How early is early? Do parents need to plan their child’s education from the womb?


How early is early? This is the question facing all parents as they plan for their child’s education. The first months of being a new parent can be incredibly exhausting to the point of being overwhelming.  This is without factoring in the possibilities and choices that come with considering prospective schools, and organising school applications whilst simultaneously visualising your little one in their very grown up uniform in years to come.

Just as parents are trying to get through a decent night’s sleep, many are faced with the inevitable onslaught of questions from family and friends including, ‘to which schools have you registered?’ The independent school market, particularly for London day schools, is incredibly competitive, with registrations from birth for those most oversubscribed.

For children under-five in the UK, formal schooling at nursery can start from the age of around two and a half in the private sector, and three and a half in pre-school settings in the maintained sector. This early start to education by comparison with other countries in Europe, and internationally, such as Australia, means that in the UK, a little one is scarcely moving on from the milestones of first smile and tummy time when the decision about where to send them to school begins to become a real consideration.

Despite the potential for anxiety and sleepless nights that parents face about what to do and when, there are some basic principles to follow when laying out plans for your child’s future.

Do your research and allow time to be on your side:

In the UK system, due to the issue of the relatively limited supply of school places and the demand for them, it’s vital that you plan ahead and research as much as you can, linking any research you gather with your needs and priorities for your child. Consider your preference for either single sex or co-educational settings? Faith schools or non-denominational? A small, intimate school with one form entry or a school that offers a more extensive intake with multiple forms for each year group? A school that is non-selective in its philosophy and intake, or a highly selective school? It’s important to balance your priorities and any pre-conceptions you have of a school with the particular organisational structure, culture and community it offers: in particular, the school’s ethos, level of staffing, curricular programme (including support for particular learning needs), the extra-curricular programme and the extent to which parents are involved in the life of the school.

David Hanson, Chief Executive of IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) comments: “few subjects are more of a priority to parents than their children’s education, and while parents do not need to start planning a child’s education from the womb, it is worth leaving a good amount of time to really explore all the options. The tough decision will still come when choosing which school would be specifically best for your child. That is why you should always visit schools and trust your instincts.”

Think ahead and give consideration to your future family life:

Consider how your family life may change in the coming years- are you likely to move or relocate to another area nearby if or when your family expands? What is reasonable in terms of the logistics of your commute to work, taking into account the proximity of your child’s school to home and the time taken to drop off and pick up your child each day?

If you have a clear first-choice school, don’t delay:

For some families there may be one school that really stands out as your first choice school for your child- this may be because you attended the school yourself and have fond memories of your time there as a pupil, or you may have gained an excellent impression of the school from others. If you do have a first choice school in mind, ensure you thoroughly research the timeline for acceptance of applications and apply as early as possible, particularly if the school operates a ‘first come, first served’ registration list. It’s also worth making your appreciation for the school known- include why the school is your first choice for your child in a covering letter to accompany the application. Take care to specifically address not only what has drawn you to the school but also reasons why you believe your child would flourish there.

Mr Edward Rees, Headmaster, Hornsby House School advises: “I don’t think that you can ever be too early, particularly when applying for the independent school market in South London.  Demand is high, therefore to maximise choice and avoid disappointment, application forms [particularly for first choice schools] should be at the ready on leaving the maternity ward.”

While your child’s school needn’t be planned from the womb, knowing and understanding your child’s personality and needs, thinking ahead and thoroughly researching schools’ admissions processes, is key to successfully mapping out your little one’s schooling future.

Gabrielle Villani is Head of Education Services at Salamanca Group and specialises in providing education consultancy for parents and businesses.

This article was published in Smallish , September edition.