Should parents aim for a highly academic school?

Posted on: 22 Feb 2016
Posted by: Debra Price

Responding to an article which appeared in the national education press, Debra Price of The Parent Brief, which publishes Independent School Entrance, looks at how all schools can well-prepare children for university.

What a difference a word makes; when ‘could’ becomes ‘may’ disinformation is likely to follow.

Such is the case with The Telegraph’s online headline Highly academic schools ‘may hinder chances of getting into Oxbridge'.

This statement is arguably a very large leap away from the honest question posed by Victoria Barker, author of Independent School Entrance when she asked readers to consider if a highly academic school ‘could’ hinder Oxbridge chances?

Her intention was to make the point that the most academic schools may not be right for every child; an assertion that virtually all educators are likely to agree with. She makes much of the fact that schools at the top of the league tables are among the best in the world, are not the ‘hot houses’ described in some sections of the media and are ‘truly excellent schools’. She then goes on to discuss the challenges facing students in bottom sets and who might well be very talented but who might not be as accomplished as their peers. Would such a student be best served in a top school, or a less academic environment? This is a fair question and one that will inevitably throw up a variety of different answers. Arguably the only true answer is that it depends on the child.

The independent school sector rightly prides itself on the fact that its member schools are diverse and distinct with a profile of offering to suit any child (and Independent School Entrance devotes 122 pages to making this clear). However, it would surely be misleading to suggest that all top schools are right for every child. Victoria Barker’s comments are intended to encourage parents to think twice, and not jump to the automatic conclusion that choosing a top league table school will automatically result in a perfect match for their child, and result in that child optimising their academic success.

There are likely to be a great many schools in the independent sector who, whilst not top of the league tables, may do an admirable job at winning an Oxbridge place, and for a host of reasons may give a particular child the best possible chance of winning his or her place at a top university. To make this suggestion is not to be critical of ‘top schools’ but merely to point out that other schools may serve some children as well, or even better, depending on the particular needs and circumstances of the child concerned.

Perhaps even more importantly Victoria Barker points out that Oxbridge entry is but just one measurement of the best school, and arguably not the most important measurement.

She has said: "Contrary to the suggestion in the Telegraph, there are a multitude of reasons to send your child to an independent school. These include not only the excellent education these schools provide but also the individual attention each child receives and the extraordinary breadth of opportunities they offer. The chapter quoted in the Telegraph urges parents to consider the full range of benefits of each individual school and not merely its place on the league tables. Oxbridge admission rates are merely one of many important considerations."

Debra Price

About Debra Price

Debra Price is Deputy Managing Director of Gresham Books Ltd, and helps run The Parent Brief. She was previously Deputy Head of Benenden School.