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Saturday, 29 August 2009

Post-GCSE results: The Breakdown

I guess the 27th August 2009 was a very memorable day for many teenagers in the UK. It was a day for celebrating all the hard work that students put in. The UK government expects a minimum of 5 A*-C grades from 16 year-olds, although technically, any grades from A*-G is considered a pass.

There was (as I had predicted), an improvement on comparison to last year's results. It was reported that 21.6% of all exam papers were graded as an A*/A. This lead to media outlets speculating that the exams have gotten easier (once again). In my opinion, there is no such thing as an easy A*. What has happened is that both teachers and students have gotten to know the GCSE exams better and so much so that we are able to 'predict' exams just by looking at past questions. Also, as more emphasis is put on achieving ONLY the best, students and teachers feel pressurised to work and study harder.

Although there had been a rise on the national front, not many public schools are reporting improvements as had last year. Full results are yet to be released but schools such as King's School Canterbury are reporting less A*s than last year -"This year’s GCSE and IGCSE results were not quite last year’s bumper crop"- (Quoted here). However it is VERY important to remember that although results may have slipped, the actual results are still VERY impressive. For example, Tonbridge School may have slipped but it still has a very impressive 48% A*. The following is a list of well known schools that have either improved or achieved less A* grades:

King's School Canterbury DOWN
Tonbridge School DOWN
Marlborough College DOWN
St. Pauls DOWN
Dulwich College UNKNOWN
Sherborne School UNKNOWN
University College School UP
Westminster School UNKNOWN
Eton College UNKNOWN
As many schools on the Eton Group refuse to submit their results on the non-compulsory league tables, I have made a league table of the schools listed above. However, it is very important that you understand that this could be inaccurate. It is only for your guidance only. As many schools have not yet released stats on their website, on some schools I have used past results and pre-existing expectations.
1. Westminster School
2. St. Pauls
3. Eton College
4. Tonbridge School
5. Dulwich College
6. King's School Canterbury
7. University College School
8. Sherbourne School
9. Marlborough College
not 100% accurate
However A-level results were on the rise (in general) this year in public schools. I predict that it will continue to rise in public schools next year as well however decline in 2011. We will have to wait and see!
Overall, this year has been a little disappointing for public schools. Although no-one can say that the public schools did badly at all. I guess public schools hit an all-time high last year at GCSE and will hit a peak next year for A-levels.
As for me, my grades only consisted of A*s and As, so I'm happy.

Monday, 24 August 2009

27th August is looming aka GCSE results day

Only a couple of days left now! For over 500000 students in the UK 27th August 2009 will be a very important day. It is the day that 8/9 years of compulsory education is summed up into some letters.

We can also expect the media to heavily criticise the hard work of the students as we get better grades. They just think that exams are getting easier and not that the teachers are teaching better or the students are working harder. nope not at all.

For example in the Daily Express today, there was an article that criticised the questions of some exams. The article quoted a question in a Chemistry exam paper:

Many people use recreational drugs.

Give one example of:
a) a legal recreation drug
b) an illegal recreational drug

Some recreational drugs are addictive
a) Give one example of a recreational drug that is very
b) Explain how the action of a drug makes a person become addicted to it.

Not all GCSE exams are like that. The article doesn't even state what of paper it was. It was probably the opening question in a foundation chemistry paper. The easiest possible question.

So, next time you read such an article don't believe all of it.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Work Experience: The Breakdown

At school, I was told I needed to do a week of Work Experience (WE) straight after I completed my all important GCSE exams. So around May I set about getting the WE.
I was too complacent and I left it a little too late so I didn't have that much of an option. I also asked my school to find one for me as well but they weren't too successful either. Well, they DID find something absolutely fantastic but it was the WRONG date! Just my luck...
I was interested in anything to do with business or professional so, I set about e-mailing many local Law firms, estate agents, advertisers, PR firms and so on. As I had left it a little late, many turned my down. I kept trying and success finally came with Century 21! If you do not know, Century 21 is an estate Agency franchise with over 8,400 offices in 57 countries worldwide with over 147,000 sales professionals. It is fairly new in the UK with 57 offices.
I had to be in the office at 9.30am and I could go around 4.30pm. At first, it was the usual filing and making tea and coffee but by the end of it, I learnt a great amount of the industry. I became familiarised with the whole process and how commission works and so on. Although I doubt if my future lies in real estate but the week has allowed be to learn alot about working in a new environment.
This just goes to show, it doesn't matter what you choose to do but the whole experience is beneficial in every way.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

British Public School Academic Scholarship Exams Explained

What does the word 'Scholarship' mean to you? To earn a scholarship at UK's most prestigious schools is a significant achievement. Each school sets their own exams and therefore it is not standardised. Competition is fierce and only the very few will be awarded. The scholarship exam at many schools such as Eton College, Tonbridge School or Westminster School, is also a means of entering the school. If the candidate has performed well but not enough for a scholarship, a place at the school can be awarded. This will mean the student will not have to do the Common Entrance Examinations.
What does the Scholarship exam test? (at 13+)
Surprisingly scholarship exams have one thing in common. It does not test 'how much' the student knows but it tests 'how the student thinks'. Candidates must answer some very challenging questions. Prep schools DO prepare students for these exams but mainly on the technique side of things. The exams are based on the Common Entrance syllabus so a student will know the topics but there are questions that make one think.
Past papers are available on request from the schools concerned.
Exams are usually held in April/May and when the results are out, the school ranks successful scholars and the top scholar (1st) is also awarded with a higher bursary than others. Rankings also appear on newspapers as very famous schools' Scholarship exams are very significant.
Other students that were not awarded a Scholarship may be given a place at the school and the rest will need to go through the Common Entrance exams like others.
This is only the academic scholarship but many schools offer sport, art, music, drama and technology scholarships.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Importance of GCSEs

So what is this exam that everyone is talking about?
You may be thinking that GCSEs do not matter as you need A-levels to go to university. If you thinking this, you are horribly wrong. In my opinion GCSEs matter just as much as A-levels. If you think about it, when you apply to universities, the admissions only have your A-level predictions, As-level results and your GCSEs. When you look at Oxford and Cambridge's website, they do not even mention the importance of GCSEs for candidates.
This is not written in stone but it is generally believed that if you come from a average/poor performing state-run school, you will be expected to have a majority of A grades. However if you attend a top public school, you WILL need to have a least 6 A*s. This is not a definite requirement but even schools will discourage you to apply if you do not have 6A*s. This is because universities KNOW that you have had an excellent education and yet if you cannot get good grades, this shows you cannot work to your full potential.
Other universities only require a candidate to have around 6 B grades. Many students make a mistake by not working hard enough for their GCSEs and then start to work very hard for A-levels. This would be too late to even consider top universities.
You have been warned!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Education Agencies: Are They Worth It?

Many parent's worries are the admin and all the different processes that need to be taken when they apply at a UK school. This is where the Agencies come in, especially for overseas students. They help with almost everything vaguely related to education.

How they help:
  • Submitting application forms to schools
  • Giving guidance to students and parents
  • Language barrier may happen so, agencies can translate
  • conducting interviews (especially to competitive schools)
  • Has direct relationship with schools
  • Arranging visits to schools
  • Visas
  • Entrance exams can be sometimes be taken at the agency

They make money through commissions and fees. In my opinion agencies are very useful to those who may not speak English or have no idea about the whole system. (Of course, I provide some information but I can't do the job for you!). There will most likely be an agency in your country that specialise in sending students to the UK. However if you come from a country where not many students go to the UK, you may have to do all the hard work your self! An example is Academic Asia (Hong Kong/China).

Overall agencies save time and effort but be careful that you are not overly dependent to the Agencies and make the full use of them if you feel you have to use their services. Please remember you can e-mail me about anything! (though I can't do things that Agencies can do!)

Friday, 20 March 2009

Westminster School: Admissions explained

Is this school The Best (academically) in the UK? Many say that yes, this school is the best school in the UK. In academic terms, Westminster School which is situated in central London, just 5 minutes walk from the Big Ben, a London landmark.

Like Eton College, I have had an experience with their admissions system. For the same reasons, I won’t tell you if I was successful as this would give away which school I went to. In comparison to Eton College, this school is far open to underprivileged and ‘new family’ students as Eton gives advantage to students with family history relating to Eton College.

First things first, entry to this school, in my opinion, is almost as competitive as Oxbridge universities. I say this because around 50% of their leavers go onto either Cambridge or Oxford. The rest go to Harvard, Yale and other top UK universities (LSE, KCL, Imperial etc.). Their exam results are one of the best in the country. Westminster has continuously come top 5 on the national school leagues tables. In 2008 they came third with only Magdalen College School and Wycombe Abby School in front. This made Westminster the best school that a boy could go to (Westminster becomes a co-educational school in the Sixth form but it is only male for lower years). Boarding is also possible.

The entry process is one of the most competitive and demanding system for entry into a school. There are 2 entry points into the school 13+ and 16+. The 13+ entry is only available to boys but 16+ is available to both boys and girls.

13+ Entry
The 13+ entry system is quite similar to the Eton College entry system. This involves testing whilst the boy is in year 6 or aged 10. They will be tested in mathematics, English and Reasoning. A school report/reference is requested and they are also interviewed. Successful candidates are given conditional places (conditional upon passing the common entrance exam or the scholarship exam).

Waiting lists are also made in case a candidate with a conditional offer pulls out. Westminster also recognises that some students may be disadvantaged because candidates must register 2/3 years before entry. Therefore Westminster reserves some places for any gifted students who did not register before the deadline.

The 13+ interview tests the student’s extra-curricular involvement and tests their logical ability.
16+ Entry
This entry point is perhaps the most competitive out of the two. Both girls and boys can apply and this is the only entry point for girls. Registrations open in June and close in the second Wednesday in October. Registrations are completed on the internet. You will create an account which you will access to check results and to submit details. You will need to submit a recent report, details, personal statement and exam results. You will also need to pay the registration fee through Paypal on their website. Entry exams are held in November and this is taken by both UK students and International students. Those applying abroad may take their exams at a British Council or their school having met certain criteria set by Westminster to assess if their school is suitable as a exam centre.

As you take 4 subjects at A-level, 4 subjects must be chosen for the exams. The only exception is if a candidate chooses Further Mathematics (a more challenging course of Maths), they will only need to take 3 subjects as Further Maths is worth 2 A-level grades. They will also take the same maths exam as those doing single (normal) maths. However Further Maths candidates will be expected to gain much higher marks than single maths candidates. Another exception is Art, Art candidates will be required to submit their portfolio.

The 2008 entry exams (for entry in 2009) for UK candidates were held in Central Hall which is not owned by Westminster School but it is just across the road from Westminster School. This provision was made because of the sheer volume of applicants and Westminster was physically not able to provide enough space for the entry exams. The applicant is given a timetable of exams prior to the exams. The 2008 entry ratio of applicants to places were 3 or 4 applicants to 1 place.

After the exams, successful candidates are invited to come for interviews. There are 5 interviews, 4 subject interviews and 1 general interview. Sometimes, eg. Maths, the interviewer may go through the incorrect answers with the candidate. The interview is a vital process as the exams separated exceptionally gifted candidates from the applicants and the interview is used to separate candidates who can think for themselves. This is not a skill that can be learnt, Westminster does not look for ‘spoon-fed’ students. Even at the interview stage is quite competitive, 2 applicants to 1 place.

By December applicants will be notified if they have been given a conditional place (Conditional upon achieving at least 5 A grades and 1 B grade but overseas candidates who attends a school not doing the GCSEs, will not be required to fulfill this requirement). Others will be put onto a waiting list.
So, as you can see the entry process for the top academic school is not easy. In my opinion, Westminster produces the best exam results because of the entry process. They only allow entry to the top students and Westminster simply nurtures and challenge them. Westminster School does not turn an average student into a top performing student.

Due to its location, Westminster faces major problems as a school. If sport and recreation comes high on your list of important things a school must have, Westminster School is not for you. Due to expensive land prices Westminster uses a single large field for football, cricket and hockey. Swimming is in a nearby publicly shared pool. Therefore their sports are mainly low area sports such as fencing, shooting and rock climbing. Also due to this land problem, many classrooms are located in high rise buildings and for example, in order to reach the Biology department, one must walk 3 or 4 flight of stairs and this can be quite tiring. Many classrooms are located in a large area of publicly used area therefore students need to cross many busy roads and pass offices, public buildings etc. in order to go from A to B.

I hope you can think carefully about the pros and cons of Westminster School before registering as although it may be a top performing school but there are also negative aspects of the school.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Food at British Schools: Good or Bad?

I’ve realised that this may be an important questions that may be on your minds. The education may be great but is the food just as good?

Well, the UK has had an issue with food at school to be honest. Only about 4 four to 5 years ago, it was very normal to be served French fries and hamburger for lunch. However that has all changed. The British TV celebrity, Jamie Oliver made sure that would never happen again. He shocked many by showing how much junk food was being served in schools.

Nowadays, you’ll find a salad bar and a much more balanced meal pattern. This is mainly state schools but private schools tend to have better quality food but it is not a guarantee.
I will try to describe the typical meals that a student may eat in an average day at a British boarding school.

Breakfast 7.40am: There will always be a wide choice of cereals including all the healthy options and the sugary ones. Toast bread will always be available with all the normal spreads and jam. There will also be a hot meal available. This may be a traditional English breakfast, pancakes, pain au chocolat, crumpets or bagels and more. Fruit juices, tea or coffee will also be available.

Lunch 1.00pm: There is a salad bar for those wanting a healthier meal. The main may be spaghetti with roasted aubergines. There are just so many meals that it will be impossible to list all. I am just giving a typical meal. For dessert, this may be fruit salad or even chocolate cake! It is all very balanced. Of course there is always a choice of fruits available.

Dinner 6.00pm: The salad bar is again available. For main, this may be chicken pie with carrots. For dessert, it may be cookies. Toast bread is available.

This is just a snapshot of a typical day and does not show the whole story. Therefore it is important if you are visiting a school, you ask for a menu of the week to get to know what the food there is like.

The importance of the quality of food may not be the deciding factor but when you begin school there, it will become a part of your life so you will need to assess the quality of food when you decide.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Finding Work Experience

Why do it?
For any student having some sort of relevant work experience will both enhance an applicant’s application form for university and for general development. This is why it is essential to have this wonderful experience!

Where to find it
I suggest that you first ask your current school/college if they have any opportunities in the area of field that you are interested in. They may have some contacts. If this fails there are websites that link you to opportunities in your local area. You can even try approaching the businesses directly to ask if they do work experiences. The key is to plan early and it is safe to secure your week of experience as early as possible.

What kind of work experience should I do?
The obvious answer is doing the experience in the sector that you plan to work in. For example if you are planning to work in marketing, then go try to find an advertising business that will offer you a placement. However if you cannot find this, it is still a great opportunity to work with people you are not familiar with, this is almost the case in all sectors and it will build your team working skills and leadership.

Can I do work experience?
This may be a silly question but there are legal obstacles that one must pass before doing work experience. Those with British/EU/EEA passports are free to do whatever they wish. However for others, due to stringent British immigration rules, only those with permanent visas or visas that allow work will be able to participate. It does not matter whether it is paid or unpaid, work is work and you will be violating your immigration status if you engage in work experience when you are not allowed to do so.

Is it free?
Of course! 100% free AND you may even earn a little too! But do not expect money to be involved.

It is a great chance to learn and you will almost always enjoy it!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Where To Go For Advice

Of course, I offer great advice based on my personal experience but another place to go where you will receive fantastic personal advice is the British Council. The chances are that there is a British Council in your country as there are 233 locations in 109 countries.
They are a government funded organisation that promote students to come to the UK to do their studies. They also carry out IELTS testing and sometimes provide classes. If you have an entrance exam to a UK school or University, the schools encourage international students to take the tests under the supervision of the British Council as they are reliable.
If have any questions or queries, they offer up to date information as well as guidance on UK Education.
The British Council builds engagement and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people worldwide. Our work focuses on the major challenges of our age:
- building understanding between cultures and promoting positive social change
- developing the skills and creativity people need to prosper in the knowledge economy
- building and sustaining an international consensus for action on climate change.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Guide to UK Student Visas

For all international students, coming to the UK, should check if you need a visa. Previously, it was quite a simple process to apply for a UK student visa but laws and procedures have changed and I will explain what you will need to know.
Who needs a UK Visa?
You will need a UK visa if you are not an EU or an EEA national. EU and EEA nationals have unrestricted stay and unrestricted permission to work in any EU or EEA countries including the UK. However if you are from outside the EU or the EEA (e.g. USA) you will need a visa.
Ok, so how do I get one?
You should apply in the country of your current residence. If you are school aged, you must apply to a private school. In some cases you will have to apply directly to the British Embassy but now as the UK is receiving so many applications the UK Border Agency is using commercial agencies that will handle your application. These companies do not make any decisions but they will process your application for the agency.
Do I need a Biometric ID card?
Any non EU or EEA student will need one. This is compulsory. This was a response to the increase in illegal immigration. The card will show your immigration status; eligibility to work, nationality and your biometric data (fingerprints and digital photo) will be stored on the card.
What is the Points-Based System Tier 4?
The British Government has introduced the points-based tier system. This system is quite similar to that of the Australian Visa system where you will need a certain amount of points to qualify for a visa. International students are placed in Tier 4 and there are two subgroups (Child student and General student). A prospective student must accumulate 40 points. 30 Points is awarded for CAS (Certificate of Acceptance of Study). This will be the proof that you have been accepted into a school/course and you have paid for it. Only the place of study can issue this certificate. 10 Points is available for Maintenance and Funds. This will prove that you have the necessary money and funds to support yourself without having to claim ‘Benefits’ or public funds. For courses less than 1 year, £800 is needed per month. For courses lasting more that a year, £9,600 is needed in your bank account. You may want to bring dependants (children, husbands, etc). They will be eligible for Free State education and may be eligible to work. However on top of your initial funds you must also have £535 per month for each dependant you wish to bring.
Can I work?
Those with a full student visa may be allowed to work. This all depends on what it says on your ID card. If it reads, ‘no work’, this means no work and you will be deported if you are found to be engaging in any paid or un-paid work. However for some, it may read ‘Able to work as authorised by the Secretary of State’. This will allow you to work for 20 hours maximum during term time and 40 hours during the holidays. It will be clear whether you are allowed to work or not. However it is important to follow the rules as illegal work is taken very seriously.
Do I have to register with the police?
If your ID card or visa states that you need to register with the police, then you must do this. Those aged under 16 will not have to do this. If you don’t do it, it may have very serious consequences for any future UK visa applications and you could be banned from entering the UK (for any reasons) for 1 year or up to 10 years in some cases.
These rules may seem very strict and harsh, however unfortunately it is a measure that the UK had to take in order to prevent the abuse of the system by a minority. Nevertheless, the UK welcomes every student and will make sure that you have the best time!
some useful information:

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Admissions Guide: Eton College

Eton College is the icon of British private schools and even those who may never have visited the UK may know Eton College. Eton College is located in Windsor, close to Windsor Castle. This school has produced the most Prime Ministers than any other schools and a favorite for the Royal family with the likes of Prince Harry and Prince William. It has also become to some extent, a tourist attraction with scheduled tours and a museum. It produces some of the best exam results in the country. With its prestige and long history, it has become one of the hardest schools to get in. You can look at their website and it will tell you all you need to know but I will not only tell you that but also what actually happens inside! I have personal recent experience of their admission system. I won't tell you my results as that will give away what school I eventually went to!

The Basics (What the website tells you)
The prospective student tour (not the tourist one!) should be taken at age 10 and this tour includes areas of the school that are not normally seen by the tourists. The candidate must be registered by the age of 10.6 years. At age 11 or the candidate will be invited for 'pre-assessment'. This consists of an interview, a reasoning test and a report from the candidate's current school. If successful the candidate is offered a conditional place and then must pass the Common Entrance Examinations at age 13 or pass the scholarship exam. About a third receive offers and others are placed on a waiting list and others are declined. Those declined or placed on a waiting list may gain admission by being awarded the 'King's Scholarship' or the Music Scholarship. This is very challenging and very rare to happen.

So, you are probably thinking 'wow that's very competitive!'. Well hold that thought and read my version of their admissions system.

On the day of the admissions assessment day
There 2 groups with around 10-15 other boys and the boy is put into one of them. This is totally random and means nothing. With parents, you meet a senior staff and he/she gives a talk about Eton. Afterwards the boys split and one group is taken to the computer room for the computerised, numerical, perceptual and verbal skills test. Just before, everyone has their photo taken so that cheating is prevented. The test is a set of questions similar to verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, except harder. One test I remember is a text on screen, which moves up at a steady speed and you must find and highlight the grammatical errors and you must work fast otherwise the text gets hidden. Then you get taken to a small classroom and while you watch the video about Eton, one by one the boy is led by a teacher into another classroom for the dreaded interview! The interview doesn't last longer than 10 minutes and it is actually quite simple. There are questions such as:

  • Do you play a musical instrument?
  • Tell me about a book that you've read recently. (followed by questions about the book)
  • Surprisingly I wasn't asked 'Why I wanted to come to Eton'
  • Any hobbies?
  • Your favorite subject at school and asks you to talk about what you learnt the last time you had that subject.
  • Do you have any questions about Eton?

This is probably just a VERY few questions from a whole list! but those were the questions that I was asked. Those questions may seem very straightforward and easy but for an eleven year old, it is actually quite challenging. One thing not to do is to prepare your answers as the teachers are all very experienced interviewers and they will know staight away if the boy has prepared them. I remember afterwards the lady that looked after us during the day was always saying "Everyone finds the Test hard dear!" and "don't worry honey, you'll be fine!" which was assuring back then but now thinking about it, it seems so harsh to say that, because statistically out of the 30 boys in that room, only 8.5 will get in!

Entry at 16 is very very small and around 6 Scholarships are offered each year and ONLY available to UK based students. For Sixth Form Scholarship (Link):
Reports on current progress and likely GCSE grades will be sought from schools. On the basis of these reports, short-listed candidates will be asked to come to Eton in February (bringing examples of recent work with them) for interviews in their likely AS-level subjects, an aptitude test, and a general paper.

and the normal entry (Link):
Any available places will be offered to boys of a high academic standard who are also likely to make a notable contribution to school life in sport or in the arts. The minimum qualifying standard is GCSE, or the overseas equivalent, in at least six academic subjects with A grades ; in practical terms the level expected is likely to be higher than that, and competition for the limited number of places is intense. There is no entry form and no registration fee, but if a candidate is to be considered a full report will be requested from his present school, and interviews at Eton may be required.

So there we have it, Eton admissions in a nutshell! In my opinion, one must see the 'real' school not what it is portrayed to be like. When choosing a school, the fame or the prestige should not be a factor. The name 'Eton' may be the deciding factor but one should judge the school, as a place of learning and not how famous or well know it is. Do remember that not getting into Eton is not the end, I've known lots of boys who failed to get into Eton and yet ended up in Oxbridge. Also nowadays, more and more Eton alumni (Old Etonians) are 'embarrased' to say they've attended Eton. This is mainly because of the false stereotype that the British media has portayed. It is easy to mis-judge an Old Etonian as 'posh' or 'high-calss' when most of them are just like you and me. A good but sad example is this articale written by a recovering old Etonian drug addict (Article)

I will leave you with a thought from (Link):
As the admissions tutor, William Rees, points out, of the 100 candidates who do best in the reasoning test that is part of the selection process, 20-30 per cent are not offered places. "We take an enormous variety of boys," he says. Just 25 per cent of the boys at Eton today have fathers who went there, compared to 40 percent a generation ago, and with 3.5 candidates for every place, competition is stiffer than ever. One suspects that of the two most famous fictional Old Etonians, James Bond would still get in, while Bertie Wooster would not.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Private School Admissions: General Guide

Dulwich College

There are two main points of entry for British private schools. Most students enter their school at the age of 13. This is through the Common Entrance Examinations, the school’s scholarship exam or the school’s own entrance exam. This point of entry is by far the easiest and the most popular. The other is at the age of 16. Entry at 16 is limited and only a limited number of places are available. It is definitely harder to gain admissions at this point. I will try to explain the pros and the cons of entering at the two ages. Every school’s admissions system is different. However I will explain the common patterns of every school.

Entry at 13
Registrations should be made at least 36 months or 3 years before the point of entry. Therefore planning should be done as soon as possible. The candidate is allowed to apply to as many schools as they wish. When the candidate is aged 10, the school will request a confidential report from the candidate’s current school. For more selective schools, the candidate will be invited to come to their school for a day of cognitive tests and an interview. No candidate will be able to prepare for these tests as it tests how the candidate thinks not what they know. The candidate will be told if they have been given a conditional place after around 3 months. Some unsuccessful candidates will be placed on a waiting list instead just in case someone declines the conditional place. This conditional place is conditional upon passing the Common Entrance Examinations to the required level. At around 18 months before the point of entry, parents will have to either accept or decline the conditional place. If they decide to accept, they must pay a fee which will not be refunded until the student’s last term at the school or if they fail to pass the CE exams. After their place has been accepted, gifted students may apply for scholarships such as sport, academic, music, technology or drama. The student may be guaranteed a place if they perform well in the academic scholarship exam, even if they did not receive a scholarship. If an application is received late, each application will be reviewed individually.

Entry at 16
It is very difficult to find similarities for entry at 16 at various schools but this is the main outline. Application deadlines are usually in September/October/November in the year before the entry. So application should be made in 2010 if entry is in 2011. At top private schools, selection is very competitive and places are very sought after as a consequence, it is a fierce competition to be awarded with a place. If the candidate is attending a school overseas which does not offer GCSE/IGCSEs then the GCSE requirement does not apply here. However there will be requirement for everyone else the any places awarded will be conditional upon their GCSE results. Schools will invite candidates for a day of academic tests and interviews. The candidate will be examined in the 3 or 4 subjects that they have selected for A-levels in October/November. As many students learn different curriculums in their current schools, the school will set an exam that tests their potential and background knowledge of the subject. Again, no candidate can prepare for these exams. There will be interviewed in their 4 different subjects and also a general interview. In December, the candidate will be told if they have been given a conditional place.

As you can see, there are lots of differences between entry at 13 and entry at 16. Entry at 16 is possibly the most difficult route and it is also difficult for me to generalise the admissions process for entry at 16. Therefore it is so so important that you do research on the schools you are interested in. However, hopefully this has enabled you to gain a small insight into the admissions process at different ages. I will be posting on popular and famous schools’ admissions systems as they tend to be very unique and even more demanding and competitive than what I have explained above. I am looking to do Eton, Westminster, Harrow and possibly others. If you have any other schools in mind please leave a comment. I actually have personal experiences of applying to a couple of these schools (most of them successfully!) so I will be able to tell you all about my experiences. Till then.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

League Tables

By looking at school league tables, everyone can make their decision on which school is the best/worst. Sure, if you type in 'School league tables' in Google, you'll be inundated with links to school league tables. However how reliable are they?

Many media outlets (BBC, The Times, The Guardian...) produce league tables after GCSEs and A-Levels results every year. Every School in England must submit their results to the Government and they produce a leagues table as well. Many of us just rely on the media outlet. However as media tables are entirely voluntary, more and more (especially Independent schools) are refusing to submit their results. The list can be found here. Many schools withheld their results because they felt it put too much pressure on their students and teachers to perform well. It may also allow prospective parents and the general public to misjudge the school prematurely.

Another major fallback is because many Independent Schools use the IGCSEs. Although IGCSEs are much harder than normal GCSEs, it is not accepted on the league tables and many 'top' schools would now be ranked along with the nation's worst performing schools.

From The Independent:
Leading private schools are critical of today's GCSE league tables as they plummet below some of England's worst-performing comprehensives. Some of the most famous schools in the world including Eton, Harrow, Winchester and St Paul's are rooted at the foot of official rankings because of a technicality.According to the tables, no pupils at almost 100 schools achieved five GCSEs at grade C or above, including maths and English.
But IGCSE is not recognised by the Government, which has effectively blocked state schools from offering the more challenging exam.
Schools that register "zero" on the league tables include Dulwich College, Manchester Grammar School, King's School Canterbury, Marlborough College and Oundle School. Most score 100 per cent if IGCSEs are included.
In my opinion, school league tables are a good indicator but one must never solely use the tables to make judgements. For example if a school performed excellently in one year but poorly in the next, this is unreliable and a school may have poor facilities. Therefore it is essential to take this into account beforehand. For schools that have decided to withhold their results; their results can be usually found on their website and if not, normally schools would be happy to disclose their results to you.
Overall, league tables remain a topic to be much discussed in the UK and it is a sensitive issue to schools.

Links to league tables:


The Times:


One site that I found that includes IGCSE results, however no state schools included:

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Exams, Exams, Exams

Exams , exams, exams. In this post I will be discussing about national exams. I will also be talking about school admissions tests in the future.

In the UK, a student is expected to take at least their GCSEs. If they wish to progress to University, they must also take their A-levels. Some top UK private schools have started to use the IGCSE, which I will explain later on.

Whether the student is at a state school or at a private school, they all take GCSEs and A-levels. However the way the state and private schools prepare students for these exams make all the difference.

GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education)

This exam is taken at age 15/16. All students are expected to take these subjects: Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Maths and English(Language and/or Literature). The student may also choose to take another 4 or 5 subjects such as History, Geography, Foreign Languages. A full list can be found here. However not all schools offer all these subjects, most schools only offer the most popular ones.

Some top schools (and International schools) have started to offer the IGCSE or International GCSE. These exams examines the student more thoroughly and provide a more in depth knowledge of the subject. Schools believe that the IGCSE is more challenging and thus stretches the pupil and also prepares them better for the sixth form.

The GCSEs are provided under many different exam boards, such as Edexcel, AQA, OCR, CIE, Edexcel International. All exam boards have different syllabuses for their subjects and schools prepare students for a subject especially for that exam board.

The importance of GCSEs cannot be emphasised enough. Top UK universities (Oxford, Cambridge...) look for students with excellent GCSEs. If a student attends a top private school, admissions tutors will expect them to have at least 6 A* at GCSE. So please do not think that GCSEs are not as important as A-levels. When admissions tutors select students for interviews, they will almost definitely use GCSE results.

A-Levels and AS-Levels

The A-Level (Advanced Level) is a two year course, however students take AS-Levels (Advanced Subsidiary Level) during their first year. Usually students take 3 or 4 subjects. Each subject is split into different units and are taken over the year. Universities require A-Levels for admissions to their courses, however, they do not have the students' A-level results when offering conditional offers. Therefore they rely on As-Levels and predictions when making decisions. The UK government has introduced the new A* grade, previously students could only receive A, B, C, D etc. This was a move to distinguish the best of the best. In order to gain the A* grade, excellent grades will be required in both A and AS level. Choosing the correct A-level to study is crucial, for example if you wish to study economics at university, certain A-levels must be taken (Maths).

Thursday, 19 February 2009

English as a Foreign/Secondary Language (EFL/ESL)

I'm pretty sure if you are able to read my posts and understand 100% of it then this post doesn't really apply to you. However, if your mother tongue isn't English or if you feel your English may be too weak, this post is for you.

UK Private Schools and Universities make huge amounts of money because they are allowed to charge non-EU or non-ECC students more than double the fee. (Basically, they want you!!!) They want to allow as many of these students to come here to do their studies. However many of them may lack English skills to cope with the demanding courses.

For universities, IELTS and TOEFL are accepted but for schools in the UK, it is a different story. For schools, there are no standardised tests but the school may need to test them further when they apply. Usually if the student is able to enter their school after passing an academic admissions test, then no further testing is required because the tests have shown that the student can speak and write to an adequate level of English.

Some private schools accept students even if they have only conversational English. An example would be Kent College. These schools specialise in providing EFL/ESL support. The academic standards of these schools can be quite low in comparison with Public Schools. At these schools, it is almost certain that the student will gain admission with little or no tests.

Another important information to remember is if you intend to compete your education and go on to a UK university and come from a non-native English speaking country, then you will need to do IELTS, TOEFL... (excluding native speakers eg. USA, Australia and S Africa...) only if you have been studying in the UK for less than 2 or 3 years. For IELTS you will need 6.5+ and for TOEFL 580+. for undergraduate programs.

A quote from the University of Kent:

"International students whose first language is not English are required to have an appropriate grade/score in an approved examination in English language before they can register on an academic programme. Exceptions are sometimes made for a student who have had their education entirely in the medium of English and where English is a well-established second language."
However the bottom line is please do not be scared off by these requirements! This is to just make sure if you can cope with the courses. Various TOEFL and IELTS training course are available out there.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Public School & Private School: What's the difference?

So, I've noticed some people get confused between Public Schools and Private Schools. Well, I'm here to explain! Most of you people will think that public schools will be the government provided education! Actually both types of schools are fee-paying schools and what's more, 'public schools' are more exclusive than 'private schools'. Examples of public schools are schools on the Eton Group. The link was posted on the first post. I realise how confusing this may be so I will try to explain in 2 sections.
Public Schools
These schools have very long history and they have been founded centuries ago. These schools can be very expensive and are regarded as very prestigious. Some schools may be very difficult to gain admission due to strong competition. An example is Tonbridge School as pictured above. When you think about famous British Schools, you will probably be thinking about Public schools. These schools traditionally have a charitable status, this means schools do not have to pay taxes on fees. They gained the name 'public' because they provided education 'to the public' centuries ago but has now changed. They still provide scholarships and bursaries in order to retain the charitable status.
Private Schools
These schools won't be as well known as public schools. However they still have excellent facilities and good academic standards. An example would be St. Lawrence College School. These schools are relatively easy to get into and do not (normally) require CEE (Common Entrance Exams). Some private schools have charitable statuses. Essentially it is quite similar to public schools but sometimes lacks the history and fame and the continuous result of academic excellence.
So, here it is! two types of fee-paying schools, but with a difference. Please do ask any questions you may have and leave a comment!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Private Schools or State Schools; What's the difference?

King's School Canterbury

Those of you new to education in the UK, will be wanting to know how the general education system works. I will be explaining this in two separate bits. Sate education system and the Private education system. The two have very different systems but they do interlink with each other. For example everyone does GCSEs and A-levels/IB.

Please bear in mind that I am more of an expert in the Private education system so some of the State education knowledge may not be as accurate!!

The State education system

Education here is free; it is provided by the government and the majority of UK students have their education here. It is divided up into three parts. Primary education, secondary education and higher education. It is a legal requirement for children to stay at school from 5 years to 16 or the GCSE age.

Primary Education - this is from the ages 5 to 11. This includes key stages 1 and 2. At 11, children do the 11plus which is an examination determining which secondary school they will go. This examination is used less now but each region has their own set of examinations.

Secondary education - this is from the ages of 11 to 16. This covers Key Stages 3 and 4. Students work towards the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). Within the secondary education system there are grammar schools. These schools are highly competitive in selecting their students. This includes the 11plus, the distance living from school, siblings already at the school or faith.

Higher education - This is from the ages of 16 to 18. This education is not compulsory however it is essential if you wish to go to University. This is also sometimes called a Sixth Form college. Here you will be able to do your A-levels. Some secondary schools have their own sixth form as well. You will need at least 6 Cs at GCSE in order to enter the Sixth Form.

In order to use the state education, the parent must be in the UK and the child registered as a dependent. Therefore you must be working, studying ect. This does not apply to EU and EEC nationals.

The Private Education System

This is the fee-paying education system. It is also called Independent Schools.

Prep(atory) School - This would be the equivalent of primary schools up to the age of 13. Nurseries are also joined to the prep schools. These schools are called Prep(atory) schools because it 'prepares' you for the secondary schools. There are no formal exams until the child is 13. At 13, all children do the Common Entrance Examinations (CEE). This is taken at nationally and it is formal exam. This exam is to get into UK independent schools. Competition can be very fierce and it is an important exam for the student.

Independent (Private) school - After the child successfully passes the CEE they go on to secondary education. These schools include some of the world's famous British Schools. Entrance to these schools can be very competitive and I will be doing a separate post on the subject. There will always will be a Sixth Form in the school. So, students are expected to continue school after 16. These schools produce some of the best GCSE results and A-level result. Many send a lot of student to prestigious universities.

This is just a glimpse of the UK education system and it is very brief summary. Hopefully you understand a bit more about how education works and I will be explaining more in detail on the private education system.

Monday, 16 February 2009

First post: about this blog

I'm starting a blog because I genuinely want to share my experiences and knowledge about education in the UK. I know lots of people are interested because many people ask me all sorts of questions when I go abroad or from people who don't really understand. Many world famous schools are located in the UK, Eton College is a fine example as pictured above.

So, you're probably wondering how I know so much about this topic. Well I personally have first-hand experience of such schools. I won't be telling you which school I've gone to because I feel that I want you to read my posts knowing that I do not favour one school or another also to secure my privacy. My school is famous and academically very strong, it can be found on the 'Eton Group'. I know how to get into these schools and what to expect from them as well. I will be posting on the life at the schools and what makes each and every other school so unique.

Those of you who are very new to the UK education system; I will also be explaining the basics. More recently top UK schools have seen more and more students from overseas and I would like to help those who are overseas considering coming here for your studies.

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