When it comes to registering your child at an independent school, the thought of the application process can sometimes seem a little daunting.
We spoke to Caroline Routledge, registrar at St Leonards in St Andrews, to help de-mystify the process. Caroline has been registering students in her role for 12 years, taking care of the full admissions process for international and UK students
Read on to find out the best time to register, what the application process involves, and the advice Caroline has for those considering applying to an independent school…
Tell us about your role at St Leonards
“As registrar, my role involves managing the full application process for UK and international students. We take in children of every age in the school system, from four and a half to 17-year olds.
“There is a constant cycle of applications, so we’re busy 12 months of the year!”
How has the admissions cycle changed over the last 10, 20 years?
“The admissions cycle has changed a lot over the years – traditionally parents planned out what they were doing years in advance, and, while some parents still do this, we have seen a move towards more varied routes of enquiry and a rise in later applications.
“In the last 20 years, we have also welcomed more families that are keen to experience teaching and learning in different countries and environments during their time at school. We are an internationally minded school, which attracts families from across the globe, as well as Scotland.
“As we are in a university town, we also have a lot of parents moving here to work at the university, meaning they often need to make decisions about schooling at the last minute.
“Parents now expect a return on the investment they are making as it is a huge financial and life decision.”
When do most parents register their child?
“The most popular and traditional scenario in my opinion would be families who have registered their child two or more years in advance (and start to build a rapport and relationship with that selected school) and those who will apply between July and December for the next school year.
“I would advise registering interest earlier but there is no right answer and it must ultimately suit the family.”
What does the application process look like?
“To start the application process at St Leonards, parents fill out an application form and pay a £100 application fee, as well as sharing their child’s last two school reports. If the child is over eight years old, we also ask them to write a personal statement to tell us a little bit more about them, and this can include anything from their favourite subjects, their hobbies and interests, what interested them in the school and their hopes and dreams for the future.
“They can then attend a taster day, which we insist upon for the Junior school pupils and is optional for Senior school, although we strongly recommend going – they really help the child to experience the ethos of the school as well as allowing them to really enjoy ‘a day in the life’.”
What advice would you give parents thinking of registering their child at an independent school?
“Firstly, I would advise that parents get their application in as soon as possible, ideally two years in advance and before the Christmas break at the absolute latest. Some parents are extremely prepared – I’ve even had someone register when their child was only two weeks old!
“Most schools have a waiting list and will take applicants on a first come, first serve basis, so don’t leave it till the last minute if you can prevent it.
“Also, I’d strongly recommend going for a private meeting at the school after attending an open day so that you can ask the questions that matter to you as a family. It is also valuable for us to spend this time with the family so we can make that initial connection and truly make them feel part of the school.
“At St Leonards we often do Skype interviews with international parents – our principal has even been known to walk around with his iPad showing the parents around!
“I would also really recommend asking about the school’s Parents Association when applying – our PA is an invaluable resource for us, as they can help out with parents moving to the area. They can answer a lot of questions, so it’s a great idea to ask for a contact at the PA if you’re considering applying.”
What questions do you get asked most often? By students and parents?
“The question we get asked most often following a visit is definitely ‘what do we need to do next?’. This is relatively easy as we can talk the family through the full assessment process and reassure them about timelines. It also helps us to know about any deadlines that the family themselves have.
“Questions from parents vary so much, but we are often asked about our boarding options. We offer flexi-boarding which has proved extremely popular, allowing parents to leave for work commitments and board children on a one-off basis.
“What I will say is that there truly are no silly questions, and you should keep asking until you get the answers you need!”