Choosing an independent school
Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions a parent can make. With information now so instantly available through smart phones, laptops and tablets, it isn’t just simply sitting and browsing a prospectus over a leisurely cup of coffee.
We look at some of the factors you may like to consider and some of the benefits of 3 excellent independent schools in the area that are all very different; Talbot Heath, Ringwood Waldorf and St Martin’s.
Talbot Heath is an independent school for girls with exceptional facilities based in Bournemouth woodland. Their model, delivered through a state-of-the-art STEAM HUB (Science Technology Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics), equipped with augmented reality, holographic, design, drama, art, robotics, electronics and textiles studios, will engender in students an ability to fashion, iterate and realise their ideas across all disciplines. Ringwood Waldorf School on the edge of the New Forest is the only school in the area which follows a Waldorf Curriculum (There are over 900 Steiner schools in over 55 countries). Teaching is considered to be an art, through which a teacher can respond to the needs of each individual child in a creative way, no SATS, no uniforms but excellent results academically and in terms of allowing children to unfold into motivated, contented adults. St Martin’s Independent Primary School, also in Bournemouth offers a very homely setting with small classes and a focus on enabling children to becoming confident life-long learners that thrive as they move on to secondary school. A broad educational programme is offered, which not only meets, but exceeds the demands of the National Curriculum and prepares children well for the responsibilities, challenges and experiences of secondary school. Much of the teaching is traditional, with a major emphasis on the three ‘Rs’.
So, what should I consider? There are various factors that come into play, and the importance of each will vary from family to family. You may be looking for independent education for all or part of a child’s schooling, but here we look at some of the key points that you may wish to consider.
Siblings -do you want all your children to go to the same school? If the answer is “Yes”, and you have a mix of girls and boys, then clearly you are only looking at co-ed schools. If you are considering each child individually, would a single sex school such as Talbot Heath, or a co-ed school like St Martin’s or Ringwood Waldorf may be more suitable?
What strengths does my child have? Are they academic, musical or sporty? What facilities does the school have that match these skills? Does your child have special needs? Schools should support and develop the areas of weakness whilst continually challenging their areas of strength or expertise.
School run -both the time and distance involved in the school run will be a factor, particularly if you have different schools to drop off at, or pick up, from. Some schools including Talbot Heath and Ringwood Waldorf offer the option to book school transport, but also look at the various options around public transport or lift shares. Consider the timings of any sporting fixtures, as this could affect your transport plans.
Feeder schools -some schools have particular links to senior schools. The majority of St Martin’s pupils pass the entry tests for grammar school with over 90% reaching the top 16% of the national ability range. Talbot Heath cater to girls age 3 in kindergarten all the way up to A levels at 18. Ringwood Waldorf offer Parent and Child groups for children from 6 months, Kindergartens from 3 to 6 years, Lower School from 6 to 14 years and Upper School from 14 to 18 years. If you have a specific requirement for a senior school, look at the relationships that this school may have with schools that may feed in. Look at the destinations of the leaving pupils. Talbot Heath’s 2018 A level results for example include a 100% pass rate, 22% A*, 54% A*-A (which is twice the national average) 81% A*-B and 100% of pupils offered their chosen University.
Culture -are there traditional or religious considerations? Would a small or large school suit your child best? Boarding or day pupil?
Budget -there may be scholarships, bursaries or sibling discounts available. St Martin’s accept government “Early Education Funding” which applies until the term after the child’s 5th birthday. This is 15 hours free childcare per week for all children and 30 hours for those eligible. They also accept Tax Free Childcare and Childcare Vouchers. Talbot Heath offer a range of scholarships for Senior School - Tennis, Swimming, Sport, Music, Drama, All rounder and Academic, they also accept government finding up to the age of 5.
Do your homework, and then go and visit those schools that you have shortlisted, and see for yourself. After the Open Days, you will probably have narrowed your selection down. It is worth asking the Admissions Department if you can visit the school on a normal day, so that you get a real feel for the atmosphere.
Make up your own mind -undoubtedly every-one that you speak to about a school will have their own personal opinion that may be based on rumour, hearsay or experience. Whilst the process can seem daunting, if you are prepared with your requirements, and identify questions that you need answering, you will be able to compare each school on a like-for-like basis. Trust your instinct it’s likely to lead you to the correct decision.
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