When parents think about filling in an independent school application, many do so with an expectation that it is a time consuming, complex process. This can act as a barrier for those parents who would perhaps like their children to benefit from an independent education. To tackle this misconception, we decided to speak to someone who really knows.
Jo Easton is Director of External Relations at George Heriot’s school and has worked in the independent sector for almost 30 years. Jo has helped countless parents with the independent school application process, so she is the best person to separate the fact from the fiction and offer her top tips for parents considering an independent education for their child.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in independent education?
“When my children started school my first job was in the Education Centre at Edinburgh Zoo. I enjoyed the interaction I had with the teachers and children so when an Admissions appointment was advertised at an Edinburgh independent school, I had no hesitation in applying.”
What are the biggest barriers for parents and children considering independent education?
“For parents I think the biggest worry is the cost of the fees and any extras and this is where school fee assistance comes in. They may also be apprehensive about whether their child will fit in and be happy at the school.
“For students many are nervous about leaving their friends behind at their current school and whether they will make friends at their new school. Additionally, there is a common misconception that teachers in the Independent sector are really strict and that pupils are inundated with homework. This is simply not true. We have high expectations of our pupils, but teachers work with the students as individuals to support and further their learning.”
What factors are commonly misunderstood about the application process?
“All schools have different procedures but there is a general view that independent schools are only for affluent families. This is far from the case and most schools offer some sort of financial assistance in the form of fee assistance and scholarships.
“Bursaries and fee assistance are generally means-tested and can cover up to 100% of the fees. Scholarships are typically awarded to pupils who excel in a particular field regardless of family income. Don’t be afraid to telephone the schools to make enquiries – most schools will have a dedicated Admissions Team who will be only too happy to help.”
What are the stages of the application process?
“Find out what the intake stages are for each of the schools you are considering – it is important to understand at what stage in your child’s academic career they can be accepted in the school. The intake stage is the year group at which schools take on new pupils. These differ depending on the school so it’s best to look into it to be sure. The process of application differs from one school to another, so you’ll need to know each school’s intake stages and closing dates for applications.
“Once your application is made, children will generally be invited to attend the school for an assessment or interview. In our school, children sit papers in English, Maths and Reasoning, but each school will have different entry requirements. Once places have been accepted, most schools will have induction days for children prior to the children starting in August.”
What advice would you give to parents considering an independent education for their child?
“Independent schools are all different, with each one having its own individual values and character. Decide what you are looking for from the beginning – single sex or co-ed? Is boarding a necessity? Does the school cater adequately to your child’s interests if, for example, they are particularly good at science, arts or sport?
“If your child has specific learning difficulties or there are pastoral concerns you need to make sure the school can provide the support required. Consider the location of the school and how accessible it is for your family – is it served well by public transport or does the school provide transport to and from the school?
“Research well in advance what fee assistance is available and whether it is adequate for your needs. Don’t be afraid to give the school a call – trust me you won’t be the first person with questions about fee assistance and they will be the best people to help you.”
What is the best way to research information on a school?
“Find a school via the SCIS website and look at the websites of those that are of interest to you. Attend independent school open days – these will allow you to have a look at the school, get a feel for the environment and meet your child’s potential teachers and classmates.
“However, I would also recommend contacting the schools to arrange an individual visit on a normal school day. This allows the chance to see the ‘real life’ of the school and see what your child will experience every day. This is a great opportunity to ask questions that are particularly relevant to your child and their personal circumstances.
“Speak to other parents and former pupils if you can, as most of them will be very keen to let you know of their experiences of the school.”
What are your personal tips for applying to an independent school?
“I would definitely say try to arrange an independent visit to the school and take your child with you if possible. Your child’s views are extremely important in this decision as it concerns their future. There are a lot of excellent independent schools in Scotland, all with something different to offer. Don’t just go for the school that’s well-known, or the ‘best’ school in the area – this may not necessarily make it the best for your child.”
If you’re looking for any advice on the independent school applications process or want to discuss your needs further, don’t hesitate to contact us.