Uncertainty fuels anxiety in search for London senior schools

A prep school head has highlighted his concerns with the admissions process for London schools and how it gives 'the sense of complete uncertainty'. Simon Larter-Evans of St Paul's Cathedral School was speaking to Attain's Fresh Thinking podcast.

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3rd March 2021 — A prep school head has highlighted his concerns with the admissions process for senior schools in London and how it gives 'the sense of complete uncertainty'.

Simon Larter-Evans, Head of St Paul's Cathedral School in London, was speaking to Attain as part of the weekly Fresh Thinking podcast.

He draws attention to the fact that Cognitive Ability Tests have become a 'cornerstone' for senior schools determining who to interview yet describes pupils' success in these tests 'as much as luck by birth than anything else'.

"I think we need to have a conversation in the sector about all those other things that some of those ranking systems simply don't measure," he told Attain's Editor, Matthew Smith.

"They don't measure empathy, they don't measure tenacity – and all those other characteristics that we value so highly in the independent sector."

The transfer between independent prep and senior schools in London is seen as being particularly competitive with pupils often being registered for upwards of six different senior schools.

This can result in an increase in anxiety for both parents and pupils.

"It would be great if parents could step back a little bit and be a little bit more circumspect about how many schools they are applying to because that helps everybody – it takes the heat out," suggests Mr Larter-Evans.

"I am not blaming parents for that because I completely understand why they do it."

A senior school head speaking as part of the same programme highlighted how social media can play a part in giving the wrong impression about the system.

"We are in an age where the dangers of WhatsApp and various other social media forums really can raise the anxiety levels quite easily and I completely understand why," commented Suzie Longstaff, Head of Putney High School for Girls GDST.

"But at the same time, we have incredibly good relationships with so many of our feeder schools and they are incredibly experienced at guiding parents – and parents really must listen to the schools."

Both Heads agreed the pressure is not due to capacity.

"There is too much anxiety in the market," reflected Suzie Longstaff.

"I think it's very hard for people to make that decision in the end – and that's where the anxiety comes."

She continued: "Parents would love to have a crystal ball that in seven years' time they knew they had made the right decision for their child..."

"The most important thing for parents is that their children are going to be happy and we know in schools that happy children are children who do well."

You can listen to the full interview in Episode 19 of Fresh Thinking, Attain's weekly podcast for parents and read Simon Larter-Evans' article for Attain, "Testing times", a deliberately provocative look at Cognitive Ability Tests.

Simon Larter-Evans and Suzie Longstaff reflect on the admissions process for senior schools in London.

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