What are non-selective independent schools?
At the heart of the idea of non-selective schooling is an understanding that children develop in different stages and learn in a wide range of different ways. Many schools ‘select’ a student at least partly on the basis of their performance in an entrance exam, and not all students – for a host of different reasons – will be ready or willing to perform on a given date.
Non-selective independent schools, both prep and senior, recognise this instinctively.
Not only have these schools moved away from exam-based entrance criteria but – crucially - they also build their ethos and curricula according to a more inclusive or ‘holistic’ educational model. Often you will find a dizzying range of co-curricular activities on offer, from music to sports and drama and more.
Non-selective schools also cater to students who can find the pressure of academic and social life at a larger institution demanding, and who may benefit from more compact class sizes and thrive in a ‘small school’ environment. They may also benefit students who are entering the British education system for the first time, and who may need time and space to get to grips with advanced cultural and language factors that other students take for granted.
This doesn’t mean that non-selective schools cannot also have an academic focus. Many such schools perform well: students from non-selective prep schools win scholarships and entrance to the best London day schools. Non-selective senior schools should also offer you child the opportunity to achieve the very highest grades should that be their objective.
Benefits of a non-selective school
1. A holistic approach to education
Many non-selective independent schools claim to offer a holistic approach to education. But what does that really mean? ‘Holistic’ can suggest a more connected approach to learning, aiming through the establishment of a happy and stimulating environment to create a space where students of all abilities thrive. Part of this will involve a strong emphasis on pastoral care – the creation of a happy working environment where students build strong relationships both with staff and their peers. A positivity-led approach and open communications will be an aspect of this. Students at non-selective schools talk of approachable teachers who listen to students, but more formal health and wellbeing facilities may also be on offer in the form of personal development sessions or counselling.
2. Diverse extracurricular activities
‘Holistic’ can also mean a broader curriculum which admits the importance of subjects away from those considered more traditional or ‘core’ – but also admits that some students have greater talents and interested in sports, or dance, or music. Non-selective schools often place a greater emphasis on activities which exist outside of the immediate exam framework of lessons, though at many non-selective schools these activities will be woven into the fabric of the school day.
Music tuition, for example, may be celebrated both within and beyond the curriculum, with individual lessons sitting alongside concerts and performances by bands and choirs. Similarly, sports, such as netball and football, will be coached during the school day, but those willing to participate in school teams will find opportunities to compete in national (or international) tournaments. Many schools will offer dance and drama programs, some run by specialist outside agencies such as LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). You may also find that these more traditional extracurricular activities are today supplemented by student-led activist groups, with many schools now hosting environment councils that explore student concerns regarding climate change.
Non-selective schools recognise that success in these areas breeds the skills that future employers will be looking for, such as team skills, resilience and adaptability. Non-selective schools may also adopt a more flexible creative or academic framework that gives students the opportunity to focus on subjects and skills they are passionate about.
3. Benefits to SEN children
Many parents turn to the independent sector if their child has additional learning needs, with smaller class sizes and higher staff-to-pupil ratios. Some selective schools are able to effectively manage both an academic focus and SEN matters, non-selective independent schools, with their focus on high quality pastoral care, may be better equipped. Whilst not being specialist SEN schools (though such schools do exist) the non-selective school may work to create what used to be called ‘a mixed ability classroom’. (Teachers who have worked in such classrooms will know that genuinely mixed ability classrooms can be the very best place for any student to be). SEN students will benefit from the widest range of learning resources, where any difficulties are identified early and support is quickly put into place. Schools will have a dedicated SEN coordinator and a network of learning support teachers, and may offer small group literacy and numeracy interventions, as well as speech and language therapists, among other specialists.
Non Selective independent schools in London
Here is a selection of some of the non-selective independent schools in London:
- ACS Schools – in Cobham, Hillingdon and Egham. Teaches the American curriculum. Founded in 1967 to serve the needs of global and local families.
- Lyonsdown School – all girls prep school in Barnet. From the ISI report: “There are happy schools and there are schools that make you grin from ear to ear – Lyonsdown falls firmly into the latter camp.”
- Southbank International School – various locations across London. The first school in the UK authorised to offer all three International Baccalaureate programmes
- North Bridge House School – from Nursery through to Sixth Form, a recognition ‘that success is not simply defined by outstanding academic achievement, but also by every pupil finding a direction in life that truly reflects their unique talents and personality.
Admissions process for non-selective independent schools in London
Schools such as the above are non-selective in the sense that prospective students will not sit a formal entrance exam such at the 11+, though still run admissions processes that are in some senses selective. Schools run open days throughout the year and prospective students and parents are always encouraged to attend. A formal application (including fees) is normally the next step. Often students are then invited to have an informal conversation with the Head, or attend some kind of group interview; there may also be classroom ‘challenges’ or academic games. Schools frame these activities as an opportunity to discover student needs - and to see if they can cater to them. Some schools will also require students to sit an adaptive assessment, in order to determine where they are in their learning, prior to the offer of a place.
Non selective independent schools in London offer parents and students the opportunity to encounter the best of what the city has to offer, with an emphasis on the broadest aspects of education. Your son or daughter may feel they have a more personalized experience in such schools, and find it easier to make friends and become a part of a smaller school community, and thrive academically in an atmosphere which priorities their wellbeing. Of course, you should visit a wide range of schools to get a feel for what works best for your child, part of a broad approach to choosing a school where your child can fulfil themselves – and be happy.
School advisory services
Keystone provides educational advice to families who wish to send their children to independent schools in the UK. With an outstanding reputation for providing dependable, impartial guidance, we have a comprehensive knowledge of the British private school system. Keystone’s advisory team are experienced in providing school-specific support in preparation for school selection and entry from nursery up to 16+. Whether you are looking for a long-term educational strategy, or circumstances have changed and you require an ‘occasional place’, our advisors are always happy to set up a call to discuss how we might be able to help.