Prepared for a bright future

Prior practice is vital to a good entrance assessment, but pushy parents will only make it harder for their children

Once you've drawn up a shortlist of the possible schools for your child, the next hurdle to clear is securing a place. While there are never any guarantees of success, it is possible to prepare yourself and your child for the impending application process.

In fact, you could start preparing years in advance if time allows. "Parents need to think about getting their children lots of interesting experiences, so that they have something to say," recommends Paula Holloway, principal at St Clare's, Oxford. She believes that you can help your child make a good first impression when meeting potential schools by encouraging activities such as hobbies and sport, as well as having regular discussions around the dinner table.

For those already at the point of applying, the first stage to focus on is doing research and using existing contacts to find out more information. "To get into a prep school, book early and get to see and know the schools available," suggests Peter Philips, headmaster of Cundall Manor School in North Yorkshire. "In terms of getting into senior schools, work with your child's headteacher to take advantage of their knowledge of your child and links to available senior schools."

The research stage is also the ideal time to find out about any scholarships that the school is offering, as well as other subject-specific awards for music, sport, drama and more, as these could affect the way you need to apply.

The application process itself can vary widely between institutions, but in most cases the admissions officer (or registrar) should be your first port of call, says Bernard Trafford, headmaster at Newcastle Royal Grammar School. "Of course, parents will want to meet teachers and heads, but actually the person guiding them through will be the admissions officer."

After making initial contact many schools require parents to register their child, adding their name to the list of candidates (for which there's often an administration fee). Beyond this point, parents and children might encounter different types of application form, entrance exams, assessment days and – almost always – interviews.

An application form might simply ask for biographical details or, depending on the school, require input from the candidate themselves. It might also require references from a current school. This is an area where parents might notify the school of particularly noteworthy extra-curricular activities, but otherwise it's probably best to take a step backwards. "Schools might not take kindly to parents leaning on them to include things in a reference," cautions Trafford.

But if there's only a little you can do with regards to references, exams are a different matter. Schools may test for English, maths and reasoning skills at 11, or take a broader approach at 13 and include subjects such as geography and modern languages. Whatever your child's age though, Trafford believes in being prepared. "Some schools will say 'we don't want your child to be coached at all, we can tell', and I think that's a bit arrogant of the schools," he says. "Parents want to know that their child isn't going to freeze."

Although hiring a tutor is a popular option for some parents, Trafford suggests that simply getting hold of practice tests and papers and just letting your child get a feel for them. Finding out what format the exams take, whether they involve multiple choice or long answers, is also useful, but he stresses that entrance exams are looking for potential. "Don't look for any trick questions, we just want to see what you can do," he advises students.

In addition to exams some schools run assessment days to make sure they meet the real child, not the one prepped for the exam hall. "We're looking for intellectual curiosity, not boys on tutored tramlines," explains Mike Strother, the incoming director of admissions from Manchester Grammar School, an all-boys institution. The school's assessment days involve sample lessons, group work and meeting current students. To help prepare, Strother counsels against drilling your child on the way to behave, instead, parents should encourage their children to read, think, ask questions and enjoy learning, he says.

The search for potential continues at the interview, an almost universal part of the application process that gives candidates a chance to shine (and can compensate for weak entrance exam results). To help your child succeed it's better to focus on the kind of discussion they might have with the interviewer rather than sweating the details too much. Both Trafford and Holloway say that interviews are crucial, and that although they might cover English, mental arithmetic or comprehension, it's the quality of the mind they're looking for rather than the specific knowledge it contains. "We're looking for a spark and a willingness to stick at things," says Trafford. Rehearsed answers and false claims are the kiss of death, he says: "But someone who's truly passionate about something is exciting."

Holloway agrees that showing an opinion can really separate one candidate from another. She also tries to discuss what students like, and digs to see if they can they talk intelligently about it. "We don't mind what that might be; parents don't need to worry about finding something politically correct. I'll find it quite interesting if they ride a unicycle!"

When it comes to helping your child secure a place there's ultimately a tricky balance to strike – getting involved, but not too involved. "My advice would be don't go overboard," says Trafford. A little extra tuition is fine, he believes, but don't push your child beyond their abilities or into an admissions process that isn't right for them. "Parents are anxious, of course, but if they try to force things it's more likely to go wrong than right," he explains.

Holloway adds that parents should realise that anxiety at any stage, but especially interview days, "won't help your child one bit". Being relaxed yourself will put your child at ease and help the interviewer to get a more accurate picture of their personality and abilities.

She also has some final advice for students, whether they're about to attend an assessment day, sit an exam or be interviewed. "Get a good night's sleep the night before, have a good breakfast and be on time so you're not flustered." Then relax and try to enjoy the process, she says, because the people who are assessing you "want you to be successful".

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Are you looking for part time/ ...

SEN (SLD/PMLD) Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence