Sunday, 15 September 2013

Making the most of school open days – some tips for parents

Many schools, both state and independent, have open days in the coming weeks. These are a good opportunity to start your research by seeing schools in action, meeting key staff and getting a general feel for the atmosphere.

How do parents make the most of these fact-finding missions, seeing through the ‘marketing speak’ to make important decisions about the right school for their child?

Firstly meet the Head. How accessible they are to prospective parents can be a guide as to how the school is run. It is crucial their philosophy for education meets yours. Do they come across as a capable leader, respected by staff and pupils alike and are they in touch with the day-to-day school life?

Observe staff relationships with pupils within a lesson environment. Is it formal or more relaxed and which will suit your child? Single sex or co-ed has a different feel -do all children appear engaged and included? Is I.T. being used constructively, to support excellent and engaging teaching, not as a substitute for it? Are teaching assistants being used successfully, if your child will need learning support?

Are pupils smartly dressed and belongings tidily stored around the school? Books, files, school bags and lost property should be out of sight. Are walls and furniture in good decorative order and does the school site appear well looked-after?

Can pupils speak confidently to visitors and talk knowledgeably about their school, outlining its strengths?

Do noticeboards give a picture of a busy school with a breadth of educational opportunity across all academic subject areas, sport, music and creative arts?

Book your Open Day visits at The Future Schools Fair in Aylesbury this Saturday 21st Sept from 9am-1pm. Free event for parents. Research school choices at 11, 13 or 16. Register

Sunday, 8 September 2013

#11+ test this week - a few calming tips for #parents

So the new format 11+ tests for grammar schools are this week and the annual parent ‘nail-biting fest’ begins. Here are a few tips to ensure your worries for the outcome do not transfer to your child, who should feel confident to take the tests in their stride, knowing that whatever the result, you will be proud of the effort they made.

Avoid discussing fears over the result with a partner or friends within your child’s earshot. This will raise the pressure they feel and lead to raised stress levels. Your child should know that you see the test simply as a gauge of their ability so they will gain a place at the right school. Use of the word ‘fail’ should be limited. You must reassure them that whatever senior school they go to, you will make sure they have access to opportunities that will lead to success.

Have a relaxed evening the night before the test and a good night’s sleep. Last-minute cramming into the night will not allow their brain to switch off and will lead to an unsettled night, meaning they will be less alert for test day
A good breakfast is crucial. I read recently that research suggests blueberries can enhance concentration and memory, so why not try some sprinkled on breakfast cereal?

Plan a treat or buy a small gift to celebrate their efforts and the test being over. Whether you also plan a treat for results day is up to you, but now is your chance to focus on rewarding the effort they spent preparing, whatever the outcome.

If you are looking to review alternatives to grammar, incase the 11+ doesn’t go to plan, why not visit The Future Schools Fair on 21st Sept in Aylesbury? A free event for parents. For more details and to register for free tickets visit the website

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Choosing the right #school and subjects for sixth form

September is here and schools are back to work. For year 11 the priority is working towards GCSE. Now is also the time to consider sixth form studies, incase a move of school is advisable. I usually discourage this unless for an educational or financial reason. Knowing teachers and supportive friendships built over several years are an unquestionable benefit of staying put.

However there are circumstances where a move may be the best option. Some schools do not have a sixth form and now is the time to research options and start the application process.

For some, applying to grammar via 16+ is an option. Movement from state to independent day school or vise versa is commonplace. Considering boarding can be a way to broaden horizons, develop independence and confidence.

Single sex to co-ed is often raised. In my view this should not be the sole reason for a move.

The right subject choices are crucial. Not all schools offer all subjects and all combinations. Give this thought now to ensure your school accommodates your preferences.

Considering which qualifications to take is also important. Some schools offer the International Baccalaureate or Pre U as an alternative to A Levels for example. Apprenticeships or vocational qualifications might suit some. It is hard to dispute the capability of the new University Technical Colleges to prepare teenagers for employment.

Sixth form is now about so much more than qualifications. School leavers need to be equipped with evidence of employability skills through work experience, as well as the capability to problem solve and study independently, if they wish to apply to university. Researching and planning for 16+ now will avoid making last-minute, rushed decisions later.

A good place to start - The free event for parents to meet schools face-to-face and attend 16 seminars giving advice on how to choose the right school, planning for 11+, 13+ and 16+ -The Future Schools Fair in Aylesbury on 21st Sept 2013. Register for your FREE tickets now via