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How to move your child from state to private

The transition from state school to independent can be stressful for both parents and children. Education expert Sue Laidlaw offers tips on making this big move a painless one

Anyone who has waited, at collecting time, in the playgrounds of certain primary schools across London - and there are many of them, will have witnessed it!  Small groups of mums, a few buggies and toddlers scattered around, conversing and discussing the pros and cons of particular independent London day schools 

In today’s competitive world, the playgrounds of certain postcodes can sometimes seem almost as stressful and cut throat as the offices and boardrooms that their parents frequent. It is relatively common practice for strategic plans to be put in place soon after a child has entered Reception. There will be a smattering of little boys (and the occasional little girl) that will move from the local primary school into the independent sector at 7+. 8+ or 10+ but the majority who make the move over will do so at the end of primary school. I confess, we have taken this route ourselves for all of our daughters - the result has been a wonderful rich education with an all-embracing outcome spanning both sectors. These personal experiences, added to the thousands of children that have been under Laidlaw Education's wing over the past decades, have taught me a thing or two about this rite of passage.

If your child clearly shows an academic streak, don’t be put off by aiming at the more academic schools.

So, how is it best for children, parents, families to “cross the Rubicon” between state primary school and independent senior school - and continue to keep smiling throughout?

Firstly, embrace three simple rules:


What is right for your friend’s child is not necessarily what is right for your own. Neither is better or worse. Choosing schools can be likened to choosing houses. The wonderful property that your friend might have fallen in love with may leave you wanting to run out of the door. It is, therefore, wise, to avoid getting caught up in conversations that might leave you wondering if you are doing the right - or wrong thing - and cause more stress and anxiety than is needed.


This is always easier said that done but, when embraced, leads to a calmer and more straightforward approach to things. If your son is simply uninspired by the thought of aspiring to a future 1st XV, sending him to a school that puts a great deal of emphasis on rugby would not be a likely match. Similarly, if your daughter has been a happy hard-worker who has always attained a good average in her class, a highly academic, constantly tested school environment is unlikely to make her more academic. On the other hand, if your child clearly shows an academic streak, don’t be put off by aiming at the more academic schools. It all sounds very obvious but unless you adopt a pragmatic approach it is easy to be swept along in the whole process.


As a general rule, primary school staff are not necessarily experts in the options available in the independent sector. You may be fortunate to be a parent in a primary school that is the exception rather than the rule but, nevertheless, be ready to do your own homework on the best fit of school for your own child. If necessary, seek outside professional advice.


At this point, you will need to adopt a ten point plan in order to avoid unneccesary stress for yourself and your child...

  1. Ensure that you continue to share books with your child and keep  reading to them, whatever their age; play fun number games and quizzes with them; help them to learn their tables thoroughly.
  2. When your child is in Year 4 begin to look more seriously at school websites and order prospectuses of schools that may be of interest to you and suitable for your child. 
  3. Most school open days are held in the autumn term. Make a plan to visit schools of interest when your child is in Year 5. It is usually best, at this stage, to visit without your child. At Year 6, when you are surer of your shortlist, take your child with you for their input and opinion. If you feel comfortable in a school, chances are that your child will do too.
  4. However bright and high achieving your primary school child might be, there will be a need to give them some help and input into the preparation for entrance exams. Occasionally parents feel relaxed and sufficiently confident to avoid the use of a tutor but more often the assistance of a tutor is sought. Ensure that the teaching style is right for your child and that the person you engage is sufficiently experienced and wise to teach your child, not just prep them for an exam. 
  5. During the summer holidays between Year 5 and Year 6, keep a small but regular amount of work on the go. All children need a holiday and to relax and do other things, too.
  6. If such a thing is available in your area, arrange for your child to sit one or two mock exams. Primary school children are totally unfamiliar with the rigours of the exam room, but just a little practice pays enormous dividends.
  7. By the autumn term of your child’s Year 6, you will probably have formed a shortlist. With the help of your tutor, you will now have an idea of which schools are realistic choices. Think in three tranches, realistic, aspirational and a back-up choice. Nowadays, opting for four schools is wise but no more than five maximum.
  8. Throughout the autumn term, continue with preparations for the exams in January, including targeted sensible tuition (an hour or so a week and a little homework) and keep normal family life going along with plenty of early nights and relaxation. A little preparation for interviews is helpful- but it must be preparation, and not a rehearsal.
  9. Christmas holidays should be holidays - an opportunity to relax ahead of the exam period that follows shortly afterwards.
  10. Everyone survives, the children far better than their parents - and then you wait for the fat envelopes of success to come through the door.

Before you know it, it will be September and the first day at the new school is upon you... a new chapter begins (but that's another article for another day!)

:: Laidlaw Education is a west London centre offering private tuition, mock exams, special needs assessments and schools admissions guidance, among other services. Established in 1992, we are based at Duke’s Meadow, Chiswick. For more information on our services, click here.


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