It’s Halloween, and as the ghouls and witches roam the streets of London, many a parent will be making last minute alterations to their secondary state school applications (the deadline for submission via the local authority is today) or, if going down the private route, make sure that application forms are in with all the schools; some deadlines have passed, others are looming.
For children looking to get one of the coveted places for London’s more selective schools – among them St Paul’s School, St Paul’s Girls’ School, City of London School, City of London School for Girls, Godolphin and Latymer, Latymer Upper, Dulwich College, Westminster school, etc – the time for entrance exams is drawing nearer. Stress levels are rising (mostly so among the parents) and the publishers of revision guides and test papers such as Bond, Schofield & Sims and the like are doing a roaring trade. We keep hearing that there are ten or more applicants per place at some of the most popular schools, so the stakes seem to be impossibly high. Here’s a brief survival guide that should hopefully take you through to after offers are made in February:
1. Try to avoid anyone in the same situation
It may be wise to keep away from anyone who might see your child as a competitor to theirs until exams are over, when everyone becomes civilised again. There is absolutely no point in getting yourself into a state because your friend’s child is not only in the top set at school, but also a grade 7 pianist and accomplished actor (unlike yours, who isn’t Einstein and tone deaf to boot.) There is nothing more boring – particularly to those who haven’t got children, or in any case not at that stage of their education – than to be surrounded by highly-strung parents and have to listen to angst-fuelled talk about schools, mock exams, tutors, how good (or deficient) their darling child is, etc. Don’t be a bore; become a recluse.
2. Keep schtum about your anxiety
There’s no point worrying your kid about the difficulty of the entrance exams, the expected calibre of the competition, their prospects or lack thereof if they don’t quite cut the mustard… Make sure your anxiety doesn’t rub off on your child. He or she should be doing their preparation – if at a prep school most of it should be happening there, but if your child is in the maintained sector, do discuss with the tutor what areas need to be improved over the next two months. Perhaps build in a bit of time for English and maths tests; there are 10 minute practice papers for example which can be easily slotted into a weekend day or week-day evening. But whatever you do, make sure your child is calm and confident in his or her abilities.
3. Don’t eliminate all fun from their lives
Some parents think that in the run-up to January exams, it is important their child concentrates exclusively on his or her learning, and cancel all their extra-curricular activities in order to create more revision time in what already, let’s face it, tends to be a packed diary. This may work with some children, but on the whole it is advisable that they are allowed to do things they enjoy, and not to purge all fun activities, however un-intellectually-challegenging they may seem. If your child can continue doing what he or she likes, be it horse-riding or knitting, it will provide valuable down-time and ultimately help them to concentrate and focus on their exam preparation.
4. There is a school out there for everybody
The vast majority of children end up going to the school that is right for them, even though sometimes it may not be the one their parents think they ought to go to. It can be better to be top dog at a second-tier school, than trying to keep afloat in a highly academic school. And it is worth bearing in mind that these days, hardly anyone applies to just two schools, but more often to five or more. It’s the same 1200+ children sitting exams for all of the schools, so the statistics are skewed. Your child will get a place somewhere, don’t despair, and chances are it will be the right fit.
Good luck! And happy trick or treating.