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Applying to senior schools for your child: what you need to know

Senior schools in the independent sector start at 11 or 13 and go through to the age of...

3 years ago

Senior schools in the independent sector start at 11 or 13 and go through to the age of 18. The main entry points are 11+, 13+ and then 16+ for Sixth form entry which we cover separately here. 

Once you have narrowed down the schools that you wish to apply to, whether by personal or professional recommendations, current school advice, through attending open mornings etc., then comes the sometimes confusing process of applying. Here we will cover the different steps and key points and dates you should be aware of beforehand.

How many schools should I apply to?

There are endless options but around ten may be a good number to consider for your long list of schools that fit within your remit – single-sex, location, boarding or day etc. When researching your long list of schools, you can go through their website, attend virtual tours or in-person open mornings and much more. Although some are better than others, a school’s website is a very valuable resource. You should always be able to find out GCSE results, A Level or IB results, university destinations and a fairly accurate description of their admissions process.

What should I be doing and when?

You may be reading this article when you are already further down the line but we will start from Year 3 to give you the full timeline.

Year 3 (the year your child is 7 turning 8)

  • Start talking about senior schools and discussing the big questions such as boarding or day, co-ed or single-sex. 
  • Discuss which entry point, i.e. 11+ or 13+. This may be based on the senior school you are looking for or when your child’s current school ends. 
  • If you have more than one child, are you aiming for one school for both / all of them or would you be happy with more than one school?

Year 4 (the year your child is 8 turning 9)

  • Research a long list of schools (10).
  • Go through the schools’ websites in detail.
  • Talk to parents you may know at that school (Always take what they say with a pinch of salt… Bear in mind that everyone likes to say that the school they have chosen is the best!)
  • Attend open mornings.

Year 5 (the year your child is 9 turning 10)

  • Register at the shortlist of schools. For almost all schools the earliest deadlines will be the end of the summer term of Year 5 and this is for those going for 13+ entry.

Year 6 (the year your child is 10 turning 11)

  • 11+: Testing takes place in the Autumn term and following January. Offers should be out by the end of March.
  • 13+: Most schools will have their first stage of assessments. Most often the ISEB taking place in the Autumn term.

Year 7 (the year your child is 11 turning 12)

  • More pre-tests for 13+ interviews / activity day.
  • Offers should be out by the end of year 7.

Year 8 (the year your child is 12 turning 13)

  • Common Entrance or school reports will be considered before entry.

Registering for entrance to senior schools

All schools will require you to complete a registration form and pay a non-refundable fee, generally in the range of £100 to £350. When submitting these forms, you are asked to provide the details of your child’s current Headteacher. Once the admissions procedure has started (usually the start of Year 6) and registrations are processed, the senior school may contact your Head for a reference.

Exams / Testing

We explain further the entrance exams for independent schools here but the main exams for 11+ and 13+ entry are as below.

Traditionally these assessments have always been taken at the senior school or the child’s current school in the case of the ISEB Common Pre-Test. For obvious reasons, this could not place during the Covid-19 pandemic but it is likely that, when possible, testing will mostly take place at the senior schools again.

11+

School tests / Exams: Children will mostly be tested in English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning and these exams will be individual to the school. Your child will sit a different set of exams at each of the schools. The exception to the above is where a school is part of the London 11+ Consortium.

London 11+ Consortium

This is a group of girls’ schools across London including Godolphin & Latymer, Francis Holland and More House School.

The test taken for this consortium is taken only once by your daughter and the results are available to any of the schools in the group to which your daughter has applied. The test is explained in more detail here but in brief, it is an electronic cognitive ability test looking at verbal, non-verbal and mathematical potential.

Following the test, the admissions process is then individual to every school in the consortium so they will have a self-defined second stage, most likely an interview. Many schools will provide past or sample papers which your child can go through to familiarise themselves with the type of question asked. There is also a wealth of practice exams and resources on the internet or books such as Atom Learning or Exam Papers Plus.

13+

The majority of schools now have pre-testing in Year 6 and most commonly they will use the ISEB Common Pre-Test.

After the pre-tests, the next step in the admissions process will vary depending on the school. The majority will follow up the Pre-Test with an activity day, interview or further examinations (often in maths and English). Many schools will arrange this second stage for the Spring term of Year 6 but some schools wait until Year 7.  

ISEB Common Pre-Test

This test is an age-standardised measure of ability and attainment. It includes Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning, English and Mathematics. The tests are multiple-choice format and take about two-and-a-half hours to complete. You can read more about how to prepare here.

The majority of schools ask that this test is taken in the Autumn term of Year 6 (usually with a November deadline). Some schools will allow this to be taken at any time over Year 6 or in the Autumn term of Year 7 but this may be offered more to international students or slightly later applicants.

It can only be taken once per academic year and, along the lines of the North London Consortium, the results are available to any senior school at which your child has registered.  

Schools use the ISEB Common Pre-Test to cut down a significant proportion of their applicants or they may use it in conjunction with group activity days, interviews or other steps.

School tests

If a school does not use the ISEB Common Pre- Test, then they will have their own papers for children to sit. These will often be papers based on English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

As with the 11+, many schools will have past or sample papers available to your child. Online there is Atom Learning again which is a great resource tool or Pre Test Plus. ISEB states that the ISEB Pre-Test cannot be prepared for but your child can certainly familiarise themselves with the style of questions and format of the test.

Interviews

As mentioned above, the majority of schools at both 11+ and 13+ will start their admissions procedure with a test or exam and which will be followed by interviews. It will differ at each school whether all children are invited to both stages or whether they are only invited to the second stage if it is considered that they performed well enough at the pre-test.

Interviews can play a key part in the admissions process. Schools will be looking for enthusiasm from your child, what are they interested in, what do subjects they enjoy and why. It is helpful to have one or two practice rounds with your children, whether that be with you, a current teacher or a tutor. They may get some nerves out here but also they will have had time to roughly think about the type of questions they may get and how they would answer. What is the book they are currently reading? Can you give a sentence or two on why you like it? Or why you do not? These are examples of questions they may want to prepare for. More preparation tips can be found here.

There are also various other factors that senior schools consider when offering places including the Head’s reference.

Head’s reference

When you register at a school you will often be asked to provide the contact details of your child’s Headteacher. Once the admissions process has started, your current Head will be contacted by the senior school you have applied to to request a confidential reference.

Particularly if your child is at a prep school and applying for 13+, senior schools will often place a lot of emphasis on the reference. If your child does not perform well at the ISEB Common Pre-Test but they have a glowing Head’s reference, it is quite likely they will be reconsidered and go through to the next stage.

Senior schools are very aware that not all school Head’s will be able to provide a detailed and personal reference for every one of their pupils. If you think this may be the case with your school, talk to your child’s form teacher or tutor and see if they would be happy to provide one instead or alongside the Head’s reference.

Offers, rejections and waiting lists

An advantage of the structured and rigorous timeline, especially of the 11+, is that results and offers will come fairly swiftly after the exams and interviews and you will be informed of what that date will be.

Please don’t be too discouraged, or let your child be if they are waitlisted. Do bear in mind that every child will be applying to three or so schools and once offers are out they will have to commit to one, therefore there is always movement on the waitlists.

In most cases, the first time there will be movement on a waiting list is the acceptance date by when acceptance deposits are requested. Families will need to confirm to a school that they would like the place and commit but putting down a (non-refundable) deposit. Do stay in touch with the school if you are on the waiting list, they want to know if you are still interested and if you have updates such as recent awards, extracurricular achievements or the latest glowing school report then it is worth sending these through.  

We hope this has been an informative article for you. Do keep up to date with the admissions processes at each school via Scholato. With many deadlines and important dates to remember it will come in handy!

About the author: Georgina Lesmoir-Gordon has been an educational consultant with Bonas MacFarlane for over six years. She has advised many families from the UK and overseas on every step of the school entrance process. 

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