Debunking myths about entry to independent schools

In an article by Nicola Woodcock in the Times on October 27th she writes that families are  hiring tutors for children as young as four to start to prepare them for entrance examinations to leading private schools.  I am appalled at that concept!  Last year in the same newspaper’s League Table the High School came 32nd so I would say that we can certainly be classified as one of the leading private schools.  Whenever I meet a parent who asks whether they should get their son tutored to pass our entrance examination I do all I can to persuade them not to. Why?

The dream of every parent is to find a school which is suitable for their child’s needs.  Thus, it makes no sense to tutor them to pass an entrance exam if all the hands that have helped them to get across the line are withdrawn as soon as the child starts at the School.  When I am selecting boys for the High School I want to find boys who have potential, who will step up to a challenge.  If the response to a challenge is to turn to others to pay them to overcome it for you then this surely is doing our children no good.  It is an important life skill for us all to be able to compete for something and to learn from our mistakes if unsuccessful and to enjoy the fruits of our success when things have gone well.  I want to know that the boys we take into the High School will thrive here on a daily basis.  Much more important than whether they have been prepared to pass a test is do they have curiosity, are they prepared to persevere to work something out, do they read for pleasure, do they have a love of learning? It is also important that they have life-experiences upon which to draw whether this be playing sport, doing drama or learning a language.  It is these experiences where they have encountered both success and difficulty which give them the character to be successful.  It is these characteristics which will last well beyond any entrance examination.

It is also a myth that the competition is as fierce as the press (often London-based) makes out.  In our case we will have on average about 180 boys competing for 120 places.  So, yes there is competition but it is far from the picture painted by the press.  Even in London the true picture is hidden because so many parents apply to a wide range of schools so the true competition is always much lower than it would first appear.  In our case, I aim to take all those who I feel will thrive in our school.  If necessary, therefore, I would take 130 but equally importantly if I feel that we have less than 120 in that position I will take less.  The importance of ensuring that the School is the right environment for each individual student is why we place a huge emphasis on interviewing those who come to the School.  We seek to work out whether we feel that the individual boy will be happy with us and in the end it is not about pass or fail just about whether the School is the right environment for the individual child.

Not every school will be right for every child.  I like going running on a Sunday morning but
go about it in a leisurely way at my own pace.  If I had to run in front of lots of people in a huge stadium it would be hell for me, I would be too slow and ridiculed.  So it is with Schools.  There are schools for all abilities; there are schools with various specialisms.  I want those who come to my school to be able to really enjoy their time with us.  Yes, they will need to work hard but we also want them to enjoy a range of other activities as it is through these activities that things such as teamwork, resilience, communication skills, leadership and tenacity are learnt.

Thus, perhaps some of those paying £57 an hour to tutors in London to prepare their children for exams at the age of 7 should save their money and move to Nottingham where they will find a school as strong academically as many of those they are so desperate to get their children into but one which will select their child because it suits the abilities of their child, who will treat their child as an individual and one which after all is about £5000 a year cheaper to get into! Best of all, your son can spend the time he would otherwise spend with a tutor in playing sport, reading, doing drama and generally broadening his life experiences.

Finally I would love to have the opportunity to debunk any other myths that there are about entry to our independent schools, please use the comment box here to ask your questions and I will endeavour to answer them.