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".

Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

**Science Teacher Urgently Required for September**

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice