Decision Time

Parents have traditionally faced several big choices when it comes to education, even before they get down to the nitty gritty of selecting an individual school.
State or private? If the latter, day or boarding? Single-sex or co-educational? Post-pandemic, there is a further category with some families also choosing between in-person and virtual schools.

Ignoring gender stereotypes
Girls-only schools offer a dedicated learning environment in which young women develop their values and confidence away from the gender stereotypes and unconscious bias often present elsewhere in society. As gender stereotypes are often created at a very young age, girl-focused learning from Early Years plays a significant role in providing ‘immunity’ to stereotyping later in life.
Leadership roles
Studies show that in a mixed environment girls are less likely to put themselves forward for leadership roles or lead discussions or group projects. In contrast, when girls are in a setting designed exclusively for them, they actively pursue and hold leadership roles, largely because they do not learn to moderate their behaviour in the presence of boys.
Subject variety
Girls educated in a single sex school opt for STEM subjects at GCSE and A-Level in greater numbers because they have not experienced the gender bias often associated with those subjects. This leads to a wider breadth of academic achievement and greater professional choice throughout their lives.
Closing the confidence gap
Research shows girls start to lose their natural confidence from around the age of eight when educated co-educationally.Source: Streatham & Clapham High School

Join GDST Director of Innovation and Learning, Dr Kevin Stannard, in a panel discussion with Emma Lee-Potter, Senior Contributor to The Good Schools Guide and The Week’s Guide to Independent Education about Why and How Girls Do Better in Single Sex Education at Streatham & Clapham Prep School on Wednesday 21 September. Booking is required via

Cost is the big deciding factor in choosing the independent sector. Adam D’Souza, founder of The Commons Education, poses this question: “If you are looking at the independent sector, think carefully about what you are looking to get out of it in exchange for your fees.
“What would a return on your investment look like? Grades? University entry? Access to opportunities in sports, arts, music, drama?”
Much has returned to normality, including the not-inconsiderable annual school fee rises. These were frozen, pretty much across the board during Covid. Now they have thawed, rising by an average of three per cent nationally in the last year; and more for the current academic year. At a time of a cost-of-living crisis, affordability is more of an issue than ever for many families. See our feature on finding the fees on page 93.

Added to this is the high quality of many state secondaries in south-west London including Bolingbroke Academy and Graveney, all rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
Cost pressures have also forced the closure of some private schools – but new ones have opened, showing continuing demand for the sector.

At a time of a cost-of-living crisis, affordability is more of an issue

London Park School (LPS) is due to open on the Clapham Common site of Oliver House Preparatory School which closed in July last year. Its founding principal is Suzie Longstaff, who will be leaving her headship at Putney High School next April.
The co-ed school will swallow up Northwood Senior, also owned by Dukes Education, the same parent company. It will open in September 2023 for Years 7 to 11 and there are plans for future sites north of the river and a specialist sixth form centre in Belgravia.

Dukes Education says it is “radically rethinking” the concept of a good secondary education, to prepare pupils for tomorrow’s world. Others are going even further by removing the need for an actual school. For example, the Alpha Plus Group has done the same, launching Portland Place Online last year. Children aged from ten to 16 learn online via video conferencing four days a week and then attend on-site for the fifth day for more practical subjects such as art, design technology, science and sport.

There has been much debate recently around whether GCSEs are ‘fit for purpose’, especially given the recent disruption to learning caused by the pandemic. GCSEs focus on studying the theory of subjects whereas BTECs are more practical, specialist courses that are focused on a specific industry or job area. Both have equivalent academic value and are widely recognised by employers, colleges and universities.

• GCSEs are more academic; BTECs are more vocational and practical
• GCSEs give you a broader academic base if you’re not totally sure what you want to do later; BTECs are more focused on a particular career path
• GCSEs are usually assessed by exams at the end of two years; BTECs have a more continuous workload throughout the course

As a leading independent school offering both GCSEs and BTECs, DLD College London is pioneering a new approach by giving students the choice and flexibility they need to help them thrive and meet the demands of the modern world.

Source: DLD College London

Another is Minerva Virtual Academy, an online independent school launched in November 2020. It claims to be an antidote to the ‘one size fits all’ approach of mainstream schooling. It also says that pupils can achieve top marks in GCSEs with just three hours of schoolwork a day and minimal homework. Students sign up to a platform and are taught by a team of 22 teachers.

Chief Executive Hugh Viney started as a tutor and spent a decade running an education company that offered bespoke support to children. Its headteacher is Laurence Tubb, who was Director of Music at Wycombe Abbey, the independent girls’ school. Viney said: “The simple fact that mainstream school isn’t the right fit for every child has been the driving force behind
the launch of our online school. For many children, whether they suffer from anxiety or mental health issues, have additional needs or for other reasons simply don’t feel able to go to school, a more tailored, individual and flexible approach is what they need to be able to thrive.”

He said Minerva provided live online lessons backed up with a combination of audio, visual and discussion-based modules. “Students are learning at a pace and in a way that suits them. It also means that when it comes to live lessons with our teachers, students already know the areas that they need help with, which makes time spent in class much more productive and focused on these areas, as opposed to going over old ground.

Mainstream school isn’t the right fit for every child

Parents often ask themselves whether the school represents good value for money. Look for a school that offers a rich variety of opportunity for your child, so that talents are discovered and nurtured. Whether to board, and at what age, is a choice individual to families; trends are changing, with a range of flexible options for different ages.

“For our GCSE and A-Level students, it means that rather than spending four or five hours a week in maths classes, they spend the majority of their time working through self-directed modules and less time in live lessons than the average mainstream school. There’s minimal homework too with most students completing work within the usual school day.” By this summer, the school had 200 pupils from the UK, Dubai, South Korea and ten from Ukraine. Many teachers, parents, children and teenagers were desperate to return to normal after the pandemic and rediscover in-person learning and activities, but Mr Viney says this is not universal.

Remember you are choosing for your child and not from your own childhood memories. Class sizes and the provision of extra academic support are crucial. Most parents will want a prep that will produce a ‘well-rounded’ individual who has plentiful opportunities to grow and shine. Many schools will declare a wide breadth of co-curricular opportunities, but do ask questions that dig a bit deeper. Ultimately, think: ‘Will my child be happy here?’ Your decision will often come down to the way a school makes you and your child feel when you visit; taster days can be very helpful. Prep schools that are welcoming, caring and nurturing, ones that have strong and charismatic leadership with profound core values, that put the child at the centre of everything they do, cannot go far wrong.

Source: Cranleigh School & Prep School


Previously reserved, disengaged pupils in the classroom thrived doing online learning during lockdown and teachers felt a little disillusioned when things went back to normal and all the old problems reappeared in the physical environment.” It is not a view shared by more traditional schools, which say the return to normality and in-person teaching is exactly what children need.  Alex Hutchinson, headmistress of James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS), an independent day school in Dulwich, says: “There has been a joyful sense of normality this term, and seeing the school in full swing and the re-establishment of face-to-face encounters has been fantastic. I’m all for innovation and doing things differently, as long as the central tenet is the wellbeing and experience of young people; I strongly believe that that isn’t established through online interactions.”
The key consideration for parents should be the abilities and personality of the child. An extremely popular and heated thread this summer on NappyValleyNet was triggered by someone asking how hard it was to get into a private school in south London, with discussions about Emanuel, Whitgift and Kingston Grammar. Opinions differed but many agreed that it was not for the faint-hearted – that successful children had to be academically able and be happy – or at least prepared – to put in preparation work for the entrance exams. See our feature sharing best practice on preparation for admission tests and exams on page 41.

Some families look outside the immediate area and consider boarding, with Woldingham, Charterhouse and Caterham all popular – or even further afield to schools such as Royal High School Bath or Millfield in Somerset. The latest Independent Schools Council census shows boarding numbers have not bounced back quite as much as their day counterparts, with figures rising from around 65,000 in 2021 to 69,000 in 2022, but still below the 73,500 in 2020.

The big names are still booming but some others are having to adapt – the census noted the continuing growth in flexi-boarding, when pupils stay at school for some nights of the week and go home for others. This provides greater reassurance for parents who are not quite sure that full boarding is for them or for their child.

It also makes it more of a gradual process with some starting off flexi-boarding as a way of dipping a toe in the water, before building up to full boarding in sixth form. Adam D’Souza of The Commons Education, sees clear advantages of weekly boarding. “Weekly boarding can be a huge blessing for working families in London,” he says. “Weekly boarders probably end up seeing more of their families, as the week is structured to give quality time at weekends, with no arguments over homework.” Gavin Horgan, headmaster of Millfield, said however that full boarding was more popular than ever at his school.

Moving to senior school from primary or prep school is very exciting, but it can be daunting too. Try not to worry. Although it’s new to you, it’s not to your new head of year. Their job, particularly in your first year at senior school, is to help you settle in. There will always be someone around to help – everyone was new to the school once and knows what it feels like – so don’t be afraid to ask.

New experiences will come thick and fast. As well as studying exciting new subjects, such as design technology, drama and computer science, make sure to take part in some of the extra-curricular activities your new school offers. As well as a great way to make new friends, you will find interests and develop skills that stay with you for life. Before you know it, the end of your first term will arrive and you’ll wonder what you were worried about.
Source: Woldingham School

“Post-pandemic we have seen a significant surge in interest for full boarding, especially for sixth form; numbers are the highest that they have ever been. I think that the scourge of the pandemic and the challenges many faced in online learning have drawn families to think carefully about what matters in life,” he said. “Parents and children want to take advantage of the widest possible range of experiences on offer and they recognise city-centre exam factories don’t have the allure they once did, whereas big full boarding schools enable breadth, interactions, opportunities and diversity on a different scale. There is also an exodus from London and other cities, often to the South West.” Our feature on boarding starts on page 76.
The number of boys’ schools appears to be in decline while those catering only for girls remain popular. Winchester College is one of the biggest names to go co-educational – from this September – leaving only Eton, Harrow and Tonbridge of the original public schools as purely single sex.

There is a freedom, spontaneity and unaffectedness that allows everyone to thrive, both as learners and leaders

However, some girls’ school heads have bristled at the suggestion that girls could be a civilising influence. Cheryl Giovannoni, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, suggested last year that boys’ schools going co-ed do so to benefit boys.
Alex Hutchinson, headmistress of JAGS, said parents choose girls’ schools ultimately because they are right for their child. A key attraction is they are “fun, focused and full of laughter” and remove pressure to conform.
She said: “There is a freedom, spontaneity and unaffectedness that allows everyone to thrive, both as learners and leaders. Without doubt, parents want to know their daughter will be safe and cared for, that she’ll be busy, have fun and make great friends, and that she’ll thrive pastorally, socially and academically.

“There are fantastic single sex schools and fantastic co-ed schools – and the key to the choice is first and foremost what is right for that individual child. And often it’s the more intangible aspects that add up – the welcome you receive on visiting, the role models you see in students and staff, the vision of the head, the relationships, the energy and ethos you pick up that permeates the school.”

Day schools suit those who want a busy day at school, with after-school activities, and the opportunity to share that with parents and relax at home in the evening. “A day school allows them to combine school clubs with out-of-school activities such as those students who play team sport for school during the week but enjoy playing for external clubs at the weekend. There are others with more niche hobbies, and a day school allows them to easily access these in , their spare time,” she said.

• A-levels or IB? What academic subjects are on offer and are there any limits on combinations? (Check for option blocks and ask early if you want to study an unusual mix of
A- levels)
• Is academic enrichment provided outside of lessons, such as lectures, workshops and research projects that will help boost a university application?
• Visit the facilities and soak up the atmosphere – look for a warm, strong and inclusive community
• What emphasis is put on co-curricular in the sixth form and might you be able to lead on activities?
• Are there established partnerships in the community to which you could lend your time?
• Are there opportunities for student voice, such as a blog, magazine or forum?
• What advice is available for options beyond UK university applications?
• Is support given if you opt to wait and apply to university after A-levels, in
‘Year 14’?Source: Wimbledon High School GDST

“Many day school students also get used to navigating travel to school independently on a daily basis and greater freedom over their leisure time, which many parents will see as an important step to independence.”
London Park School’s debut next year aims to offer something different. Incoming Head Suzie Longstaff says being a new school will give it the agility to do things differently:
“I am thrilled and excited to be the new principal of London Park School. It’s not often that you get the chance to rethink and design a school in this way. LPS has the scale, scope and ambition to deliver a truly innovative secondary education for London students.
“As well as providing a rounded education with strong, academic underpinning, LPS will look ahead to the future with a focus on the creative application of digital technology, design thinking and entrepreneurship. It will prepare students to meet the demands of our fast-moving, radically different 21st century society. I can’t wait to get started.”

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