Private school: a decision for the whole family

In an article in the Telegraph, 26/03/13,  Jessica Moore, reports that when it comes to finding a school for your child, it helps to listen to them and share ideas. HMC Head Chris Ramsay, King's Chester and HMC School Clifton College feature.

Open days are crucial, but websites, prospectuses and the Good Schools Guide can also help build a picture of a school’s facilities and approach. “Some parents do their research and draw up a shortlist of two or three schools before taking their child along.

To get a better idea of what a school is really like, visit on a normal day as well as on an open day,” says Chris Ramsey, head of The King’s School in Chester.

“Grandparents sometimes come to look around, too, especially if they are involved in the finances,” points out Hilary French, head of Central Newcastle High School and president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA). “Schools need to involve parents and grandparents in the selection process — it’s a matter for everyone who is concerned with the child’s education.”

This can also help with the decision-making. “It’s a good idea to ask a friend or relative who is slightly removed from the process to come along and give a second opinion,” agrees Ramsay. “They are more objective and that can help parents reflect on what was said and seen.”

Remember that this is a decision for the long term, and continuity of education is important for a lot of people, notes French, whose school takes girls from the age of three to 18.

But what happens if your child yearns for a change after GCSEs? Ross advises caution: “In post-16 education, within just 20 months students sit at least two sets of public examinations and they consider, research, apply for and accept places at universities.

They also initially study four subjects that are, in some cases, entirely new to them and in all cases are completely different from GCSE study.

“Young people in that situation need to have a strong network of support around them — ideally, people who are familiar with their learning style.”

French believes that the sixth-form years are the most important for a girl in terms of personal development, as well as academic achievement. “If they move school at 16, their results are likely to suffer by about a grade,” she says.

However, these experts all agree that if a child has a strong view on a change of school at any age, it’s important that parents listen and respond. “Choosing a school is a bit like buying a house — when you walk around you immediately feel if it’s right,” says Ross. “But it’s a joint voyage of discovery that should be taken by you and your child, as well as the school.”

Robin Barrasford – Father-of-five, whose children are attending Clifton College, Bristol

Barrasford has four children at the college, including his eldest son Conor, 15. He also hopes to send his two-year-old there. “We moved to the south of Bristol so that the children could go to Clifton. We wanted them to grow up in the countryside as well as experience the urban side of life,” he explains. “At first, they were reluctant to leave their friends. Then we showed them the facilities and lifestyle they could enjoy here, and they warmed to the idea.”

Clifton caters for children from the age of three and, says Barrasford, it’s a very supportive institution. “I’m not from a private school background but I never feel out of place when I visit. It’s really centred on the family.”

For his eldest son, moving to Clifton was a good choice. “It turned out to be perfect for me in the end,” says Conor.

“I board, but it’s really flexible — if I want to stay overnight at school I can, or if I want to go home that’s fine too. It gives me independence.

“We mostly went to open days as a family. We looked around a ridiculous number of schools and we all had a checklist of what we wanted.

“Although my parents had the final decision, they made it clear that everyone had to be happy about it — I don’t think it would have worked otherwise.”

Click here to read the article © The Telegraph.