How to find the right private school for your child

How to find the right private school for your child

Choosing a private school for your child is an enormous responsibility. You want to give your child access to the very best teaching and resources available; you want them to be inspired to follow their dreams and reach their potential. You also need a decision that works for your whole family.

And most of all, you need to know your child will be happy at their private school.

Finding an independent school that’s the right fit for your child can feel overwhelming – there are just so many excellent options to choose from. Every private school does things differently – and charges different school fees. So how can you find the right private school for your child?

In this article, we’re going to look at everything you need to consider when you’re looking for an independent school where your child will flourish.

Having their say

Firstly, it’s important for parents to remember that it’s their child who will be going to the school. It sounds obvious, but with all the wonderful facilities on offer at private schools, the beautiful grounds and the glossy websites, it can be easy for parents to get carried away with an ideal. Involving your child in the decision-making process is one the key ways to help you find the right school for your child.

Of course, if you’re looking to start your child at private school for some or all of their primary years – some independent schools start at age 4, and others at 7 – you’ll take the lead in building a shortlist of local independent schools. But you can still make sure your little one can experience taster days and feel a part of the choice.

Taster days: getting the flavour of your chosen school

You can find out what to expect from a taster day by contacting your prospective schools. Junior King’s in Canterbury and Rookwood School in Hampshire both offer a chance for children to experience a typical school day. It’s an opportunity for them to get a feel for the place, and for you to ask yourself how your child responds. Do they engage with the teacher? Do they seem comfortable in the setting? Is there anything that seems to worry them?

Plenty of independent schools recommend a taster day, and some even require your child to attend a taster day as part of their admissions process – after all, the school wants to be sure that all the children who are given a place will be a good fit.

A young girl sitting at a desk with colouring pencils.

Your child’s dreams

If your child will be moving schools at age 11, 13, or older, you can expect them to have a lot more involvement in choosing the schools they’re interested in. At this age, you child may express very definite opinions about the school they’d like, or the dreams they’d like to pursue.

Talk to you child about whether they’d like to throw themselves into sports, music, performing arts, or a mix of everything. Are they interested in academic subjects, or do they want vocational studies that will give them a head start with their career goals?

With ideas on the table, you can begin your research into private schools together, and start to understand the entrance criteria for the independent schools you’re considering.

Making an entrance: entrance exams in private schools

Many private schools require children to sit an entrance exam or other form of assessment before they are offered a place. Remember to look at the admissions criteria for each school on your shortlist to make sure your child is suited to the assessment and prepared for the big day – even if they’re relatively young.

Laser focus or broad brush – should you choose a school that specialises?

When you’re looking for the right school for your child, you may already have an inkling about their interests – especially if you’ve involved them from the beginning of the process.

Your child’s passions will influence the kind of school you choose for them. For example, some children live and breathe sports, so a school with a strong focus on games, competitive spirit and an alumni of professional athletes could offer amazing opportunities. For children who know where their career is taking them, they could be drawn towards schools with a focus on academic success or vocational training.

You might be interested in alternative or progressive approaches to education, in which case research Montessori or Steiner schools to see whether their nurturing and empowering methods are right for your child.

Young school pupils looking at a map on a computer.

Let’s take a brief look at what independent schools with different focuses can offer:

Academic studies at private school

For children who love to be engrossed in their learning, there are many independent schools that promise high-flying academic results. With rigorous teaching and a curriculum designed to inspire, schools like St Paul’s School and St Paul’s Girl’s School regularly top the league tables.

Private schools throughout the UK offer extremely high standards of teaching and learning. And for parents looking for schools in the capital, take a look at our top picks for excellent independent schools promising academic success in London.

Independent schools: lots to offer in music, sports or performing arts

Private schools with a reputation for excellence in a particular field are great your child to immerse themselves in favourite activities. The UK has private schools that are famed for their prowess in sports, music, and performing arts.

If your child leans towards a particular interest, a school with a strong focus could be the place they can shine.

A head start in your child’s career: vocational courses at private schools

Increasingly popular, some private schools recognise that hands-on experience will help children find and follow their interests early so they can go far in their dream careers. BTEC qualifications involve in-depth studies equivalent to several A-levels and will impress interviewers as your child moves on to further training or employment.

Independent schools for all-rounder

Maybe your child’s strong in subjects across the board, loves to get involved in all kinds of activities, or perhaps isn’t at their best when it comes to exams. If so, there’s an exciting array of schools that offer all-round excellence, from science to sport and from art to arithmetic. You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to looking at independent schools in your area.

If your child isn’t traditionally academic, there are independent schools who ask how a child is intelligent (rather than how intelligent they are). And other private schools who seek to inspire excellence without putting children under pressure. Take a look at the opportunities on offer for children who would be better suited to schools without an entrance exam.

Facilities at private schools

Funding through school fees means independent schools have fantastic resources at their disposal. Bigger budgets enable private schools to invest in high quality teaching and state-of-the-art facilities to support their students in striving for excellence.

For private schools, extensive grounds are among their strongest assets. Often housed in historic buildings with vast estates attached, they take the opportunity to build large performance venues, create acres of sports pitches, house nationally important historic libraries or embrace rural life with working farms.

Since every independent school has something different to inspire its students, discovering the facilities available is a really exciting part of finding the right private school for your child.

A young girl looking at a robot on a school trip.

A wealth of opportunity: trips and travel at independent school

Of course, not everything that independent schools can give their students is on site. Private schools also run some incredible school trips and opportunities for travel.

If your child is keen to visit the locations they learn about, or enthusiastic about going on adventurous expeditions in addition to their studies, talk to your shortlist of schools to find out what your child could expect to experience outside the classroom.

Pastoral care at private schools

As you’ll know, the school experience isn’t just about academic success, or even getting involved in the many clubs and societies that schools offer. Independent schools also have a duty of care for their students’ well-being and mental health, and they take it very seriously.

There are some schools who promote openness and wellbeing in pupils by using teachers’ first names and not having a school uniform. Other schools have a dedicated team of child protection staff. Some schools have built themselves around the principals of good pastoral care.

Sussex school Vinehall takes a mindful approach to pastoral care, encouraging children to talk about worries openly, and teaching pupils to be aware of their mental health and build their own self-esteem, whereas St James Preparatory School has a policy that children can talk to any adult at any time about concerns or worries.

As you’d expect, each independent school takes a different approach in caring for children’s wellbeing, so talking to your preferred private schools will help you gauge the approach that fits best for your child.

Bullying and safeguarding in independent schools

Every child should feel safe at school so they can focus on enjoying their studies, bonding with their friends and making the most of the school experience.

Your child’s safety and happiness are at the core of everything you do, so knowing the school has robust policies is always a priority in making your choice. This is particularly the case if your child will board, as they’ll be in the complete care of the school for weeks at a time.

Every independent school has policies for safeguarding and dealing with bullying, and these are usually easy to download from the school website.

Term times and holidays at independent schools

School holidays in the independent sector are typically much longer than in state schools. For working parents, particularly of younger children, this can mean an extra-long childcare juggle when it comes to Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays.

However, some private schools provide trips and expeditions during the school holidays so your child could have the opportunity to broaden their minds between term times. For younger children, independent schools such as Duncombe School and Shrewsbury Prepatoria offer holiday clubs to ease the load on parenting responsibilities during the long holiday breaks.

On the other hand, private schools can offer plenty of flexibility. Children can be at school for up to 48 weeks per year, and parents can even take children out of school during term time to enjoy family holidays when popular destinations are less crowded. Research your prospective school’s policies and school holiday provisions to help you find the right private school for your family.

Weekend breaks

In addition to holidays and half terms, many boarding schools hold exeat weekends – a weekend in the middle of term where Saturday lessons are cancelled for a short holiday. Some schools make exeat weekends – also known as leave weekends or quiet weekends – compulsory, like Sevenoaks School and Millfield School. That means you need availability to collect your child from school in the middle of term, several times during the school year.

If this doesn’t fit with your schedule, it’s possible to appoint a guardian who lives within a reasonable distance of the school to fulfil this for you – there are even organisations providing guardianship services for children whose parents are overseas or unavailable. However, many boarding schools do not make exeat weekends compulsory, so check out your preferred school’s policies before you apply if exeat weekends could prove a problem for your family.

An unbiased opinion: where to look for private school reviews

When it comes to choosing the right independent school for your child, the options are both exciting and mind-boggling. It can be easy to be swept along by swish websites and professionally produced videos of life at a private school. And even when you visit the schools in person, it can be difficult to judge what school life is really like for the children and their parents.

So where should you look for an honest, experienced view of the private schools you’re considering? Fortunately, there are lots of resources to help you find the right school for your child.

Inspectors for private schools

The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is one of the bodies with responsibility for ensuring that schools signed up to their service measure up to standards. Use the ISI’s inspection reports to find out how your child’s prospective school performs in academic and pastoral terms.

Guides to private schools

Aside from inspection bodies, there are other places for parents to look for guidance. The Good Schools Guide and Which School Advisor review schools throughout the UK so parents have an overview of its ethos and atmosphere.

And for a read over your coffee, check out School House Magazine or Independent School Parent to help you mull over the options and find the right school for your child.

And don’t forget the Independent Schools Council (ISC). The ISC is a coalition of seven associations of independent schools, comprising the heads, bursars, and governors of these institutions.

Talking to other parents

Meeting parents of children who currently attend the private school your child is interested in can be a great way to get information straight from the horse’s mouth.

If your preferred private school is in the local area, you might already know parents whose children attend. If not, ask around for a friend of a friend who can give you an honest opinion.

Or try one of the popular parenting websites, such as Mumsnet to read threads on private schools or start a conversation with your own questions.

A row of pupils in a classroom.

The cost of excellence: school fees for your child’s ideal education

Of course, no matter how fantastic the prospective schools you find, the bottom line for many parents choosing the right school will come down to affordability.

Private schools have complete freedom in the fees they set, so the price you can expect to pay will vary hugely between one independent school and another.

Some private schools offer scholarships and bursaries for gifted pupils or for those whose families would otherwise struggle to pay the fees, but naturally these are highly competitive.

And remember, the fees listed on an independent school’s site aren’t the only outlay you should anticipate – there are plenty of hidden costs to be considered. Choosing the right private school for your child usually means you want to give them every opportunity to make the most of their education. So trips, additional lessons, kit, or co-curricular activities could add a significant sum to your child’s school fees.

So what do you do if the ideal school for your child feels out of reach – or even a bit of a stretch – when it comes to your budget?

Getting financial advice to fund the right private school for your child.

Fortunately, there’s help at hand – even when the financial hurdles of sending your child to private school seem daunting.

Nothing is more important than finding the right independent school for your child to thrive. And that means many parents feel they have no choice but to give up on their dreams of early retirement or their ambitions for a second home.

However, with proper financial planning you don’t always have to make major sacrifices to pay independent school fees.

At Eden School Fees Planning, we’ll make a thorough assessment of your financial position AND your aspirations. So we can help you make investment decisions that enable you to pay school fees at the school where your child can be happy and achieve their potential. Call us to find out how.