest that if they are to exist then perhaps they should be accessible to all pupils within the catchment area. 

What are the road-blocks to even sitting the test?

1. Planning ahead

Under the current system all children applying to grammar school must apply in Year 5.  Parents are informed about this via a booklet supplied by the county, but there are all sorts of reasons they might not read it – it joins the myriad crumpled letters that never make it home via the book bag and most parents are full-time jugglers of jobs, elderly relatives and young children. It's just one more thing to do. Nothing in the booklets we’ve seen actually recommends applying, or "having a go"..

2. Believing in your child – recognising your Matilda

To think you should register for the 11+, you have to think there’s a point.  While many of us delight in our children's unique talents (imagined or otherwise!) it is sometimes the case that parents under-estimate their child's ability.

3. Confidence

And then there are some parents who do believe in their children, but are a little shy about it.  It takes a degree of confidence to take the registration form into school and ask the headteacher to sign the application form confirming that your child is the person you say he is, exposing your hopes to scrutiny. 

4. a £5 photo

In my local supermarket it costs £5 for four little passport photos – one of which is needed for the registration form.  For many, £5 spent on photos would make a significant dent in the family food budget.  

5. Teachers

While some schools encourage every pupil to register for the test, others are wary.  And of course many teachers simply don’t believe in selective education. How can they be expected to encourage families to register for the test if either they don’t believe in it or fear they will be held to account if results are disappointing. SATS may be quite enough pressure. 

6. Late babies

We have witnessed first-hand the difficulty for summer babies in relation to the 11+ test.  The test itself is weighted to account for the age of children being tested, but parents’ perception is based on their child’s performance in relation to their peers, not the population, and that can have a huge bearing on how they view their readiness for the 11+. 

Summer-born children are only nine years old when registration takes place and for many parents the extra pressure of the grammar school can seem too much for such a young child.  It doesn’t mean young children won’t win places at grammar school, but it does distort their parents’ view of their suitability.

7. Saturday test days

Lots of children have parents who work on a Saturday who are simply unable to take them to a test on a Saturday morning.  For many it’s one barrier too far, too intimidating, too much effort.  The only reason for Saturday testing is to make the grammar schools available to out-of-county pupils… and out-of-county pupils are inevitably the children of the motivated, interested more ambitious parents, so the bright working class pupils politicians are keen to empower are pushed out of the way even before they register! 

8. Getting there

Again, not a barrier to entry to the determined, but as Local Authority budgets are cut and savings sought they are cutting back on school transport and many no longer provide free transport to the grammar school unless it also happens to be your local school.  Pupils on free school meals can apply for the transport, but it’s no longer automatic and is yet another stumbling block to parents choosing secondary schools.


We applaud all the efforts of Local Authorities to prevent cheating, to make the test tutor-proof, to and to make it fair for younger pupils, but there's a way to go before it's truly open to all. 

Say a little prayer for me - it's11+ season

There are many ways to find the right school.  (image credit: Unsplash)

There are many ways to find the right school.  (image credit: Unsplash)

Time to blow out the candles?

As the 11+ exams begin with the Kent grammar schools today it might be time to blow out the candles and hang up the prayer mat. The pressure is off now. You can do no more. Your child’s grammar school career is certainly in the lap of the gods.  After what might have been a long summer of Bonds books and maybe even a spot of tutoring, then it's time to relax... but, perhaps not for too long. 

Open Day season is upon us, which might be just the moment to cage those inner tigers and show your child that the grammar school is just one option and that you have other schools in mind.  And don’t forget - all importantly - these schools are alternatives, not Plan B.  

It's time to pore over prospectuses and visit as many schools as you can and get a feel for what is out there and you might be pleasantly surprised.  Your child needs to understand that you are considering everything, and a grammar-school score on the tests does not make the grammar school the right place for everyone.  And as half term approaches and that envelope drops on the mat, you want to be ready for all eventualities, and to know you can make positive school choices.

With all the government talk about consumer choice – be it in health, education or pensions – the parents who “choose” a grammar school because it is the school are effectively not making a choice at all.  As one grammar school teacher put it to me “there are boys in my school who look like a rabbit caught in the headlights from the day they arrive to the day they leave, but the parents will never take them out because they are at the grammar.” There is no right school, but there is a right school for your child. We hope it's a comforting thought. 

Remember: grammar school rabbits could be lions elsewhere. 

Image credit: Unsplash

Image credit: Unsplash

today's the day for GCSE results but there's still time for the Sixth Form Swap

It's not too late to switch for the sixth... (image credit: Unsplash)

It's not too late to switch for the sixth... (image credit: Unsplash)

For those entering their GCSE year this September and thinking a change of scene for sixth form might be in order, now is the time to be looking at options, but what of those who are opening their envelopes this morning and having that thought what might seem to be a year late?

We’ve been assisting one such student just this week.  She’s predicted to get great results, is a good all-rounder and one of the most delightful teenagers we’ve ever met, but she’s just not 100 per cent sure her current school is going to suit her next year, so we’ve been hunting around.

Not all the schools we looked at – particularly in the state sector – have been available to speak to us this week, but almost all have been encouraging.  Schools recognise that there will be changes and fully expect last-minute applicants and for their own pupils to change their options, whether because of unexpected results or because summer viewing has inspired them to play more sport, learn Portuguese or qualify in sports law.

Get in touch with schools - today

Each of the schools we spoke to encouraged our client to get in touch on results day, or during the days afterwards, to enquire about places – obviously the sooner the better.  Not one, and we spoke to some very highly regarded schools, said that the sixth form is full.  Some said that spaces on certain courses might be difficult to secure at this late stage – Bunsen burners, language labs, etc, can be fully occupied – but not one gave us an outright 'No'. 

It's not too late until the music stops

The important thing to remember is that all schools have different entry criteria and one of them will suit you.  The most competitive schools have often not filled their places because they’d rather be slightly under capacity than lower their standards.  Other popular schools will have pupils who don’t get expected grades, discover they’re going to need subjects for their degree choices that their school can’t offer, or simply be looking for a change of scene just like you. 

Time is tight, but if you want to make the change, then seize the day – there’s nothing to lose.

And if you need a few ideas as to where now and help in pulling it off in double-quick time, just get in touch, we'd love to hear from you. 


Welcome back golden team GB - where did it all begin?

Rio Reflections... (Image credit: Unsplash)

Rio Reflections... (Image credit: Unsplash)

Given my love of research and reluctance to leave behind Olympic fever, it’s been addictive.  I wanted to know: where did the winning athletes go to school, when did they take up their sports, how were they first spotted?

A few days ago I heard a snippet on the radio, 7 per cent of the population is educated privately but independently educated athletes had about a third of the medal tally. 

It's clear that private schools can offer fabulous facilities, afford the upkeep and hire specialist coaches but I wondered if it could really be true that they produce the best athletes. Depending on the emphasis of your preferred news source either the privately educated were over-represented or the medal tally of the state educated is up on 2012.

The Sutton Trust certainly deserves a medal of its own for its work in forging private/state school partnerships which has benefited athletes such as gold medal winning swimmer Adam Peaty. 

why don't state schools make the team?

The medal distortion is particularly acute in the team sports. Unsurprising perhaps, because it’s not just about whether you introduce a child to a sport at all, but also about what engenders team spirit. 

My own tiny state primary school played on borrowed fields and had few facilities, and we pretty much all made the team, regardless of sporting prowess.  Hockey was the game of choice because at the time it was the only gender-neutral sport on offer to a school too small to support single-sex teams and we were a really, really proud hockey team.  We were good at swimming too and had the good fortune to have access to a borrowed pool, but the swimming team wasn’t nearly as proud and I’m convinced that was because our best swimmers were for the most part not school swimmers, but club swimmers who happened to go to our school.  There wasn’t that sense of belonging to the swimming team for external competitions and swimming passions were only raised on sports day when inter-house contest was fierce.

Back to 2016 and our village primary school teaches “ball skills”, not ball sports.  Apparently a game of hockey would exclude some children: why a team can’t be just a little too big or a little too small during a PE lesson I don't know!  

Boys’ team sports tend to succeed outside of the private sector – everywhere seems to have a junior football or rugby team – but sporty girls can end up in dance or swimming lessons and only get a crack at team sports if they’re lucky enough to have an enthusiastic parent or teacher running a club at school.  My own sporty daughter arrived at secondary school feeling she’d missed the boat on team sports and opts instead to dance and climb and has embraced the one team sport that’s new to almost all – rowing!

Teachers:  talent-spotting heroes?

What really stood out to me reading about all of our amazing athletes is how many of them were spotted and encouraged by a PE teacher.  As parents we're programmed to see our children’s talents as a little special, but it is teachers, who see hundreds over their careers, and who spot those with something really special – those who can run a little faster, jump a little higher and who want to win just that bit more than the rest of us… who will throw themselves on the ground to hit that ball, save that goal or win that race. 

If I could sprinkle a little fairy dust on the education system, it would be to ensure that every primary school in Britain had a dedicated PE specialist.  Some do, many beg, steal and borrow to great effect. Secondary school can be too late.  There is a lot to be said for engendering a love of sport, a taste of triumph, before puberty kicks in and the opposite sex distracts.

Team mum and/or dad

And what else do I notice reading about our sporting heroes?  It’s the parents.  So many athletes comment on their parents, whether it’s the role model of a sporting mother or a father’s advice always to play to the best of your ability.  These champions were encouraged and supported along the way.  In many cases a lot of sacrifices have been made to raise an Olympian.  The importance of family stands out far more to me among all these stories than any split between state and private.

And apart from the privately educated, who else is beating the odds in Team GB?  Well, as far as I can see though men were over-represented, the medal distribution was pretty much even between the sexes. 

And while the odds might be better if you’re from an independent school, if you’re state educated your chances are better if you attended a grammar school, and it seems to help a lot to be from a sporty family. 

But for a real competitive edge...

Oaklands College (state) and Millfield (independent) win the schools contest, but if you’re not at a specialist sports school I think you’d be better off being from Scotland or Yorkshire … and ideally called Bennett!


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 details...watch 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.