Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Top 10 reasons for #parents to choose #boarding

Quite a number of parents have recently asked me why choose boarding? Often I find that Dad is keen, but Mum says ‘over my dead body.’ It seems to be a widely mis-understood concept which parents either love or hate. Those who are of a negative opinion have usually arrived at this conclusion as a result of out-of-date opinions formed through personal experience or hearing stories told by family or other parent contacts.

Here are a few points below which some parents feel have helped them to get a grasp of why boarding might be worth considering, when they might have previously dismissed it.

No. 1 Watch confidence grow through time doing sport, music, drama, art instead of commuting.

No. 2 Leave work-week nagging of your soon to be hormonal teenager to the professionals.

No. 3 Expand your independent or grammar school choice options, especially where siblings have different needs, without moving house.

No. 4 Develop independence, an ability to think for themselves, coupled with a lasting network of useful contacts for the future.

No. 5 Retire the parent taxi service for after school activities or play dates. It’s all there in situ!

No. 6 Solve childcare challenges in busy professional families. Access to a long school day programme and plenty to get involved in at weekends too.

No. 7 A source of stability and pastoral support whilst there may be difficult relationship issues between parents at home.

No. 8 Access to the best British Education, even when work commitments require travel overseas or a fixed-contract move abroad.

No. 9 Accelerated achievement through 7 day a week access to the library, art room, specialist help with homework and a huge breadth of other facilities and resources.

No. 10 Gain cultural understanding and tolerance of others, to facilitate future success in a Global career world.

For advice and guidance on choosing the right boarding school for your individual child please call our team of experienced expert education consultants.

We do not receive any commission from boarding schools, so are able to offer you bespoke advice which is completely independent.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

So, what makes a meaningful work experience placement?

As the mid-way point in the exam season approaches many parents are starting to turn their thoughts to the long summer holidays ahead. Some may be considering how they might arrange to engage their teenagers in a bit of meaningful work, to acquire useful skills and experience to help them on the path towards a successful future career.

If this is your plan, bear in mind that spending their summer holidays in the company of a photocopier or with their head in a filing cabinet may well result in the acquisition of useful office skills as well as resilience in executing mundane day-to-day tasks in the work environment. However, too much time spent in this way may also de-motivate. Creativity is needed in finding and making the most of interesting opportunities.

Challenging pre-conceptions is the first point to emphasise. Working in a supermarket, department store or bar enhances communication and people skills, proves trustworthiness, reliability and an ability to work with people from all walks of life. It also demonstrates a willingness to learn what makes a business tick from the bottom up.

Planning clear objectives in advance may well be the key to a constructive experience and hence a positive outcome. Clarify in advance what activities will be undertaken each day, making sure that if at all possible there is the opportunity to see all areas of the workplace-finance, sales, marketing, customer relations, legal, human resources and information technology.

Don’t forget shadowing can be an excellent way to step into the shoes of a particular career to experience what the working week looks like for a particular profession. As long as there are no issues of confidentiality or sensitivity, observation and listening while a professional goes about their working week can be an excellent way to learn. This takes less management and organisation time to set up. As such, it may be more appealing to the employers, friends, relatives, work colleagues, whose arms you plan to twist into offering your youngster this opportunity.

For advice on planning work experience as part of making a successful UCAS application to study at a British University in the next couple of years, please give us a call to speak to one of our education consultant experts. 

Telephone 01865 522066 or Email

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Survival skills for parents facing an exam stressed home environment this half term

Isn’t it typical that just as the exam season gets into full swing, the sun emerges and temperatures heat up after what seems like months of wind and rain, tempting exam candidates of all ages away from their books? I do wonder sometimes why we take exams during the summer term instead of in the depth of winter when no-one minds being cooped up inside with their head in a book. Wouldn’t exams in the lead up to Easter make more sense?

Despite idealistic observations, there is no doubt about it-we are now mid-exam season and many homes will be touched by at least one of their offspring facing important future defining exams over the next few weeks. School exams, Common Entrance, GCSE’s, AS and A Levels, IB, Pre U all mean the approaching half term holiday will not, for many, be a holiday at all. How can parents keep the ship on an even keel and make sure that the time is used wisely to enhance performance in the coming weeks?

Coping with exam-stressed hormonal teenagers can be quite tricky. Use planning, environment, reassurance, motivation and fun as the main survival techniques.

Firstly plan the family timetable for half term carefully allocating time for revision, interspersed with time for brain-food, social media, rest and relaxation. Discuss this in advance, so expectations are agreed at the outset.

Make sure their workspace environment has fresh air, enough light, water and they have everything they need for revision to hand-books, files, post-it notes, highlighter pens. Try not to tidy or over organise. Remove social media temptations such as smart phones and keep these for outside study times. Remember we all learn in different ways. Some find it easier to take in information if walking around or listening to background music.

Inject a bit of motivation. Take a bit of time to discuss why the current exams are important as part of the bigger picture for the future. Particularly with boys, understanding the reason why they must work hard to achieve certain marks or grades goes a long way to motivating them to put in the effort. Set challenging but realistic goals and if you feel appropriate, dangle a few carrots.

Engage in conversation over meals to discreetly eke out how things are going. Talk through any issues in a calm and reassuring way. Boosting confidence is critical.

Have some fun. Working hard in concentrated periods is far easier if there are opportunities to get away from the revision environment for some occasional rest and recuperation. Good Luck

If things don't go to plan with approaching exams, give our team of education consultant experts a call. We can assist with planning exam re-takes or looking at alternative school or university options through Clearing.

Visit our website for details

Friday, 16 May 2014

Tips on applying to an independent senior school with entry at 13+ through pre-testing and common entrance

The application process for independent senior schools is a bit of a mine-field as all schools handle it a bit differently and there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Some schools ask for pre-testing and/or interview prior to offering the opportunity to sit for places at 13+ through Common Entrance and other schools do not. One rule doesn’t cover all schools – sadly!

As a general rule of thumb, with some exceptions meaning parents should always check carefully with the schools they are considering, registration with the senior school and visiting it to review the suitability of its provision for your individual child, should be made while the child is in School Year 5 (Age 9 on 31st August) or School Year 6 (Age 10 on 31st August) and a final decision as to your first choice of senior school should be made by School Year 7 (Age 11 on 31st August). Deposits to confirm places, conditional on Common Entrance results, are generally paid by parents between 12 and 18 months prior to entry to the senior school. Parents, in conjunction with the advice of the prep school, really should know their senior school choice decision by this time.

If the school has a pre-testing process, you and your child will be invited to the school during year 6 or 7 depending on the school, to take part in a pre-assessment day. This is likely to involve your child sitting some tests in Maths and English or possibly a more general aptitude test such as Verbal and/or Non-Verbal reasoning tests which may be in paper or online format. It is also likely that they will have an interview with a Housemaster or Housemistress, so it is important to prepare them in advance to answer questions with confidence about their interests, strengths, what they hope to try that is new and why they would like to attend this school in particular. If their first language is not English, they will also need to demonstrate that they have a good enough grasp of spoken and written English to assure the school that they will be able to access the curriculum fully. The school is also likely to contact the Head of their current school to ask for a report on their aptitude, attitude and potential. For this reason, it is very important to listen to the advice of the Head of your child’s current school when making a short-list of potential senior schools. They know your child well and experience of working with senior schools over many years means they are best able to evaluate which school best meets the individual interests and capabilities of your child.

If successful in the pre-test, your child will be offered a place at the school, conditional on their passing the Common Entrance test at the end of year 8. If the school does not have a pre-testing process, you will be asked to confirm that they are your first choice of school and that your child will be sitting Common Entrance for a place at this school.

In addition to the above, it is also possible after pre-test that your child may be offered a place on the waiting list, or declined a place at all. With this in mind, you will need to make sure that you have back-up options ready, should your child not be offered a place nearer to the time from the waiting list, or if they are declined a place at time of pre-test.

Common Entrance, often shortened to CE, is the collective name for the examinations taken at age 11 or 13 for entry into independent senior or public school.

Examinations are taken by all children in English, Maths and Science. History, Geography, French, German, Spanish, Religious Studies, Greek or Latin are also offered. The number and range of subjects taken depends on the entry criteria for the chosen senior school and the capability of the candidate. For example, children who do not have English as their first language are often required to sit fewer subjects, but this is dependent on how long they have been studying in the UK prior to sitting the CE exams.

The syllabus and question papers are set and monitored by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) The exams are supervised by the prep schools and take place in November, January or most commonly June. The papers are marked by the parents' chosen senior school and each senior school has an accepted CE pass mark, which they expect children to reach to gain entry.

A report from the Head of the child's current school is also required.

Resources for Common Entrance exam practice at home can be found on the Galore Park website

The relationship between the prep school and parent is key to this process and they are the ones who should be advising on which school is right for the child and if it is worth trying for a scholarship. A parent might feel that their child is fantastic at sport and is in all the first teams. However, he might be at a small prep school where most of the children have to be in the first team! Without comparisons it is difficult for parents to gauge their children’s abilities against expectations and so it is best to take advice from the prep school, who should know all about the scholarships their senior schools offer. Parents can find information about scholarships on school websites and should take note of what the senior schools require for a child to be eligible as well as looking at past papers to gauge the level.

The Common Entrance list (i.e. the senior school for which the child is sitting Common Entrance) is published centrally so all senior schools can access it. A child can only be down on this list for one first-choice senior school, as this is the school that will mark their CE papers.
This list is published on 1 March of the year of entry.

If a child doesn’t appear on the list of a school where the parents have paid a deposit to confirm the offer of a place, perhaps because it is considered to be their ‘back up’ option, there is a risk in doing this that their child may be taken off the ‘back up’ school list and is unlikely that there will be a refund of the deposit. The place may then be allocated to another child from the waiting list. Honesty is often the best policy here so the senior schools know exactly where they are in your ‘pecking’ order and why. They can then open up the possibility of that place to another child.

We support 100's of families each year with the transition process between prep and senior school. As well as choosing the right senior school for your individual child, we can help with interview and pre-test preparation, understanding the timeline for applications as well as calming parent nerves! For more details of how we can help visit our website by clicking this link Choosing the right UK senior school

Friday, 9 May 2014

Should British #parents be setting the bar higher, expecting their children to achieve more?

An expat parent in #Singapore told me last week that the Tiger Mother culture is now so strong that government posters have recently appeared on advertising boards at the side of the roads announcing, ‘Please allow your child to play for at least 2 hours each day’. 

However, a recent study by Pearson found that the UK is lagging behind the educational attainment levels in some parts of Asia due to a less ambitious culture amongst parents, to support and drive their children’s educational achievements. Should our parents be setting the bar higher, challenging and expecting their children to achieve more, rather than accepting what some might call adequacy?

In my opinion, children will perform at their best if parents aim to identify a happy medium. Ensure their children aim high, without pushing too hard that they become dis-illusioned and switch off or feel that their child-hood has to some degree been stolen from them.

Developing social skills and emotional intelligence are just as important as the highest academic qualifications. The ability to network and communicate effectively will be just as important to potential employers as exam grades. Replacing with academic tuition too many opportunities to play and socialise with peers, will in my opinion not allow a young person to develop into a well-rounded individual. Could you be a doctor for example, if you have a superfluity of A* grades but are not able to communicate and empathise with people?

Many children will be spending the up-coming summer months attending academic after-school and holiday courses preparing for 11+, 13+ or entry exams for independent schools in the autumn term. Bearing in mind the above, here are a few observations which I hope might help parents to attain a happy balance.

Listen to your current school’s view on potential vs. attainment to date. Set ambitious but realistic expectations and then form a view as to whether they need to be pushed to work harder by extending their working day and shortening their holidays through extra tuition.

Education should always be a partnership between school and home. Taking an active interest in their homework, listening to and encouraging them to read by finding books on topics they enjoy, engaging in conversation about current affairs, going to museums and art galleries together, arranging additional 1 to 1 tuition in areas they are finding tricky, are all areas where parents can offer valuable input to enhance attainment. No parent should hand their child over to the school age 5 and expect to see a fully ‘educated’ 18 year old delivered at the end, with little engagement in what goes on in-between.

Reassure your child that you will not go to bed and cry for a week if they fail the up-coming tests. They must feel you just want them to try their best, even though inside you may feel sick to your stomach.

Support your child by engaging the right type of support with preparation so they don’t feel like a rabbit in the headlights when they enter an exam room, have mastered the study and exam skills and techniques to optimise their attainment and have the right tools to cope with time-pressure and exam stress.

Take a step back from school gate banter and hype by considering your own situation carefully and then doing your own thing as you feel appropriate for your child as an individual. Jumping on the bandwagon may well end in tears.

Catherine Stoker is Managing Director of the Independent Education Consultants, helping parents to make the right education choices at the right time.

From choosing a school, transition at 7+, 11+, 13+ and 16+ to career planning and applying to university, they have a team of education experts who collectively have years of experience in offering advice and guidance to parents. 

For more details about their services and how they support parents in making the right education choices, visit their website.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Inspiring your children to read - a few tips for #parents

21st Century children are surrounded by technology. Gone are the days when referring to an apple meant a green thing grown by Granny Smith. Ipad and Kindle may well be the preferred reading tools for mum and dad, if indeed they have time to read at all. How then are we inspiring our young children to read?

The benefits of reading in extending a child’s knowledge and understanding of vocabulary are certainly proven. Not only for enjoyment, starting a life-long relationship with books is crucial to stretch the imagination, develop new interests and expand knowledge. Instilling a wide vocabulary, comprehension and accurate spelling skills are essential benefits of reading, putting in place the foundations for success in education in the future.

Why not challenge your child to read a certain number of books this summer term? It can be fun to visit the library together to allow your child to choose appropriate books which interest them. Including non-fiction books in their reading will extend their vocabulary further.

Listening to your child read, sharing the reading with them so they combine listening skills with reading, as well as discussing the meaning of words and their comprehension of the story as you go along, will allow you to evaluate if you are pitching their book choices at the right level. Your child’s school can also give you guidance on books to read, but remember that children learn at different speeds so try not to make comparisons.

Above all it is important to remember that reading should be fun so try not to turn it into a chore. Books should be easily accessible around the home, in the kitchen, bedroom, living room and if your child is finding reading a particular book difficult, change it, so they are not put off. Reading little and often can be the most effective way to see results. Include reading within the daily routine, for example just before bed, so it becomes ‘the norm’ to have their head in a book.

Setting a good example is critical. For example, boys need to see Dad reading, so make books part of everyday family life for everyone.

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What questions should #parents ask when visiting a potential independent day or #boarding school?

Once you have drawn up a shortlist of schools that you are happy to consider for your child, it is essential that you make contact with the admissions department in order to arrange to visit.

Visiting the schools you are considering is crucial; as schools are all about people and spending some time there is the only way parents can really assess the atmosphere and ‘feel’ for the school and whether it presents the right learning environment for their child. The school may have changed a great deal since Dad or Mum was there and it is important to assess the schools on what you find now, and the needs of your child, rather than how things were some time ago.
Try not to visit more than three or four schools or it can become confusing. Do however visit more than one school, as it is important to make comparisons, to establish what you are not looking for, as well as what you are.

Always book an individual visit on a normal school day, rather than attending an open day, when the school is on show. It is useful to take along with you a list of questions and to take notes, so that you can make comparisons between schools, after you have toured them all. Without notes, you may find that your memories of each school mingle into one another after you have visited several!

Always ask to meet the Head when booking your appointment, as well as a Housemaster or Housemistress if you are considering boarding at some point in the future. These are key people to the ethos and direction of the school, so you need to be sure that you agree with their opinions on education and pastoral care.

You will find some suggested questions below, which you may find useful to take with you when you visit:

  • When was the school’s last inspection? Ask to see a copy of the most recent report.
  • How long has the Head been in place and does he/she intend to stay?
  • Does the school start at age 11 or 13? If pupils stay at prep to 13 how are they integrated with the pupils who have been there since 11?
  • What facilities for sport, I.T. drama, and music does the school have and is there a development in place? If so what are the plans?
  • What is the average class size?
  • What are the qualifications of the majority of the teachers?
  • Does the school offer scholarships or bursaries? If yes and relevant, how are these assessed and how do parents apply?
  • What is the academic pace and focus of the school? Do they focus largely on academic achievement or is their approach more holistic?
  • Are the pupils grouped by ability? If yes, at what age and are the children assessed in each subject individually or across all subjects? 
  • What systems are in place to monitor academic performance, what is the assessment policy and how does the school keep parents informed?
  • How frequent are parents’ evenings and what format do they take?
  • How varied/flexible is the choice of subjects at GCSE. How many and whiihc subjects are compulsory at GCSE?
  • Does the school offer dual award or triple award science at GCSE?
  • Is a second modern language or Latin a compulsory/voluntary part of the curriculum at GCSE?
  • What is the schools policy on homework/prep?
  • Does the school offer A level, IB or PreU in the sixth form?
  • Are A level subject choices restricted by option blocks or is there a free choice?
  • Does the school offer support to pupils with dyslexia or other special educational needs?
  • Can the school provide support for children who do not speak English as their first language and how?
  • How does the school stretch gifted children?
  • What careers advice are children given and how is this delivered?
  • Does the school assist children to plan and secure work experience?
  • Can the school assist with applications to university in the US or Europe as well as the UK?
  • How many pupils apply to Oxbridge and what is the success rate?
  • Are there trips and events to develop and widen their interest and knowledge outside the classroom curriculum?
  • Ask to see the school calendar for the current term, as well as the weekly activity programme. Is there a diverse variety of things to choose from? 
  • Do lots of children have extra lessons in musical instruments? Is there a choir or orchestra?
  • Does depth in numbers of sports teams cater for the enthusiastic participant, as well as the ultra-talented?
  • Does the school offer Duke of Edinburgh Award?
  • Is CCF compulsory and if yes for how long?
  • Do sixth form pupils participate in Young Enterprise?
Pastoral Care
  • How is the pastoral welfare of the pupils monitored and how are parents kept informed?
  • Is there a House system and are children offered the opportunity to take on responsibility?
  • What are the catering arrangements at lunchtime? Is it a self-service system or family style?
  • What is the disciplinary policy of the school and how are parents informed of matters relating to their child?
  • What happens if my child is ill whilst at school? 
  • Are activity weeks in the school holidays offered and during what hours?
  • Does the school offer daily buses on certain routes to and from school?
  • How is the school day timetabled? Does the school have lessons on Saturdays and/or sport in the afternoons? What time does the school day begin and end?
  • What is the main parent catchment area?
  • Are there opportunities to meet other parents?
Achievement record
  • To which, senior schools or universities do leavers tend to go?
  • Do many students attain scholarships?
  • Is the school strong in particular sports, music, drama or art?
Things to observe while on a tour of the school
  • Do the noticeboards suggest an active and happy school?
  • How do the children interact with one another, the staff and the Head? Do they look interested when engaged in lessons and happy during their free time?
  • Do the pupils appear well-mannered, standing aside for visitors at a doorway, for example? 
No two schools are the same. We are fortunate to have such a great diversity of choice, so all parents can find a school that meets their aspirations. I am certain that once you visit the schools on your shortlist, equipped with these questions, and some of your own, you will be able to make a decision on the school that is the best one to suit the needs of your child.

If you require assistance with this process, please contact us for specialist one-to-one guidance from one of our team of expert consultants.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Is learning computer code the key to 21st Century #career success?

Gone are the days when school information technology lessons revolved simply around learning to use Microsoft, Word, Excel and Power Point, facilitating the use of computers as a tool for communication, presenting and recording information. Children are now surrounded by computers and technology as part of their learning across the whole curriculum from such a young age, so much so, that these skills are almost learned by osmosis with little need to appear on a prescribed syllabus.

The technology, gaming, robotics, music, retail and manufacturing industries need schools to address the education and development of a talent pool with the right key skills to supplement a projected shortfall in the future. In a move to recognise this, Computer Science becomes part of the curriculum from this September involving pupils in learning to programme computers through code. Instead of teaching children to use software, the new syllabus will teach them to write it.

Knowledge of computer language through coding is something that can be started at a young age. Synonymous with learning another language like French or Spanish, not everyone will take to programming with such a passion that they wish to work in this field in the future. However, understanding even the basics of how computer coding works, alongside an ability to use critical, logical and analytical thinking to solve a problem, will be of great benefit in the wider job market. For example, an ability to write website code, use databases for analysis or understanding how Apps work, enhances the employability of anyone seeking to work in sales and marketing. Those with entrepreneurial ambitions to set up and grow their own business will use these skills on a day-to-day basis.  At some exciting point in the future, they have potential to lead to the development of the next big idea, resulting in global recognition and financial success.

With the potential to take the subject further through university study, it is hard to believe that any successful graduate in Computer Science or the extensive range of related subjects will ever be unemployed. Perhaps encouraging your youngster to take an interest in this area now, may be a smart move towards achieving your aspirations for them securing a good job and hence financial independence in future.