Friday, 25 January 2013

Matching sixth form subject choices to university course ambitions

Local schools are currently working with year 11 students to advise on subject choices for sixth form. The Russell Group recently highlighted that students with ambitions to study at university should focus on subjects which are generally recognised for being academically rigorous, advising students to avoid taking too many ‘soft’ subjects such as Media or Business Studies, Photography or Art and Design. Just how therefore do teenagers decide on the right subjects to suit their individual interests, talents and career ambitions?

Enjoyment of a subject is directly linked to success, so choose subjects in which you have previously attained good grades and in which you find the teacher inspiring. 

Listen to advice from your school. Do they feel that you have the ability to take your chosen subjects to the next level?  

Review the school’s past results in each subject, as these will usually indicate the quality of teaching in this area. 

Consider the assessment format for the subjects you wish to study. Coursework, project work or modular assessment may suit some more than end of course examinations.

Sixth form courses should be a step along the pathway to a job or further education. It is important, to have a general idea of where you are heading and an end goal, with target grades for a course of interest, helps with motivation. 

Some university courses require study of specific subjects prior to entry. It is best to research or seek advice to ensure you are not narrowing your course options through making the wrong subject choices now. Studying at least two or three facilitating subjects such as Maths, English (Literature), Sciences, Geography, History or Languages (Classical and Modern) will ensure you are able to cope with a university course, building on knowledge gained in sixth form. Your fourth option might then encompass a subject which you study more for enjoyment or to broaden your horizons.

For advice on choosing the right subjects for sixth form, applying to university or planning your future career, visit our website

For advice on choosing a boarding or day school visit our website

For information about becoming a guardian family, caring for an international student at boarding school, visit our website

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Will proposed changes to the Bucks 11+ test change the tutoring culture?

Parents are undoubtedly worried the 11+ format is changing for 2014 entry to grammar. Looking at this from the children’s perspective, maybe this is a welcome and positive change, where the right children secure places within grammar schools, regardless of background or financial resources?

It is my idealistic belief that this should herald the time for a culture change with the new tests designed to evaluate un-coached potential by assessing aptitude across a broader range of talent indicators including numeracy, literacy, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, meaning parents and children take the testing process more in their stride. Reducing pressure or fear of failure amongst children at such a young age can only be a good thing. 

Rather than jumping straight onto the tutoring bandwagon fuelled by school gate hype, parents could instead take a more realistic view of their child’s academic potential, before financing additional practice and support. 

Investing time in giving your child the skills and emotional intelligence to cope with nerves on the test day, as well as practising exam skills such as keeping to time, concentrating within an exam room environment, applying knowledge and logic to solve a range of problems, will undoubtedly support them in performing to the best of their ability on the day and set them up with useful skills for the future. 

However, coaching a less able child in the hope that they will out-perform their academic potential, to a certain extent cheating the system, is less likely to have a positive long-term educational outcome. Confidence stems from positive experiences in education and inevitably the praise and encouragement that come from success. 

Remember taking an interest in supporting their education, working in partnership with the school, should ensure success, whatever school they attend. 

For advice on choosing the right subjects for sixth form, applying to university or planning your future career, visit our website

For advice on choosing a boarding or day school visit our website

For information about becoming a guardian family, caring for an international student at boarding school, visit our website

Saturday, 12 January 2013

What is the IB and why study this instead of AS and A Level?

Parents generally understand what AS and A levels offer to sixth form students. However, some independent and state schools across the area also offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma or IB. Consequently, a number of parents have recently asked why they might choose it over more widely recognised A levels.

In contrast to specialising in 3 or 4 subjects studied in depth at A level, a student pursuing the IB Diploma will maintain more breadth, taking six subjects. These are studied across two years, at least 3 at higher level and although continuously assessed, are mainly examined at the end of year 13, allowing more ‘learning’ time with fewer in-year exam sessions.

Subjects studied must include English or native language, a second language, a social science, an experimental science, and maths, plus an arts course or another subject option. The IB may perhaps appeal to a bright youngster who is undecided on a career, is talented in a wide range of subjects so is unable to narrow down their choices, or an individual who enjoys independent learning. It may less suit a youngster who is set on a very specific career such as becoming a doctor, where in-depth study of the sciences at A-level might be more suitable.

The extended essay, theory of knowledge, creativity and service elements of the course broaden educational experiences, challenging teenagers to apply their knowledge and understanding within areas of personal interest through individual research and community involvement.

For able students, this may appeal more than the defined syllabus boundaries of A Level, developing the ability to think, challenge, evaluate, manage their time, as well as make decisions, all vital skills for further study at university and the future world of work.

For advice on choosing the right subjects for sixth form, applying to university or planning your future career, visit our website

For advice on choosing a boarding or day school visit our website

For information about becoming a guardian family, caring for an international student at boarding school, visit our website

Friday, 4 January 2013

Is Private School for me?

The cost of private education is now at such a level that many parents, particularly those with more than one child, are beginning to consider how and when it is best to invest and when it might make sense to consider state school options instead. Combining private and state education at different ages is becoming more common place and often makes good financial sense. There are many parents for whom finding the cash to pay school fees is not easy, choosing to forgo annual holidays abroad, expensive cars and the latest technological gadgets in order to invest in their children’s future, through giving them the best education.
There is no one answer fits all to the question of whether private education is for you. State and independent provision can vary significantly depending on where you live and the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of individual children mean that each one needs careful consideration as to what might be the best option for them personally.
Parents usually make the choice of private education for three reasons.
  • The ‘best’ state schools in the area are academically selective and parents are unhappy with the alternative, if their child does not gain entry.
  • There is a need for additional support for an educational reason such as dyslexia, EAL, gifted or a particular interest such as music, and parents feel their state school option is not equipped to deliver this support.
  • Both parents work full-time, so have less time available to offer supplementary provision at home.

    With the above in mind, here are 10 tips in how to evaluate if private or state education suits you.
  1. Speaking to other parents about local schools will help, but remember their views, although passionate and enthusiastic, are not independent and a variety of opinions around the dinner party table can often confuse. Speak to an independent education consultant, read independent reviews in publications such as The Good Schools Guide and read the schools’ latest Ofsted or ISI report.  You will usually find these on the school website. Alternatively, they can be found at or for an independent school or at
  2. Ask yourself how involved you want to be in supporting and supplementing your child’s education. Choosing a state school will sometimes mean devoting significant time to your child’s learning or extra-curricular activities outside school, helping with homework, perhaps even employing a tutor for some extra tuition in Maths or English. You might want them to learn extra subjects such as French or Latin. This support is usually an inclusive part of the academic provision at a private school, where smaller class sizes and more specialist subject teachers make more individual attention and a wider curriculum possible.
  3. Consider whether you have the time to organise and provide transport for a busy programme of extra-curricular activities, such as attending coaching sessions at local sports clubs, piano or ballet lessons outside school. Invariably, the majority of the above will be provided within a private school’s holistic approach to education, with longer school days providing opportunity for an inclusive activity programme. Your role will be more one of watching school concerts and plays or cheering loudly from the side lines at school matches.
  4. Do both parents work? State school working days tend to be shorter than those at a private school meaning more childcare may be needed.
  5. Do you want to get up early on Saturday mornings for the school run? Many private schools have Saturday morning lessons, particularly those which offer boarding. There will also be a busy programme of school matches on Saturday afternoons which you will need to commit to. Longer holidays compensate for this, but the commitment of 6 days a week in term-time does not suit all families.
  6. It is not always necessary for siblings to follow the same path through education. A shy child may need to build their confidence through the small, nurturing environment of a private school, while a sibling may be out-going and confident, so attending the right state school may suit them just as well.
  7. Do you suspect that your child might have a particular weakness or struggles with their learning in some way? Investing in a private school may mean that issues such as dyslexia may be identified earlier than in a state school, where class sizes are larger. Consequently the correct support with their learning can be provided at an earlier stage, to ensure they progress alongside their peers.
  8. Good state schools are often competitive in terms of entry criteria and the academic educational programme they deliver. Will such a competitive environment, which focuses mainly on academic achievement, suit your child? If your child is self-motivated, confident and bright, the answer is probably yes. If they lack confidence, they may struggle to settle.
  9. If your child just scrapes into an academically selective state school, by being tutored to pass the 11+ and consequently makes set 7 or 8 for Maths and English, what will this do for their confidence and how will you monitor and address this? Consider if it might be better to be at the top of a less academic state or private school and hence gain confidence as a high achiever?
  10. Some parents move from state education to private education or vice versa when their child reaches 16+. There are opportunities to gain scholarships for entry to a private school at sixth form, especially if your child has done well at grammar/state school for the preceding 5 years. On the flip side, some believe that moving from private into state education for sixth from may make gaining a place at university easier, although this theory is to date unproven. Care must be taken to ensure that your teenager will cope with such a transition into a learning environment with different teaching styles, as they need to hit the ground running with only 2 years to gain top grades at this stage of education.

    For advice on choosing the right independent school visit our websites