Education Panel Talk

Introduction to Education in Hampstead Area

20th October 2015

As education is such a hot topic, we decided to organise an Education panel discussion so we could ask knowledgable individuals the most commonly asked questions. The event was held at The Washington (private room downstairs). If you would like to find out about future events, please join the Hampstead Mums facebook group.

I would like to say a huge thanks to Bojana, Rajni and Barry for being our esteemed panelists (brief intro on their backgrounds at the top of the transcript), and our lovely co-founder Robin for hosting the talk with more cheer than David Dimbleby.

I have enclosed below the transcript for those that were not able to make it. Any grammatical errors are not from the speakers but from my manic typing (with a glass of wine to hand).


Panel Questions

  • When does my child have to start school

  • What’s the right decision for summer-born children that will be the youngest in the class?

  • What is the difference between private and state school? How do I decide what's right for my child?

  • What are the differences between Montessori, International Baccalaurette, the British Education Systems, and homeschooling?

  • If I go with a state school, what schools can I apply to, and how and when do I need to apply? Is there an assessment?

  • If I go with a private school, what schools are in the area, and how and when do I need to apply? What happens during an assessment? Is it different if they’re entering during nursery/reception/primary?

  • Any special considerations for having children in state school for primary then private for secondary?

  • What are the 7+ and 11+ exams? Should you tutor in addition to school lessons & homework to prepare (probably one for the overall audience). If independent/IB/homeschooled, do children still take these exams?

  • What are the most important factors when trying to make the right decision for your child?

40 people turned up (including a small sleeping child)


Bojana - a well- researched local mother of two boys. Works full-time at a bank in the City, as Senior Manager for Government Policy and Reforms. Previously worked as intelligence and  investigations consultant, BBC news presenter and legislative adviser for the US Congress. Educated in Macedonia, Russia, Kazakhstan, the US and the UK, and has worked all around the world.
Rajni - mother, educational consultant and founder of
Barry - Director of Halcyon International School.*  International education and Bacc. Left in 1988 and worked in Africa, Middle East, Europe, always in IB. Son born in Dubai, always IB, graduated Paris, and returned to UK last Summer.

*Halcyon is the only not-for-profit, co-educational, exclusively International Baccalaureate (IB)* school in central London.

When does a child have to start school in the UK?
Rajni - According to law, the statutory age for a child to be in full time education is at 5 years old. They can start earlier if they like but not any later. If your child is a Summer born, this poses a problem because the statutory age is 5, but Summer born children are still 4 at reception. The School admissions code is hazy on this but it is now being changed to accommodate a deferral for a year. This means that Summer borns may then be able to start in year 1.

Basically the law is that all children must start by 5…. whether in home schooling, state or private.

 Barry - lots of research on age group of children. Children born in Sep to January - tend to outperform those who are born in latter part of year. A lot of that comes from primary part of school, as a few months age gap matters less when in high school. When 5 or 6, tend to be physically bigger as Sep/January, more likely to have more leadership roles in sports etc.
Audience - Butting in - “ Can you defer in both sectors”  

Rajni: You can defer in a state school but this is not as popular in private schools. Most private schools would prefer not to. I know of only one case where a child was allowed to go back and repeat reception on the parents’ request. 

 Bojana - some of the private nurseries are grouping children by date of birth and structure activities accordingly. With some “assessments” -– there is an 11 month age gap between the oldest and the youngest, seems a bit unfair.  Worth asking the school.

Does school provide set of resource? To see if child is ready?
Rajni - There are packs sold by Hodder Education Services so you can see for yourself whether your child is ready. They have the assessment papers as well as the manuals. 
 Barry - IB not based on age group. Start off with age, but will see if they are fine. Made reference that in Finland (top performing country in league tables) starts school at 7. 
Hital (Hital works at St Christophers) -  Some schools (St Christopher) do take Summer born child in consideration.

Difference between state school and private schools. UK education only. Why would someone go with state school vs private school?
Barry - From Halcyon prospective, if go to Primary years program, shouldn’t or wouldn’t see testing regime in state sector. In Halcyon, 11 to 18. NO  formal exam apart from in final year. There are lots of variation in private sector.
Private and State school - need to follow same set of exams.
Rajni - The main thing is cost…. state is free, private is £2k-6k a term sometimes even more. State schools have catchment areas, private schools don't. Private schools are based on assessments, registration etc. Private schools have smaller class sizes.

Catchment area (state schools only)
Rajni - State schools have catchment area. Chances of you being offered a place is higher. Their priority is hard because they give priority to children in care, then in special care (with statement), siblings, religious affiliation then to whomever else. It’s not a given that you’ll get a school of your choice if you’re in the catchment area. This is not a system established in the private system.

Class sizes
Rajni. State school primary… about 30 to a class. Maybe a couple more. Private schools - between 16-20

Sate school - religious
Rajni - need to have gone to church for last 5 years. Very involved. *Heavily* oversubscribed. Foxs nursery in Notting Hill has catchment area of 50m. Most are 200-300m. They are state funded. They are affiliated to that particular church, so they are allowed to just take people of that faith.
Private school
Bojana - still heavily oversubscribed. £70-150 just for registration fee (sometimes you havent even seen the school yet). Most people that apply will apply to a few so just becase its oversubscribed doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get a place. Many people will be offered a place and not go (even after paying deposit).

Great pamphlet on borough of Camden’s website. Everything they need to know about state school stuff. Will provide a link here.

 Private schools - Rajni has done lots of work on registration deadlines etc.

Open days - List of open days for prep schools

Registration deadlines - Summary of school information

Private schools - Reviews Pre-prep schools around SJW

State schools - List of state schools around SJW and surrounding area.

Assessments at State School (for entry)
ROBIN - Question “Do state schools have assessments”

 Rajni  - I haven’t heard of state schools having an assessment but most children can do the 11 plus if they want to. This is the common entrance exam.

Someone else -  this has become all purpose tool, but not many grammar schools around.11 plus has become all purpose tool, but not many grammar schools around.

Assessments at Private School. Best way to prepare your child.

 Rajni -  There are several points of entry to the private school system. Your child can get into school at 4+, move at 7+, 8+ 10+ or 11+ or 13+. Boys used to be just 13, but now some secondaries have opened their doors at 11+ as well. 

 Rajni - For 4+ They are looking at assessing potential, rather than what they can do. Teachability, following instructions. If your child isn’t łistening to what's being asked of them, may cause a problem. Some schools have educational psychologists, or will have tests set by them. All boils down to what the school is looking for.They look for children who will fit in with their ethos.

 School don't tell you what they are looking for. They always say that there isn’t one particular type.

 Some schools have individual assessments, some schools do it in groups. It’s mainly play based… Will watch how the child plays, interacts with others etc. If it a group assessment, how they follow instructions… whether they are listening, whether they are distracted. 

 Someone else said  - They look at discipline rather than lateral thinking… 

 Rajni - Some really bright children do slip through the net. But the schools tend to be so oversubscribed that this is bound to happen.

Some one else said - It’s a whole process -- group, one to one etc. 

 Rajni - It’s drop off, parents are not there. But generally if the child gets upset or doesn’t settle, the parents will be allowed to sit in. Different schools have different personalities. Private schools tend to be very adept at being able to identify which child fits in best. Usually if a child doesn’t get in, it is because the school did not feel that at that time, the child was suited. They don’t only pick dominant children or passive children. They do want a mix of children. Don’t despair if a school you had your heart set on, doesn’t offer a place to your child, just look at it as being, what is right for the child. 

How do you prepare a child psychologically for the assessment?
Rajni - Just say you are going for a little play… Some of the schools make it really easy, no clipboards etc. 
At one point in time, you decide whether you want to go 4+ 7+ etc. 

Bojana - at 4+ they are quite young and don’t understand the concept of being assessed. At 7, they are more aware. 13 is different story. 4+ therefore might be easier. Some schools will ask them to bring a favourite toy, to make it more comfortable.

 An example - 2.5+ assessment for a school that goes up to 18. Play waswas about  45 minutes.  In a room, 5 to a group. They were meant to choose where to go, different play stations. They let the children go wherever they wanted. Two teachers observing, and also how they respond to their questions, how they interact with others, how they play on their own. Huge difference in age among the children in the group.

Does English as a first language make a big difference in 4+ assessment?
Rajni - Many children in the area are bilingual or trilingual. Most schools do have a preference for children that have a good grasp of English but that is not to say they won’t take children who are not fluent in English. Schools do understand and do try to accommodate children.

What does assessment for secondary school look like?
Independent schools can make their own decision.
Barry quite horrified by all the testing in the UK (after he was away for 20 odd years)
For Halcyon - they require statement from parent, from student, references from school, transcript. They need to be academic enough, interview with family and with student. But at no point do they have to sit down and do a maths test. 
School reports tend to be pretty accurate, and you know where they are coming from. International perspective, they know how numbers work on school report from different countries.

What is IB?
Barry - International Baccalaureate Diploma Started in late 1960s. Designed for internationally mobile families, who didn't want to send their children back to boarding school. Exam at the end of a 2 year program, for university entrance. The examination has grown and is taken in school worldwide, and it’s recognised around the world.

The IB is offered in French, Spanish, English and Mandarin. The whole point of the diploma program - when you finish it, it’s recognised in all the countries.
It has expanded to include primary year program PYP - up to age 11. 
They included a third section, Middle Years program MYP - 10-16.
IB Diploma program is most prevalent. Primary years program quite prevalent, but UK as quite test based and the IB places less emphasis on testing, it is an active choice for parents. Middle years program is baby of the group. Very few schools worldwide do all three programs.

If you’re going to an independent IB school, that program is authorised by IBO (based in Hague) so there’s a regular inspection regime from the IB. That curriculum is very different

Personally, my history is in independent schools afraid since 1988, and IB schools since 1992, in 6 diff countries. IB PYP curriculum has no testing regime; the IBMYP and IBDP both have exit examinations, at 16 and 18 respectively.

NOT just for people that are moving around. At no point in his moving around did the IB require any external testing (national system tests). IB schools will support some external standardised testing to benchmark against similar (international) schools, for example ISA test administered through the OECD (Halcyon does this testing). This information is to support learning, not for entry or access to programs
In his professional career, he has not seen testing to have any benefit to the child. Thats his personal view

There are 35 or so from UK, rest are around. At an advantage presenting it to University. It’s recognised as a higher standard. NEed to do 1st language, 2nd language, maths, science , social science and 6th subject (an arts subject or a second since, or a second social science or a third language). Can never drop maths. Much broader but need to specialise in three subjects. 
Oxbridge values IB system highly too. 

Does US system prefer IB system? US has their own testing crisis… SAT quite biased towards certain demographic groups… Americans have advanced placement exam. IB counts as college credit for some courses. They send children to those kind of Ivy league every year. They all understand and accept IB. They see it is a very high quality program.

6 subjects graded out of 7. 42 points. 3 point case study. 45 points max point. Need 36-41 points to get into Oxbridge. Don’t need full marks. Big respect for the program. Never seen bias against Oxbridge, quite the opposite.

IB fosters independent research, so universities tends to like IB.

They encourage mother tongue for the 2 additional languages.

Montessori - 
Louise Chatterton (works for Cassei del Bambini Montessori School (Formerly known as Lymington Montessori)- just behind JW3
They start at primary age. About 2.5 up to 5-6. Style of teaching quite different - very child led. Nurtures different personalities, they do things that interest them. Good basis for nursery aged
 children. Holistic development of child as a whole.

Montessori processing to older ages.
They all follow their own systems. Children taught to be very social and disciplined, independent, always tidy up after themselves, so they can go to schools and will be at an advantage when they meet new people. Very aware of other people.
Will there be more of an adjustment period? Coming into academic environment? Depends on school, no trademark to montessori… ACI… MCI (based in Oxford street).

**Laptop battery dying, sorry**

Moving from state school to private school
Are you at disadvantage going from state to private?
School Feeder system...
Rajni - I would think you would be at a slight disadvantage… a lot of private schools have relationships with secondary schools which makes a difference (both private). Children tend to find it easier to settle when they are younger so sometimes moving at 7 from a state school to a private school may be a better idea if you are thinking about it, rather than leaving it till 11 or 13 .

 I am not a fan of tutoring but the other thing is that if you are moving from a state school to a private school, you may have to tutor your child because state schools will not prepare them for the assessments at private schools. 

 Aside from moving, why would people move to different schools?

 Rajni - A lot of people think that there’s no real advantage at a young age (with private school), cost is a factor, usually if a school goes up to 11 or 13, they will focus on social interaction and emotional development in the first years and as such are sometimes behind state schools that follow the academic curriculum more closely. But if it is a school that only goes up to 7+, they will focus on academics more from a young age and will be ahead of state schools. 

Audience butt in - Why would you even move your child around different schools?
You may realise at some point that’s not the right school for them, so can move them

There are often places opening up, and spaces not during 4+/7+/11+ period.
They will be able to move not during those periods.

Local council responsible for finding your child a school if moving between state schools.

 If you had any advice to people for what to make for your child, what are the things to give?

Rajni - To consider your child’s temperament and pick a school where your child will be happy. It doesn’t matter if that school is not in the top 3. What is most important is whether or not the school suits your child and whether it is a place where your child will thrive and be happy. A lot depends on what your child is like, and what s/he will get out of the school. How you feel about the school, what vibes you get, personalities of the staff, the children you meet etc. You should never ever underestimate the value of gut instinct when you are a mum. 

Barry - Perspective from being a dad? Children learn when they are happy and curious. Learn better visually instead of listening. His only goal was he wanted his kid to be happy. As someone that has spent many hours talking to parents about schools…. most challenging parents he has dealt with is parents that want something for them that the children don’t want (ie “I want my child to be a doctor”). Do the best for your child! Be thankful your kid is happy and learning and having a good time.

Bojana - the problem is that you need to start early on… but how do you know what your child is like, when you apply when your child isn’t even 1 yet? So you may end up paying lots of registration fees if you are too worried.  Do your research, think what is right for you and your family and narrow down your options accordingly. Once you have put your child into a particular school, see whether they are happy, whether that’s the right thing. Try and be flexible and open-minded to move them if they are not happy… Luckily so far, he’s very happy where we have placed him  (Bojana’s eldest is at a very structured nursery). It’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy, everyone applies to lots of schools because they’re worried but not everyone will go to all schools they have applied for. School knows what kind of people they should accept to school. Don’t be too fixated on a certain school, and try to play the system. If they get accepted against better judgement, they not enjoy their time there.


 Rajni - I don’t  tend to attach too much importance to ofsted. Ofsted reports are done ever 3-5 years and a lot of it depends on too many factors which are not always relevant to an individual parent. Recently a school which was consistently getting outstanding on their report and with which parents were very happy, got rated as good and parents who had been thrilled with the school previously got very upset and wondered if they should be changing schools etc but nothing had all probability, the school would have scored less under one or two factors that may or may not have had much of a bearing on the actual academics of the school. 

 One other thing to mention is before we go is related to deposits paid when multiple offers are made. Please please read the terms and conditions because schools are aware that parents tend to hedge their bets and often pay deposits at multiple schools but what they don’t realise is that schools sometimes put a clause in there which makes parents liable to also pay the first term fees so please be careful when accepting offers that you don’t mean to take up. 

 **Apologies for less coherence as the notes go on, there was a positive correlation between time spent there and alcohol consumed** - also my laptop battery was dying.