Is a UCAS system really the hidden answer for independent schools?

To win a place at private school, 11-year-olds have to prepare for and sit a number of entrance exams and then smile through lots of interviews, which can be exhausting for child and parent alike. So, the suggestion that the independent sector should adopt a UCAS-style selection application system sounds great, although, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Stephen Sprigg writes in FE News. 

I can certainly see the benefit of youngsters sitting just one exam and parents prioritising their choice of schools, just as they do when applying for university. But the suggestion by Stephen Lehec, head of Kingston Grammar School that it would “stamp out the worst abuses” by schools is, I believe, a little naïve.

Standardised exams are all well and good but independent schools pride themselves on being, well independent, and so many will want to do their own. After all, out of 1,300 private schools, only 190 use the common entrance exam at 11 or 13 with the vast majority devising their own test.

Unlike the state system which follows the same curriculum and tends to match pupils with the school closest to their home, fee-paying schools revel in their uniqueness. Some are academic hothouses producing excellent results while others have nurturing environments, which help develop rounded individuals. Some are known for sports, others their arts. It’s very much a case of matching your child with an environment in which they’ll flourish and a one-size fits all exam doesn’t fit with that.

Most top branded independent schools pride themselves on being different, a system that attempts to streamline this and standardise their offering is unlikely to be well received. For international students a major selling point of our independent school system is that it is challenging/ stressful/ unique to gain entry also so I feel any new additions to the entry requirements must bear this in mind or otherwise there could be a serious drop off in applications.

Additionally, as having one exam would level the playing field somewhat, parents would inevitably shortlist and prioritise the schools highest in the league tables or the ones steeped in history and tradition in which case they will be oversubscribed and others will be undersubscribed.

Read the full article Is a UCAS system really the hidden answer for independent schools?

What do you think? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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