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How to Make the Most out of School Open Days: A Parent’s Guide

Over the last 120 years, the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) has supported countless thousands of children to take admissions tests and gain entrance to leading independent senior schools across the UK. A lot has changed in this time, but we know that families still face many different decisions when selecting a school for their child. 

Drawing on this heritage and speaking with our contemporary colleagues at schools across the UK, we’ve rounded up our top tips for making the most of school Open Days.

Research and plan ahead

You may already have a particular school in mind for your child. This is a great starting point, but it is always beneficial to attend open events at alternative schools before making the important decision on a senior school, even if you are confident and happy with your choice. Exploring another school can help to solidify your family’s decision or perhaps open your eyes to alternatives. We recommend making a list, or even a pros and cons table. 

There are lots of tools and resources to aid your search. You could use the ‘School Search’ on Talk Education or perhaps explore the Tatler Good Schools Guide 2024 or School House Magazine Directory

Once you have your list of schools you would like to attend, the next step is to check their websites. Most schools publish the dates of their Open Events well in advance and may require you to pre-register your attendance. In addition, some schools may offer guided walks of campus or age-specific talks which require registration or expressions of interest. Exploring the school’s website and finding out the name of the responsible staff member for your child’s age group and year may also be helpful. Schools often list staff with a photo, and this can help you to recognise faces during your visit and ask those all-important questions. 

Lastly, transport! Make sure you work out how you will travel to and from the school for the Open Day. Independent Schools are often situated on large grounds and may have multiple entrances with specific parking allocated for Open Events. Confirm in advance the postcode and address, entry gates and parking if you plan on driving. If you plan to travel by train, you may find schools offer a shuttle bus service to the local station via mini-buses or have a bus stop nearby. 

Questions, questions, questions!

Interacting with school staff and current students is one of the best elements of an Open Event! It pays to write down a list of questions you would like to ask in advance to ensure you cover all bases. We have provided some examples below for your family to use. 

Example questions: 

  1. What are the class sizes at the school? 
  2. How do you support your pupils to thrive?
  3. What extra-curricular activities are there here, and how can my child get involved? 
  4. What is the pastoral support like?
  5. Is there a house system for pupils? 

Encourage your child to ask questions of current students or staff as this can help them to engage with the school and visualise themself attending. However, some children struggle with this level of interaction for any number of reasons, especially in an unknown environment with strangers. Try to listen to your child and respect their decision if they do not feel comfortable asking questions on the day. If your child has some specific questions they would like to ask but feel they may not be able to, get them to write these down for you, so you can ask on their behalf. 

Admissions and entrance 

It is important to ask the school what their admissions processes are and what forms of prerequisites they have prior to entry. Schools will often use a combination of an entrance exam/test alongside an interview and report from your child’s current school. They may also, though rarely, be completely non-selective, which means they do not have any testing requirements for entry and instead focus on the interview and report.

Be sure to ask teachers and support staff about the admissions journey. These questions could include: 

  1. What do you look for in the admissions process? 
  2. What entrance tests do you require? 
  3. How does registration work for that entrance test? Does the parent/guardian register, or is this done by the senior/prep school?
  4. My child has SEND requirements; how are these catered for by the entrance test?
  5. Will my child be interviewed? Can my child bring a project with them to showcase?
  6. What do you look for in a school report? 
  7. How do you assess potential in children? 
  8. What are the best ways to prepare for entrance tests? 
  9. Is there anything I can do now to support my child’s admissions journey?
  10. When is your admissions deadline? 

The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are one of the leading platforms used by senior schools in the UK; you may also see them referred to as the ‘pre-tests’, the ‘11+’ or simply ‘the ISEB’. The ISEB Pre-Tests are a combination of four online tests in English, Mathematics, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning and are taken in Year 6 for Year 7 entry (11+) or for delayed entry in Year 9 (13+). Parents and guardians are responsible for registering their child to take the ISEB Pre-Tests and can do this through the Guardian Admin Portal accessed through the ISEB website. This may be different from other tests and providers, and it is important to check directly with the school for full details. 

Review and reflect

Choosing the right senior school is a family decision, and each member of your family will have different priorities and deciding factors. It is important to prioritise your child’s emotions and how they feel about a school over prestige or a famous name. Try asking your child, can you see yourself in the classroom at XYZ school? How did you feel when we visited XYZ? 

By conducting your research, planning your questions and engaging with the school community, your next Open Day visit is sure to go off without a hitch. Remember, often, when you visit the right school for your child, it will just click!

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