Friday, 30 November 2012

Choosing the right school when your child has special educational needs

Not all children have the same needs and abilities. Some flourish best in a more competitive environment. Others do better in a smaller, more homely setting where the emphasis is more on nurturing creative and communication skills than aiming for Oxbridge. Some parents are primarily concerned about academic standards, many are as concerned about other factors that can make all the difference to their child’s happiness and wellbeing at school: the pastoral care; scope for developing a particular enthusiasm such as rugby, design technology, drama, art, music; in addition to the availability of extra support for a child who has learning difficulties.

There is no one best school that suits all children equally. Considering some of the points below may help you in making this important decision:
  • Do I like the Head and agree with his or her opinions about education and how it should be delivered?
  • Does the school offer specialist learning support for the particular needs of my child? Be open and honest with them. Withholding information regarding issues and difficulties when applying may lead to problems and unhappiness later, if the school is not able to provide the right support for your child’s individual learning needs. If there are some other children at the school with similar learning difficulties, your child will gain in confidence through feeling that they are the same as everyone else, rather than perhaps being the only one to be struggling and perhaps feeling like the odd one out.
  • Do I like the SENCO and feel that he or she understands the particular learning needs of my child and will offer them the right kind of support? It is very likely that this person will become one of your key contacts with the school in terms of communication regarding your child’s academic progress, so it is important that you find them approachable, knowledgeable and understanding.
  • What assessment and monitoring processes are in place? How often and through what means will the school communicate with you regarding your child’s progress and who do you get in touch with to raise concerns? How often will your child’s individual education plan (IEP) be reviewed and if necessary amended?
  • It is so important to ensure that the school you choose has the resources to both challenge and stretch your child’s capabilities and interests, as well as offer relevant, experienced support where needed. With this in mind, do you need to consider updating your child’s educational psychologist report? The school which you decide upon will be keen to see a recent report as part of the application process, so it can save time and assist you when communicating with the school admissions team, if you have one readily available. This also enables you to evaluate how your child is progressing and if any new challenges or difficulties with learning have arisen, as well as give the school highly valuable guidance on how to best support your child with their learning. Contact the CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) team at Bucks County Council for advice regarding the assessment process or if you wish to make private arrangements, your child’s school or an education consultant will be able to recommend an educational psychologist to you.
  • How is learning support delivered? One-to-one, in small groups or within the classroom through a teaching assistant? What sort of training do teaching staff have when it comes to supporting children with special educational needs within the classroom?
  • Is technology, for example laptops, used to support the learning of those with difficulties and is this support available within the classroom and/or for use at home?
  • Does the school use streaming or setting for classes or are they mixed ability? If your child excels in maths but has difficulties with English, it is important to ensure they will be both challenged and offered additional support, where appropriate.
  • What kinds of facilities for teaching, sports and IT are offered and do these match up with the interests and needs of my child?
  • If your child has difficulty with organisations skills, what systems are in place to assist them to manage their belongings and make sure they have everything they need for each lesson as appropriate? How much movement do they have to do between classrooms during the school day and how easy is it to navigate the school campus?
  • Will I have opportunities to meet other parents? A supportive parent community with whom you can discuss your worries regarding your child with like-minded parents can be of great value in assisting you to understand your child’s needs better and to have access to support and a listening ear when things appear difficult.
  • Following your visits to schools it is highly likely that you will have a front runner. It may be the school that felt warm and welcoming as soon as you arrived or that you particularly liked the staff you met or the way they were interacting with the pupils during class. Whatever the reason for your ‘feeling’ it is my experience that this usually leads to the correct school choice.
Catherine Stoker is a Director of The Independent Education Consultants who offer specialist, individual advice to parents to support them in making the right school choices at all ages and stages of education, as well as offering higher education and careers guidance services from age 14-18 and beyond.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

What is modern boarding and what are the benefits to 21st Century parents?

The words boarding school seem to stimulate deep emotions within all parents. Some look upon the concept positively and will vigorously defend their decision why they have chosen to ‘send’ their children away to school, while others strongly proclaim they would ‘never’ make this choice, as they want their family to remain close, with their children at home. This strength of feeling, one way or the other, usually comes from personal experiences of boarding, from hearsay or a lack of knowledge and understanding of exactly what modern boarding is all about. I challenge parents to put aside their own personal experiences for a moment and take an open-minded view towards evaluating boarding as an option, by taking time to investigate what kind of educational opportunity boarding offers now in 2012.

Home Comforts and Communication
Gone are the days of bare floorboards, curtain-less windows, reciting poetry outside the housemistress’ office after lights out and cold open-plan showers. Modern boarding schools provide extremely comfortable living accommodation, often with power showers, internet access and personal study space in cosy dormitories as well as common rooms with flat screen TV, squashy sofas, beanbags, pool tables, Wii, and kitchens for toast and hot chocolate before bed.
Mobile phones, email and Skype make regular communication with home easy. Parents are actively encouraged to engage fully in their child’s education, as schools welcome parents to see their children regularly through attending concerts, sports matches, house social events and plays. This is one of the reasons why many UK based parents tend to look for boarding options that are no more than one hour from home.
Parent portals or intranet and online reports keep parents fully informed of their child’s educational progress and the Housemaster or Mistress gives an additional pastoral support system for boarders, in addition to the tutor or form teacher.

Working parents
The current financial climate means many more parents are finding that they both have to go to work. This can often lead to a constant juggle between work commitments and the school runs, after school clubs, sports practices and fixtures, getting the homework done, birthday parties, cooking supper and getting the children to bed. Often parents feel like the local taxi service, taking two cars in different directions to cater for different children’s interests and commitments, which leads to the question, where is the quality family time anyway? Think also of the cost in terms of food, fuel and your time!
For those in this situation, it must surely be worth considering the increasingly fashionable option of weekly boarding, where the focus for parents and children alike is work in the week, freeing up quality family time at home at the weekends. Boarding gives your child after school access to the library, computers and assistance from both peers and teaching staff, while they are working on their homework, coursework or projects. A far more cost-effective approach than paying for home tutors or becoming an expert in the GCSE History syllabus or Latin vocabulary yourself and far better than dealing with conflicts at home, to push to get the homework done! Those studying art or design and technology benefit from access to school facilities to continue their work in the evenings. Early morning starts to drop off at school in time for pre-school sports practice or choir rehearsal or early evenings sitting in the car outside school waiting for the coach to return from ‘the match’ become a thing of the past.
In short, rather than spending time on the school bus or in the car to and from school, your child can be studying, taking part in a breadth of extra-curricular activities or just relaxing with friends, while you gain hours of additional time to get the chores done in the working week, freeing up time for fun at weekends.

More and more schools are offering the opportunity for day pupils to board on an occasional basis. For young school children in particular, this can be a very good way of practising staying away from home on one or two nights a week, if parents are considering whether they might be suited to weekly or full-boarding later on. Many children find this a far more exciting option than a babysitter. For parents, it can mean a lie-in without the school run, after a late finishing dinner party too!
In conclusion, 21st century modern boarding is about access to a breadth of opportunity, building confidence, leadership skills and independence, learning a sense of community and cultural understanding, as well as full parental involvement through communication and a partnership between school and parents. Far from ‘sending’ their children away to school, parents who ‘choose’ a boarding school education are making a decision to invest in the opportunity to release their child’s full potential.

For more education articles and for details of how you can receive advice from our team of education consultant experts to support you with your school choices, higher education and career planning, please visit our website

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Tips for parents preparing for Bucks 11+ results day

Are you nervously awaiting Buckinghamshire 11+ results on 30th November?

Plan to get out of the house. Waiting to ambush the postman won’t change the outcome and may whip you up into a frenzy of nerves.

If you receive positive news praise, reward and celebrate, but be sensitive to other children and parents for whom the news may not have been so good. Jumping for joy at the school gates when other parents and children may be disappointed is not very community spirited. This might be a good time for your child to learn modesty and sensitivity amongst peers.

If unsuccessful, give your child space and time to come to terms with the news. Hide your own feelings at all costs. When ready, discuss handling questions about results from schoolmates and remind them of the support structure around them. Talk positively about Plan B. If you have options such as an independent or free school, review them again. Highlight opportunities to make new friends and try different activities or subjects.

If the result was unexpected and you feel strongly that grammar is the right environment for your child, discuss the result with their Headteacher. Ask if there is cause and academic evidence to support your view. If in mutual agreement, apply for a Selection Review Pack. Submit your request form and evidence by 14th Dec 2012.

Be aware that your child’s confidence may have taken a knock. Continue to reassure and praise them for their achievements over the coming weeks and months and about their future schooling. However, try not to be consumed by it!

For more education articles and for details of how you can receive advice from our team of education consultant experts to support you with your school choices, higher education and career planning, please visit our website

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Researching University courses -some advice for year 12 students embarking on open days

Statistics indicate the most common reasons for students not completing their degree are the course did not deliver in line with expectations or they did not settle in the environment. Many year 12 students will currently be preparing for making their UCAS application in 2013 by visiting universities. If used wisely, these visits will put you ahead of the game by ensuring you are ready to submit an early application in the autumn.

Research courses and universities which have a proven track record in delivering post-graduate internships or employment in jobs which both appeal to you, and suit your character and skills. As long as the resulting report is interpreted correctly, an online psychometric assessment exploring interests and personality traits can provide useful guidance  on potential courses and careers.

Once you have short-listed, plan thoroughly for visits. Prepare questions in advance by reading the website and literature and make notes for reference. Ask questions about the specific course structure and syllabus. Some universities offer trial lectures so you can experience the course. Is it what you expected? How many modules are taken annually? How full is the lecture timetable? How much is delivered through smaller tutorials or independent study, project work or assignments? Satisfaction surveys indicate courses with more ‘teaching’ time, particularly when delivered in small groups, have the happiest students.

With courses lasting 3 years minimum, will you enjoy living in the environment? Does the accommodation in halls or student houses appeal or if you plan to live at home, will you cope with the commute long-term? How will you settle and make new friends? Do the clubs and activities provide for your interests or the opportunity to try interesting new things? Does the town or city offer r & r to meet your expectations?

For advice on choosing the right university course and career please contact us. You will find details by visiting our website: 

Our team of expert consultants will be very happy to help you.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Encouraging Resilient, Happy And Resourceful Children

Parents want to protect, solve problems, make everything right but does this encourage independent thinking, where children can resolve life’s challenges on their own? Will they fall apart when they first experience failure or disappointment? Emotional resilience helps children understand their strengths, think in a flexible, resourceful way, see things from the viewpoint of others, and thereby become more confident to cope with the ups and downs of childhood.

To develop resilience, listen, acknowledge and show empathy. Help them to name emotions they are feeling. Angry, unhappy, frustrated. Encourage perspective by marking problems on a scale of 1-10.

Support by saying if you could, you would solve their problem for them. Explain that is not possible on this occasion. Invite them to suggest what they might do to solve the issue. Only chip in with suggestions, if they are unable to come up with their own.

When coping with disappointments such as missing out on team selection, not securing a part in the school play, or feeling excluded amongst peers, ask first if these are your aspirations as a parent, or theirs?

Discuss personal ambitions with your child and how they might achieve them. What are other children are doing that is different? How might your child improve their skills, for example a holiday course or weekend workshops? How might they be ‘noticed’ next time? Ask the school for tips on how they might improve, to have a better chance of success.

For more information on building emotional resilience visit

To read more articles and for details of how our team of consultants can advise you regarding your education choices, higher education and careers, visit our website

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tips on preparing your child for interviews at top public schools

How can your child stick in the interviewer's memory?

Presentation and initial meeting
  • Practice breathing deeply if your child has a tendency to be nervous. 
  • Arrive for the interview in plenty of time, as rushing in at the last minute or even late will lead to a nervous start to the interview. Allow them time to compose themselves, but not so much time that they have time to become nervous.
  • Make sure that they appear smart, smile, be confident, maintain good eye contact and use a warm greeting such as Good Morning Mr Smith. 
  • Practice a firm handshake.

Body Language, personality and the art of conversation
  • Practice sitting on a sofa or on a chair looking engaged and interested with good posture, but relaxed. 
  • Smile often and maintain eye contact with the interviewer. 
  • Show a bit of personality in the way you answer questions. You need to demonstrate that you are easy to get along with, enthusiastic without being ‘cheesy’ and keen to get fully involved.
  • Try to practice the art of conversation. Question responses which give one sentence answers will appear ‘rehearsed’ and will not give as good an impression as an interactive dialogue which results from a question. 

Why would you like to come to THIS senior school?
  • Look through the prospectus and website together with your child and write down the things that appeal about the school
  • What are the particular strengths and how do these match the talents or interests of your child? 
  • Have you heard about its reputation for a certain subject or extra-curricular opportunity from relatives, friends? 
  • Did dad or grandpa attend and why is it important to follow in their footsteps? Is there a sibling at the school?
  • Do the setting, historical features or facilities appeal?
  • Is it a single sex/boarding/religious affiliation school and why do you think that this appeals to you in terms of your education?
What can YOU offer to the school? 
If you are being interviewed by a housemaster/mistress it is important to research what subject they teach, what sports teams they coach or what their interests/contribution to the extra-curricular programme is. Any common ground of interest will make an engaging conversation easier.
  • What academic subjects do you enjoy most? 
  • What are you currently learning in one or two of these and why does this interest you?
  • Are you involved in sport, music, drama, art, design and technology etc and what have you achieved in these? 
  • What would you like to achieve in the future and what new things would you like to try?
  • Do your family have strengths, achievements, contributions to make to the school community?
  • Have you raised money for charity, been part of the school food committee or been a prefect or house captain?
What can you tell me about your current school?
  • Size, co-ed/single sex/boarding/day.
  • Setting, atmosphere (eg friendly) 
  • Breadth of subjects and extra-curricular opportunities
  • Is there anything you dislike? (briefly, don’t dwell on this) 
  • What might you change about your current school if you had the opportunity?
  • What happens during a typical school day/week/weekend?
  • Describe a situation that you have found difficult and how did you resolve it, find a solution?
What are your hobbies/interests outside school?
  • Be prepared to talk in detail about these. Eg not just naming them but expand on them to tell the interviewer how you are involved, how often and when. 
  • What is your favourite hobby and why?
  • Do you have a favourite book, what is the story about and why do you like it?
  • If you had 2 hours of free time, what would you do with it?
Current Affairs
  • Make sure you are aware of the top stories of what it happening in the news at the current time. (UK, Europe and Worldwide). Form an opinion and why have you formed it?
  • Do you read a paper?
  • Do you listen to the news or watch the news on TV?
Be prepared
Sometimes you will be asked to read a passage during interview, discuss a painting on the wall, talk about exercise books you have taken with you or a portfolio. Practice all of these in advance so you are prepared. Having to think on your feet can make nerves come into play, so rehearse these situations in advance. Practice forming and expressing an opinion about things. Do you like this that or the other and why?

Do you have any questions?
While you are looking through the prospectus and website start to make a list of questions about the school and learn these for use in the interview.

Smile, eye contact, firm handshake, polite ‘thank you for the opportunity to come to the school and meet you’. Leave a lasting impression.

To set up a practice interview for your child as well as advice on choosing a senior school, please contact us.

For more education articles and for details of our advisory services on school choices, higher education and careers, please visit our website

Friday, 2 November 2012

Making the most of a parents' evening

Parents' evenings often feel rushed and you can sometimes come away feeling that you have perhaps gained very little additional and constructive knowledge about your child and their progress. It is of course a very uplifting experience if the teachers are full of nothing but praise for your child. However, if your child is struggling for one reason or another, it can be depressing in equal measure and you can feel short-changed in terms of time and opportunities to discuss how any issues might be resolved. Here are a few tips to help.

Save the date
Get the date in your diary well in advance to make sure you are able to attend. If both parents are available, all the better as you may need to divide to conquer if time is short. If divorced or separated try to put personal differences aside and attend together, so your child knows both parents are engaged in their education and can praise, support and encourage from a position of the same knowledge.

Plan ahead
Read the last school report to remind yourself of any issues you wished to raise with particular subject teachers. Sit down with your child and discuss how they feel they are getting on at school before you go and ask them if there are any issues they would like you to raise. Make notes so you can use the time with each teacher in the most constructive way.

Use the time wisely
If the school has a system where your child books appointments on your behalf with teachers in advance, make sure they do not just book you in with the teachers who they know will praise them! If there are lots of teachers to see and two of you, consider doing some meetings separately so you can cover more subjects and then compare notes at the end over a glass of red wine! This can also work well if the school operates a queuing system on the night.

You should come away from each meeting with a view on how engaged your child is in lessons, their ability to contribute to class discussion, to ask questions and to organise both their classwork and homework, as well as the knowledge of where your child's attainment sits within expected targets for their age. Are they challenged and working at a pace which matches their ability? Make brief notes on each meeting for reference later on. When you have seen many teachers you may forget who said what!

If you have siblings at the school try, not to drift into conversation about another child.

If you run out of time with a teacher and feel that there is more to discuss, ask for a follow-up appointment on another day, when there will be more time to resolve your worries or the teacher's concerns.

If time is short, make sure you prioritise time with the tutor, as they will have a good overview of how your child is progressing across all subjects and perhaps point out subject areas where you might focus your time. They will also give you an overview of pastoral matters such as how your child integrates socially with peers, their organisational skills, time-keeping etc.

Remember education should be broad in opportunities. In addition to progress in core academic subjects, allocate time to speaking with teachers of sport, music, drama, art, design and technology etc. This will give you an all-round picture of your child. Sometimes these teachers will find it easier to pick up on pastoral matters, since they see your child in a less structured environment.

Although the head teacher is usually available, use this time for conversation about small points. This is not the time to launch into lengthy discussions regarding major concerns you might have about your child or the school as a whole. If you have these, call the Head's PA and book an appointment to meet in private at another time.

Feedback and follow up
Spend some time with your child afterwards sharing with them what the teachers have said. Praise them where they have done well, discuss any difficulties that were raised and how these might be resolved going forward.

Remember the parents' evening is not the only time you should communicate with the teachers at school. If, at any point in the year, you have concerns regarding progress in a particular subject or pastoral welfare, contact the school and arrange a call or meeting with the tutor or subject teacher as soon as possible. Regular communication between parent and school will mean little things are nipped in the bud and are less likely to become major problems.

For more free information or for details of our advisory services, please visit our website