4+? or 7+? An editorial comment on how to choose between the two routes.
Many parents often write in to ask how to know which route would better suit their child, the 4+ or the 7+.
The short answer is of course that it simply depends on your child. Whichever route you pick though, it is worth bearing in mind that there is that there is plenty of scope for changing approach within the British Education System. So whether you pick a pre-prep or not, it doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day, if you feel your child is struggling and it is too much pressure, you can move to a prep school at 4+. Equally if you pick a prep school and find that your child is not being stimulated or challenged academically, then you can opt to move schools at 7+.
The 4+ generally is a fairly straight forward process. Most schools will look at it as somewhat of a playdate. What is often looked at is cognitive development, social and emotional maturity, academic potential (though some of the more academic schools will test reading and writing to some extent) as well as confidence, social skills, and both fine and gross motor skills. Those born earlier in the academic calendar do tend to do better simply by virtue of the fact that they are more mature but most schools do make allowances and those who conduct group assessments will group children according to age. The other thing to bear in mind is that there will always be ambitious parents who want to tutor their 2,3 and 4 year olds but really, this is not necessary at all. Making sure that your child is interacting with you, playing and learning with you (or a carer if you work) and is learning appropriately is more than enough and if this can be supplemented with a good nursery school, then that too would make more of a difference than having someone sit down for an hour a week with a toddler. There are a huge variety of ways children can learn and you as parents are always best placed to fulfil this responsibility especially at such a young age. The one thing that you can use outside help with, would be separation. If your child can confidently separate and go into a room of strangers and play with children they have never met before, then half your battle is won. This is the only thing that you should try and focus on by means of drop off classes or holiday clubs or even if you have trusted relatives and friends that you don’t often see, you should enlist their help with this as well.
Looking at the 7+ exam on the other hand, a lot would ride on your child, their personality, their interest in learning and being challenged, their ability level, not just for academics but also the ability to have the stamina that is needed to sit a 3 hour exam. The rest of it depends on the parents. How committed you are, how willing you are to put in the required amount of work, sacrifice clubs and holidays in the last run up to the exam and so on. Whether you decide to hire tutors or not, you, the parent, is going to have to be fully committed and prepared to encourage, support, be firm and ensure that your child is putting in the hours and the appropriate work needed for a 7+ exam. So making sure that you are ready to commit to the process is just as key as whether your child is ready to handle it. The candidates who go through are selected first and foremost on performance at the exam so make sure that your child is able to put in the work and has the right mindset to want to do well in order to ensure selection.
As to how you decide and which route you choose would depend entirely on your child’s progress. One thing some parents do, is pick a prep school and if their child’s academic performance and thirst for knowledge exceeds expectations, make the decision to sit the 7+ to a school they feel will be a good fit. Alternatively, you can pick a pre-prep, try out the 4+ and if it doesn’t work, keep your child at the pre-prep and try to gain admission at 7+ or if your child is struggling and you don’t feel that 7+ is the right age and you would rather move earlier, then you can also go into a prep school after sitting the 4+. Every child is an individual. Your peers’, your friends’, your neighbours’ decisions should not influence you with admission routes nor with choosing schools. Pick a school not for its reputation nor its academic prowess but based on whether it right for your child. Pick a school at which your gut tells you that your child will be happy and he/she will thrive there.