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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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