We are nearing the end of the 2018 admissions season, although some patient families are still lingering on waiting lists. Those who hoped for an easy ride thanks to Brexit or St Paul’s School’s decision to increase their 7+ intake this year may have been disappointed, with many of the top schools reporting record applicant numbers. The trend I am seeing since several years is that parents are more willing to move for a top school, which means they tend to apply all over London, and then a small number of superstar candidates bag all the offers, while mere mortals or those who put half-hearted effort into their 7+ preparation end up on waiting lists or without any offers.
4+ offers are also out across London now, and we seem to be seeing the same trend: it has been an incredibly competitive year at the top schools, and I have heard many more readers this year report they did not get any of their top choices, even if they applied far and wide. On the other hand, I know of a few miracle kids who just moved to London, walked into the assessments jet lagged and unprepared, and managed to excel. Although parents try to prepare for 4+ assessments and some tutors make a living out of this, 4+ assessments are certainly less predictable than 7+/8+ exams. The brightest child can be too shy to speak, throw a tantrum during the assessment or simply catch a cough on the day. And a child with a very short attention span or a high energy level would likely not be picked, no matter how much effort parents have put into preparing them in some way. That is not to say that 7+/8+ exams are a sure thing, far from it! But slightly more predictable than 4+ exams. Still, a stomach bug, nerves, a cough can change everything. How many 6 year olds, no matter how bright, can endure 3 hours of non-stop testing? 7+/8+ exams measure stamina and sheer endurance as much as “ability”, which is what the schools are supposedly after.
The good news is that at 4+, there are many excellent non-selective schools, and I always encourage parents to consider these. After many years of studying and visiting a wide range of London schools, I have often been most impressed with non-selective schools that go the extra mile for each and every child. The most selective schools have a tendency to take children who are exceptional to begin with, regardless of what the school does, and take credit for their achievements. I don’t like to name names, but having spoken to a wide range of parents at the top 5 senior schools in London, I am more convinced than ever that they do not have a magic wand. They take exceptionally advanced children, put them and their parents under pressure (while publicly claiming to be well-rounded, championing mental health and decrying tutoring), and then constantly boast about their pupils’ achievements. Children who do not keep up in this rat race are kindly asked to leave the school before threatening a school’s top spot in the league tables.
To conclude, by all means, celebrate if your child got into one of your desired schools at 4+ or 7+/8+, but if they did not, please do not think for a second that their opportunities for the future are limited. There is a lot of movement between schools at 11+, 13+ and 16+, and what happens at the higher stages is far more significant than the beginning of the journey.
I look forward to reporting detailed 7+/8+ and 11+ results in the coming months. It is likely that schools will wait for reserve lists to move and publish results only in late March or April. 11+ offers by the top schools will be posted this Friday February 9th. Best of luck to all those hoping for A4 envelopes in their letter box!