Founding Partner of Debrett’s Education, Sioban O’Connor, reflects on the process involved when completing school applications

With the application windows for Independent or Private school places for September 2023 closed, we are minded yet again of the minefield that is deciding on a school for your child. At the end of last year, The Telegraph ran an article by Bryony Gordon, describing her experience of telling an acquaintance over lunch that she and her husband were starting to ‘think about secondary schools’ for their
9-year-old daughter, only to then be made to feel that they had left it far too late and then given a barrage of instructions in terms of what they need to look for in a school including the inevitable ‘don’t go anywhere with anything less than a 40% success rate when it comes to getting sixth formers into Oxbridge’.

I don’t think that there is a single parent who doesn’t want the best for their child and who would not do all they can to ensure that they have it, but surely the big question really is ‘what does the best look like for your child?’.  Ms Gordon went on to call for the abolition of the ‘pushy parent’; those parents who live vicariously through their children and who often impose expectations and  set their children far higher standards than their own parents had for them, and/or,  who are caught up simply with where the ‘Smiths or Joneses’ have sent Jeremy and Jemima.  I agree with her. Sadly, these scenarios are all too common and evidence in my experience, that parents have clearly have not really taken time to think about who their child is and what the best learning environment for them will actually be.

For every child whose family is desperate for their child to get into a top performing school, there are other children who are desperate to get out. The pressure of sustaining academic excellence at the expense of all else, is immense and more often than not the pace of learning and level of competition to succeed is more than many can stand. Frantic tutoring to ensure that little Jeremy or Jemima meet the entrance criteria, very often means that the poor souls will need constant tutoring throughout their school career, just to keep up.

Children succeed in an environment where they are safe, well supported and happy.  Of course, they need to be challenged and given every opportunity to achieve their potential, that is a given, but surely it is better to think more about the journey than the destination?  We are really spoilt for choice educationally in this country. There are so many incredible schools with phenomenal staff doing great work, who appreciate wholeheartedly the investment that you as parents are making in your children. 

If you are fortunate enough to be in the position of being able to have a choice about where your child might go to school, the consultants at Debrett’s Education would urge you to take a little time to really look at your child/ren.  We firmly believe that there is not really such a thing as a ‘bad’ school but there is absolutely the wrong fit.

The important thing is not to rush, you do have time to think and research and to find the right fit. We know that you recognise that your child is very much an individual and suggest that as a starting point you take time to think:

· about your child’s emerging strengths and any areas that might need support

· about what you and your partner were like at school and remember your own school days…

· what worked for you and what didn’t?

· what it is that you really want for your child?

· what will work for you as a family?

Remember that schools are really transparent about their application processes and registering your child as soon as they are born is not a guarantee of a place – they will still have to meet the school’s admission criteria.

If you would like more information and/or an informal chat about how to go about making a start to look for the best Independent school for your child, then give one of our consultants a call on +44 (0) 203 848 9201, or fill out the enquiry form on our website