THE BLOG

Independent School Selection - The Elephant in the Room?

14/02/2013 11:45 GMT | Updated 15/04/2013 10:12 BST

The stormy economic outlook is continuing to bring uncertainty to many households. Big decisions such as whether to send your child to a private school, for example, are not quite as easy to make for many families as they were in more stable financial times.

As a result of this, fee-paying schools in parts of the UK have had to make some tough decisions to meet the changing needs of families and keep pupil numbers up.

There have been reports of schools merging departments or joining forces with neighbouring schools. Others have gone co-educational after many years of being a single sex school and there are those that have taken free school or academy status in a bid to keep their doors open.

There is little doubt that the independent school sector is having to adapt to the ongoing financial pressure a lot of families are experiencing. But the one area that many principals I speak to describe as the real elephant in the room are the changes taking place to the pupil selection process in some schools.

Recent media stories have also highlighted a growing number of fee-paying schools - including some of our most highly-regarded institutions - that have reportedly relaxed their admissions criteria in order to fill empty places.

This could see independent school gates open to a much broader range of pupils, which is good news for many families who would like to educate their child privately but have previously considered it to be out of reach for that child.

Increasing the diversity of the pupil population can have an incredibly positive impact on the school community as a whole. Bringing a mix of different cultures, backgrounds and experiences into school life is a great way to enhance children's view of the world and this is key in helping them to develop into well-rounded young adults.

But it can present some new challenges too. Those schools that have made the decision to adjust their selection criteria will need to make sure that they understand and can meet the needs of a new pupil cohort.

Is an upgrade to boarding facilities required in order to accommodate an increase in children from overseas applying for a school place? Does the school offer a wide enough range of academic qualifications and extra-curricular activities that will appeal to their new intake? Will the school need to recruit additional teachers to ensure all pupils get the help they need to reach their full potential or provide specialist support for more children joining with special educational needs?

There is also the issue of managing parental expectations. Some schools will come across parents who hold the view that because their child is now being educated privately, they will naturally achieve much more in their learning.

Schools will need to ensure realistic targets are set for children, closely monitor their progress and communicate clearly with parents on a regular basis about how their child is doing so that there are no surprises.

If private schooling becomes accessible to a wider variety of children, then there will be a growing responsibility for heads to ensure every child benefits from the high standards parents expect an independent education to provide.

The long-term success of a school depends on its ability to respond effectively to the expectations of parents while continuing to deliver first-class teaching and learning to boost the attainment of every one of its pupils. And if by expanding the academic and pastoral scope of the school helps it to remain open, this can only be a good thing.