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5 Tips for Choosing an Independent School

How to Choose an Independent School

Tips for picking a school
UK boarding schools offer a wide range of educational environments and opportunities for students to thrive in and choosing one can be a difficult decision for any prospective parent to make. Here are 5 simple tips to help make choosing an independent school easier and to help you focus on making the best choice possible for your child.

Independent School Rankings and Your Child’s Age

An obvious key performance indicator of an independent school is their ranking compared to other schools based on their GCSE and A level results. Whilst by no means the only criteria that should be considered, it provides a baseline metric on which to assess the quality of the teaching and the ability of the school to create an environment in which students can thrive academically. But it is important to relate this information to the age of your child and match the school’s results to the stage they are at.

For example, if you are looking to send your child to an independent school for their A-Levels then make sure you get hold of the school’s ranking for A-Level results and not just a generalized ranking based on results from across their full age intake. However, if you are looking to send your child to an independent school at an earlier stage these generalized rankings can be important, as it also indicates how well the school has managed to develop their students over a longer period of time.

Independent School Alumnus Networks

Look beyond exam results. The strength of an independent school’s alumni network is as important as its position on the league tables as it provides students with a path to translate their academic achievements into actionable career strengths. Research what careers former students have gone on to do, what organizations your prospective school has links to, whether it be the armed forces, a London club or a particular university or Oxbridge college. Establishing and maintaining a professional network of strong and weak ties is essential to assessing opportunities and progressing a career so finding an independent school that can provide a well-organized network to service those needs can be very advantageous.

Single Sex vs Co-Educational Independent Schools

There are both great single-sex and co-educational independent schools in the UK, but it is important to consider not just what students learn from their teachers but also from each other. A co-educational environment encourages boys and girls to co-operate from an early age, cultivating mutual respect, understanding and support for one another. On a more personal level it removes shyness, fear and increases student’s confidence when interacting with members of the opposite sex which can be of huge benefit when forming friendships and establishing a balanced social circle. A great way of assessing this for yourself is to take a tour of a school you are considering observing the students mixing and ask yourself a few key questions. Do they seem happy? Do they interact politely with each other and members of staff? Do students sit along gender lines at mealtimes? Etc.

Types of Pupil and Pastoral Care at Independent School

Traditionally there have been two options at many independent schools; UK boarding schools pupils and day pupils, who receive the same education but different social experiences. Whilst day pupils have the advantage of costing less and getting regular contact hours with their families every day, boarding pupils learn to be independent, regulate their own social lives and fully integrate into the social structure of their school. Recently a compromise has begun to be offered more widely called flexi-boarding.

Flexi-boarding can allow working parents to leave their children in the care of the school for a set number of nights per week or over the weekend if necessary. This solution offers the best of both worlds, allowing students increased contact hours balanced between friends and family that neither day attendance nor boarding can provide alone. But the quality of pastoral care a school provides is essential to any student’s overall wellbeing and development regardless of how they attend. A good way of researching this is by speaking with house masters and mistresses, tutors, and other pastoral staff such as learning support teachers and councillors to find out what support is offered.

Are you choosing an independent school?

Understanding who is running a school is important to understanding how it is run. All independent schools are private but not all private schools are independent. What makes an independent school different is that it is run by a board of governors or trustees that is truly independent of any other organization. Whereas other private schools can be run by any external body such as a religious organization, a non-profit or a corporation. This difference usually means that independent schools have stricter governance, higher levels of accountability in their leadership, larger endowments and resultantly better facilities and can hire top-tier teaching talent.
Conclusion

So, remember to check the school’s ranking and whether the quality of their results favor the age bracket that your child is in, check the strength of their alumnus networks, assess whether co-ed or single sex is right for you, research what attendance options are available and that the pastoral care of your chosen school is up to scratch, and asses the overall school structure to determine who they key decision makers are behind the scenes.

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