How Do I Know If My Child Is Suitable For A Selective School?

With an increasing number of education options out there, how do you know which direction your child should take? Should you look at selective schools? Should you consider private tutoring to tackle the entrance exams? Mary Lonsdale of London Home Tutors answers some of your most frequently asked questions about selective schools, academic assessments and home tutoring…

What is a selective school?
A selective school is one that admits students on the basis of some sort of criteria, usually academic. The main groups of selective establishments in the UK are grammar schools, faith schools and independent schools. There are also state schools that have selection criteria. There are usually entrance exams to sit.

How do I know if my child is suitable for an academically selective school?
This is a very common concern among parents because they are not usually given the data to help them make an informed decision about selective secondary education and whether it’s appropriate to hire a private tutor to help tackle the entrance exams for a grammar school or independent.

Even if they pass the exams, is it the best thing for your child? We are sensing a real backlash against students being hot-housed and pushed into schools where they may not thrive or be happy.

Even if they pass the entrance exams, is a selective school the best thing for your little ones?

Frustratingly, state primaries do collect excellent data on pupils progress relative to the country as a whole, which would be very useful when trying to figure out whether your child is suitable for a selective school, but it is very unlikely that you will get hold of this data as it’s just not a priority for establishments with teachers already sinking under admin and bureaucracy.

Parents with kids in prep schools are often given more access to information about their academic progress, but the quality of information may be variable, especially if the classes are small – what does it mean if your kid is top of the class in maths if there are only 14 in that class? You need to benchmark their progress against a larger pool of pupils.

Mary Londsdale of London Home Tutors

Are there any independent academic assessment services available?
At London Home Tutors, parents are increasingly asking us how to determine whether their child is suitable for a selective school so that they are not made to sit inappropriate entrance examinations, which can be very stressful. For this reason, we created an Academic Assessment service to help you find the best education pathway.

The assessment, which has been carefully put together by experienced London teachers, is always undertaken by with a qualified teacher for support. Following age-appropriate tests in Maths, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning, we can give you feedback on how your child is currently performing relative to their peers and what their scholastic potential could be for school.

Examining Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning gives the best indicator of potential, and hence is the best way to sign post schools to you as parents. Once we have the results of these tests, we plot them on a bell curve against the known ability markers of establishments in the London area and can give you approximately five selective schools that your little one can comfortably aspire to at GCSE, A Level and beyond, as well as admissions advice.

At what stage should we start thinking about selective schools?
Start thinking early as you will need to visit multiple target schools and the main open days tend to occur only twice a year, around October and May time. If you are considering an 11+ campaign (for the 11 plus exams), start evaluating your options and visiting places in years 4 and 5 so that you have time to visit and find out what the entrance procedures entail. This also gives you time to prepare your little one in a gentle-paced way without any stressful last-minute cramming.

If your child is performing very well, you may rightly feel that they will benefit from an academic environment. But don’t forget to consider their temperament. A particularly sensitive kid may not flourish in a competitive environment

If my child is performing significantly above their year group, what type of school should we be looking for?
If your child is performing very well at primary school, you may rightly feel that they will benefit from an academic environment at high school. But don’t forget to consider their temperament and social behaviours.

A sensitive child may not flourish in a competitive environment, even if they are near the top of the class. A shy kid may not flourish in a boisterous establishment, even if they have the credentials on paper. Also consider your broader family life such as the demands of the school run and the needs of other children in the family.

What are some of the most prestigious schools in London?
The most prestigious schools in London tend to be those with great history and tradition and consistently excellent exam results. They also tend to prepare children for the best universities and, ultimately, the most sought after jobs!

Should I hire a personal tutor to help my child prepare for entrance exams?
Not necessarily! If you have picked appropriate schools and have a good knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you can prepare them yourself. There is so much help available online and most schools now have specimen papers on their website.

The Bond books series offers a great source of practice questions. Think of it as if you were preparing for a job interview; you wouldn’t turn up totally unprepared and would definitely run through some practice questions before you went.

If your child is at a prep school, you can expect that they should be practising all elements of the entrance exams, including verbal and non-verbal reasoning, and hopefully a bit of exam technique. If they are at a state primary, you should assume these are not being taught and these areas would be a good place to start practising. Of course, a home tutor can always help prepare your little one for entrance exams if you’ve identified weaker areas.

Is getting into a selective school the be all and end all?
Of course not! Families should always consider the broader aspects of their children’s education and think about what is going to work for your family as a whole: one child going to a particular establishment can have a lot of collateral impact on their siblings, for example.

If your hope is that your child will end up a happy, fulfilled adult and enjoying a meaningful, balanced life, there are certainly multiple paths to get there and that path rarely requires 100% perfect academic achievement!

To find out more about academic assessments for selective schools, entrance exams and home tutoring, see or call 020 8444 9685


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