The cost of independent education is now at such a level that many parents, particularly those with more than one child, are beginning to consider how and when it is best to invest in independent education and when it might make sense to consider state school options instead. Combining the two types of education, independent and state, at different ages is becoming more common place and often makes good financial sense. There are many parents for whom finding the cash to pay independent school fees is not easy, choosing to forgo annual holidays abroad, expensive cars and the latest technological gadgets in order to invest in their children’s future through giving them the best education.
There is no one answer fits all to the question of when to invest in independent education. State and independent provision can vary significantly depending on where you live and the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of individual children mean that each one needs careful consideration as to what might be the best option for them personally.
Below there are a few points to consider when weighing up the options available in your area.
State primary vs. independent prep school
Why pay for education unless
you feel there is an educational reason to do so.
you feel that there is no state school option open to you which delivers what you require.
you both work full-time, so have less time available to offer supplementary provision at home.
With this in mind, evaluate both the primary and independent school options that you have available to you in your local area. You can do this by reading independent reviews in publications such as The Good Schools Guide, which you can read by subscribing online at www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk.
Reading the schools’ latest Ofsted reports will help you to gain an independent view of the educational provision. You will usually find their latest Ofsted or ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) reports on their website. Alternatively, they can be found at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report or for an independent school or at http://www.isi.net/reports/
Ask around the area for the opinions of local parents to see which schools they are enthusiastic about.
Find out how long the Head has been at the schools you have short-listed and if they are intending to remain there for a while. At this stage of education, it is vital that you like the Head and agree with their views on how education should be delivered.
Is there a good village primary school near to you? Often these schools have smaller class sizes and although their facilities may be more limited, the quality of academic education your child receives will be excellent.
School fees rise the older your child becomes and vary from school to school, so do shop around your area to assess which school you believe delivers the best value educational provision.
There will be quite a significant jump in fee levels when your child moves from the pre-prep into the prep part of the school.
Prep schools with provision for boarding have more expensive day pupil fees than those which solely offer day school provision.
Ask yourself how involved you, as the child’s parents, want to be in supporting and supplementing your child’s education. Choosing a primary school will sometimes, mean that you need to devote significant time to your child’ learning outside school hours, listening to them read or helping with homework, perhaps even employing a tutor for some extra tuition in Maths or English. You might want them to learn extra subjects such as French or Latin. This support is usually an inclusive part of the academic provision at an independent prep school, where smaller class sizes and more specialist subject teachers make more individual attention and a wider curriculum possible.
Consider whether you have the time to organise and provide transport for a busy programme of extra-curricular activities, such as attending junior coaching sessions at local sports clubs, piano or ballet lessons outside school. Invariably, the majority of the above will be provided within an independent prep school’s holistic approach to education, with longer school days providing opportunity for a busy after school activity programme. Your role will be more one of watching school concerts and plays or cheering loudly from the side lines at school matches.
Do both parents work? Primary school working days tend to be shorter than those at an independent prep school meaning more after school childcare may be needed if you choose state rather than independent school.
Do you want to get up early on Saturday mornings for the school run? Many independent prep schools have Saturday morning lessons, particularly those which offer boarding. There will also be a busy programme of school matches on Saturday afternoons which you will need to commit to.
It is not always necessary all siblings need to follow the same path through education. A shy child may need to build their confidence through the small, nurturing environment of an independent prep school, while a sibling may be out-going and confident, so attending a highly rated primary school with larger class sizes may suit them just as well.
Do you suspect that your child might have a particular educational weakness or struggles with their learning in some way? Investing in education when they are young, may mean that any issues such as dyslexia may be identified earlier than in a state primary school, where class sizes are larger. Consequently the correct support with their learning can be provided at an earlier stage to ensure they progress alongside their peers.
Investing in education when your child is young will instil in them an enthusiasm for learning and give them a breadth and depth of knowledge which may make admission to a good state senior school such as a grammar school, a more realistic objective to attain. This is especially true if you feel that your child sits currently below the top 15% who will gain entry to grammar school.
State vs. Independent senior school
In an area such as Buckinghamshire which has state grammar schools, parents might be faced with a more difficult dilemma at this stage of education, whether to go down the independent school or the state school route. With GCSE and A Level or IB results being so important in the competitive environment of gaining a place at a top university, many parents are rightly very concerned about the need to get the school choice right at this particular stage.
In addition to many of the points above which also apply at this age, below are a few points to take into consideration when making this decision.
Grammar schools are very competitive in terms of entry criteria and the academic educational programme they deliver. Will such a competitive environment, which focuses mainly on academic achievement, suit your child? If your child is self-motivated, confident and bright, the answer is probably yes. If they lack confidence or motivation, this is not quite such easy a decision.
Grammar schools educate the top 15% of the school intake for any one academic year. If your child just scrapes in, by being tutored to pass the 11 plus and consequently makes set 5 or 6 for Maths and English, what will this do for their confidence and how will you monitor and address this? Consider if it might be better to be at the top of a less academic pool and hence gain confidence as a high achiever?
Will your child benefit from a holistic approach to education, where there are sports teams for all who wish to participate, as well as a whole range of other extra-curricular opportunities? If the answer to this question is yes, then you would be advised to consider independent senior school, rather than state school options.
Specialist careers advice from GCSE options upwards, as well as opportunities for work experience and demonstrating a range of interests at university application stage, is a vital part of the education programme at senior school age. Make sure that you ask about this area when evaluating both your state school and independent school options to ensure that the support in this area is well planned and offers access to the right expertise. Ask about the university destinations of leavers and they courses they are studying to ensure this will meet your aspirations for your child.
With the variety of examination options at sixth form, it is important to consider if IB (International Baccalaureate) might be a more suitable qualification for your child at this stage of their education. Both state schools and independent schools offer this as an option but you need to be sure they have the teaching expertise to deliver this programme, before making you senior school decision. Remember there is always the option to move school at sixth form if you get to this stage and your chosen senior school does not offer your chosen A Level subjects or the IB.
Some parents move from state education to independent education or vice versa when their child reaches age 16. There is often an opportunity to gain a scholarship for study at an independent school at sixth form, especially if your child has done well at grammar school for the preceding 5 years.
Some parents believe that moving from independent into state education for sixth from may make gaining a place at university easier, although this theory is to date unproven. Care must be taken to ensure that your teenager will cope with such a transition into a different learning environment with different teaching styles, as they need to hit the ground running with only 2 years to gain top grades at this stage of education.