Pupils commute so they can study at the best schools

The Times, 14/02/15, children are commuting farther than many adults in their daily journey to top schools, heads revealed yesterday. HMC member, Dr Joseph Spence, master of Dulwich College is quoted.

Rather than finding it a burden, they said that pupils relished what was often their only “downtime” away from learning and activities.

Many families found out yesterday if their children had won a place at several leading independent senior schools in London and the southeast of England. Competition was tougher than ever, with the number applying far higher than five years ago. Some heads said that standards had also risen and that identifying the brightest pupils was harder than ever.

In their quest to find the best performers, schools have offered places to children living up to 90 minutes away, and laid on coaches to bring them across London or in from the home counties.

Dulwich College, in southeast London, had 420 applications for 70 places for 11-year-olds, up 10 per cent on last year. It offers places to boys from London, Kent and Essex, and provides 30 coaches for children living up to 90 minutes away.

Joseph Spence, the master of the school, said: “The boys say they sleep, talk to their friends, read and play computer games on the journey. They celebrate it as downtime.

“More and more of the applications are ones we have to take very seriously. We interviewed 160 candidates and could have interviewed 160 more and still been meeting bright boys, with a hunger for learning in the widest sense.

“There have been times in the not-too-distant past when the reason for not interviewing candidates was a belief they would have trouble accessing the curriculum. This wouldn’t any longer be the case.

“At 13-plus we had 200 applicants for 70 places. Our relations with 15 to 20 major prep schools mean that there is a lot of self-deselection before application and almost all of these 200 applicants were legitimate candidates.

“Here we interviewed about 130 and again found all of them capable of coping and thriving at Dulwich so it’s very difficult to make the offers that will give us our 70 boys in September.”

While applicants came from many countries, Dr Spence said that fears that schools such as Dulwich would be “overrun by the super-rich” were exaggerated.

Almost half of children who received 11-plus offers were from families who qualified for financial assistance, Dr Spence said. He hopes the school will eventually be made up of 50 per cent fee-payers and 50 per cent on bursaries.

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