It has been well documented in the press in recent weeks that schools' 'D-Day' in schools; the time when families found out whether they had managed to get their children into their first choice school has been a traumatic and often disappointing experience for many parents.
It is an education lottery, and it has seen some parents employing eclectic and rather extreme tactics in order to secure places at the most coveted schools. Up to half of all parents can find themselves in this situation and although the options that exist include moving house into the catchment area, moving county into a grammar school county, and 'moving' religion so that they qualify for a place at a high achieving faith school, all are rather extreme responses to the situation and actually could well result in huge obvious and indeed hidden costs, not only in terms of the bank balance, but also the family way of life.
It may well be that the option many parents choose - that of moving, and employing expensive tutors is not the best for the family. Whilst it is not an option for all, the alternative of an independent education is one that many parents are increasingly turning towards.
I have to chuckle at the parents who dismiss independent education on principle and then tell me how many tutors they have employed and how much it has cost them to 'upgrade' to a smaller house in the catchment of the best school. Really I ask, and what is your objection? Comments ranging from 'they are all rather stuck up' to I don't believe in paying for education' (unless it is to buy a private one to one tutor!), to 'we cannot afford it'. All of these considerations can be addressed by a visit to a school close by to you.
The really important factor for all families is that every school is different and not every school will actually be perfect for your child. In the state Grammar system, schools such as The Judd and Skinners, both excellent Kent Grammars in Tunbridge Wells, provide a slightly different offering. Some pupils will thrive more at one, and equally, some at the other. The beauty of the independent is that not only do you have a choice between state and independent, but you have a choice between the independents themselves.
Stuck up? Go and visit. You may well be very surprised. The staff, parents and pupils are really very 'normal' and the overarching ethos in all is to create the very best educational environment for the children. Too expensive? There are many bursaries and scholarships on offer (especially outside of central London). Don't be afraid to ask. Schools are businesses these days and if you have a talented child you will have someone who they will be interested in. Grandparents are also often the source of support in terms of fees, and this can have the added benefit of reducing inheritance tax liability.
It is also worth asking schools about staged payments.
Today, more and more schools are offering monthly payments rather than the big hit three times a year which is much more manageable to those parents who do not have school fees plans in place or cash reserves on which to draw.
Don't believe in paying for education? An understandable viewpoint. But don't dismiss this until you add up the genuine cost of the alternative. Tennis coaching, maths tuition, music lessons, the early morning and late evening drop off and pick ups; they all add up and the independents have a whole range of options included in the price. Even the chance in many boarding schools to take up the flexi boarding option - a couple of nights in school per week when mum and dad just cannot get to the pick ups and drop offs because of their work commitments.
The modern independent school is a very appealing environment and it could just be more affordable than you might at first think. Given the pressures that extra tutoring, examinations and stress that is caused by the scramble for the top state school places, wouldn't it be sensible to enquire what might be out there in the independent system?