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☰ Mrs. Hawkins’ Guest Blog: Choosing the right Senior School

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Mrs. Hawkins’ Guest Blog: Choosing the right Senior School

Posted on: 21 Nov 2019 by Weston Green School

Weston Green is a preparatory school, which means that our job is to prepare children for their next school, and specifically for the 11+ selection process. We are very fortunate in our area to have a huge choice of excellent senior schools but this can make the process seem even more daunting! However, at Weston Green we have a very well established process - for seven years we have been successfully preparing children to sit a vast range of entrance exams and our results are a testament to the experience we have built up: last year, a total of 41 places were offered and 12 scholarships awarded (six academic, four in sport, one in drama and an all-rounder scholarship, too). 

As part of our well-honed process we hold a number of key Future Schools events: last week we hosted a highly successful Future Schools Information Evening and representatives from three different local schools were invited to talk about the admissions process and to help parents think about the sorts of questions they should be asking when they start to consider future schools; Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Pinhey and I also spoke at this event and shared information about the way our curriculum and pastoral care supports children and their parents through this process; we hold a biennial Future Schools Fair which enables Key Stage 2 parents to meet representatives from a wide range of senior schools in our area (the next one will be in Spring Term 2020); and in Year 5, parents are invited in to meet myself, Mrs. Evans and their child’s class teacher in order to discuss in detail their proposed future school choices. 

In addition to these events, we produce a very comprehensive 11+ guide which has a list of the schools in this area to which our pupils often apply, and some essential details about each school. You will no doubt also hear the views of other parents going through the same process, but we would strongly urge you to take all that you hear with a proverbial pinch of salt - you know your child best and they will have very different strengths and weaknesses to those of your friend’s child; no two children are the same, and what suits one would be quite inappropriate for another. Moreover, schools change and what may have been true of a school a few years ago, may well not be true today. 

As teachers, our job is to provide a process and curriculum which will prepare your child for their entrance exams. It is also our job to engage in honest and open dialogue with parents to help you find the right “fit”. All the local independent schools have some sort of entrance exam, regardless of how “academic” or not their profile. These exams differ from school to school (unlike in some counties where all the children sit one single 11+ exam). But the focus of all the exams is maths and English, sometimes with the addition of general knowledge,  Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. There is often, but not always, an interview element, and if you are applying for a scholarship - perhaps in art or sport - your child may be invited to take part in other specialist selection processes.  

So how do we prepare the children? The process is cumulative and begins when they join us, as we gradually build strong literacy and numeracy skills through Early Years, Key Stage 1 and into Lower Key Stage 2. When the children enter Upper Key Stage 2, they start to be taught in smaller groups for maths and English, by subject specialists who have a good knowledge of the specific requirements of the entrance exams. They also have timetabled Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning practice lessons throughout Key Stage 2 to gradually build their skills in answering these types of questions. Towards the end of Year 5 we begin to introduce regular practice papers from a whole range of schools, and in a range of formats (written, multi-choice tick sheets and online) in order to give the children the best possible preparation for the exams in Year 6. We have recently also introduced an online practice tool called Planet Bofa, which is an excellent resource offering adaptive practice material in maths, English and reasoning - it responds to the child’s weaknesses, provides clear, detailed explanations and gives them further targeted practice in the sorts of questions they are finding more challenging. In the final term before the exams (which are usually clustered in early January, although some can be earlier), Year 6 pupils also do regular interview practice, and we make sure that current affairs discussions take place in class every week.

At the heart of a successful Future Schools process lies excellent dialogue between parents and teachers - at Weston Green, we have worked hard to ensure that all staff are part of the Future Schools process. All staff have received training from me in the process and our increasingly detailed sharing of assessment results with parents enables class teachers to have meaningful discussions about the sort of schools that might be appropriate choices. If your child is to be happy and successful in their senior school career, it is imperative that they are in an environment which suits them as an individual. In the end, it all comes down to trust - we trust parents to do their research, to listen to advice and to make choices that will suit their child, and parents trust us to prepare them in the best possible way.

Mrs. Lisa Hawkins (Director of Studies & Head of Upper Key Stage 2)

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