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Moving from a state to an independent school

12th August 2019

This is Vicky’s story and her advice for other parents embarking on the same journey.

After a nervous wait, we were relieved when our eldest daughter got a place at the local “Outstanding” C of E primary school. Our son followed her there three years later and we thought our children’s primary school education was sorted.  Our daughter’s self-confidence and competitive nature saw her shine throughout her time at the school, but by Year 2 our son was struggling.

Although he was happy and had a close group of friends, his lack of confidence in key subjects and his natural shyness was holding him back.  His teachers had no complaints and praised him for diligently getting on with his work quietly, but his handwriting and competence in mathematics were below others of his age.  With over 30 children in his class, the teacher was only able to set additional homework for us to go through with our son at home.  Although his handwriting did improve, his confidence did not.

So, with the lure of smaller class sizes, my husband and I made the decision to investigate independent schools in the local area.  At the start of Year 3, our son began at a boy’s preparatory school nearby.

Two years later and my son is thriving. In a class half the size of those in his old school, teachers immediately assessed his needs and created an action plan to bring him up to the same level as his peers.  The move was a steep learning curve, especially for my son, but it’s been more than worth any initial teething trouble.

Here are some of the things we’ve learnt on our journey from state to independent school:

Do your research

We spent nearly six months investigating schools in our local area, first online then arranging visits to meet with the admissions officers and headteachers.  You need to look past the glossy prospectus and other marketing material all the schools provide and decide which school is the best fit for your child based on their academic needs and personality.

Independent does not mean posh

Not all Independent schools look like Hogwarts, and fees vary hugely across the sector.   Although my son has come back from playdates and asked, “Are we poor?” as his friend’s house has 11 bedrooms and five cars on the driveway, there are plenty of parents who forgo luxuries to pay for the best education they can for their child.  Our son has made friends with boys from many different cultures and backgrounds, more so than he did at his state school.

Your child cannot hide

With smaller classroom sizes and a higher ratio of teachers to pupils, every child is visible in class.  Being naturally shy and quiet my son seemed to get lost at state school, going under the teachers’ radar as he always did what he was told.  These personality traits were immediately identified by his teachers at prep school and my son became his form tutors’ personal messenger. He was sent on missions around the school on her behalf to help build his confidence.   My son is still shy and nervous in new situations, but he is being taught to push himself more than ever before.

Your child will be kept busy

Due to a longer school day and after school clubs on offer five days a week, my son is at school for on average nine hours a day.  I now set an alarm for when the school clubs booking website opens for the term, so my son doesn’t miss out on the ones he wants to go to, as the free clubs book up quickly.

Homework will increase

At his state school maths and English homework was set once a week on a Thursday and due for the following Wednesday, with one longer craft project a term.  My son now gets homework five days a week, and some of it can be due the next day.  He was obviously not happy with this at first and a little bribery was needed to begin with, but he soon got into the new routine.

Children come and go more often

Compared with my son’s state school, where he was only the second child in his year of 64 children to leave since nursery, there is much more pupil movement at his prep school.  On average one boy leaves a term, with a new boy replacing him immediately.  In a class of only 17 my son does struggle with losing friends, but he’s getting used to it and he tends to play with a wider group in his class.

School holidays seem to last forever!

One of the ways we sold moving school to my son was the longer holidays he would get compared to his sister.  It does mean you can get cheaper holiday deals, being able to travel outside of state school holidays, but as a working parent it does create a challenge as a lot of holiday clubs don’t start until the state schools break up.

Choosing the right school for your children is an incredibly difficult decision and whatever you end up doing I think you’ll always worry about whether you made the right choice. The most important thing is to find somewhere that understands your child and gives them to support to flourish.

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