We are delighted to announce that we have extended the deadline for our City Kids School Food Awards #CityKidsSFA19. The response from schools and parents has been so overwhelmingly positive that we want to include as many entrants as possible.

The School Food Awards are a unique opportunity to win an award that recognises the great work of schools and their kitchen teams. All schools are operating on budgets, and some are very tight budgets, yet many catering teams manage to provide nutritious, hot lunches for the kids. We think this should be celebrated!  But we also need to continue the discussion surrounding around free school meals and healthy eating.

With these awards we aim to recognise those schools who are providing catering excellence and thinking beyond meat and potatoes. The awards will become a well-regarded accolade amongst parents and educators alike. Winners will be handpicked by the City Kids editorial team and a host of well-known and passionate foodies, to be announced shortly.

The award categories are as follows:

State Sector
  • School Dinner Hero (Primary/Secondary)
  • Best School Menu (Primary/Secondary)
  • Best Vegetarian Menu (Primary/Secondary)
Independent Sector
  • School Dinner Hero (Prep/Secondary)
  • Best School Menu (Prep/Secondary)
  • Best Vegetarian Menu (Prep/Secondary)
Why Enter?

What’s the one question that kids ask when they visit a school? “What’s the food like?”
And what do parents ask on a daily basis when they collect their kids from school? “What did you have for lunch?”
School food is top of the agenda for kids and parents and what better way to show your school’s catering brilliance than with these awards.

Apart from the obvious positive PR, there are plenty of benefits to nominating your school for a City Kids School Food Award. All shortlisted schools will be mentioned in print and online and will be featured in our Spring Education issue. Winners will feature in our Summer issue. You will also receive a digital logo for use across your marketing assets to include: Vote for Us!, Shortlisted, Winner, Runner-up. This will contribute to the multi-media brand exposure across our platforms and yours.

How to enter

For more information about the entry process, categories and judging please click on the link below. Make your application by completing the online form on this page or by email. If you have any questions please email Good luck!

CityKidsSFA2019 rules and entry form

Entries close on Friday 31st January 2019. 




ArtsEd has received planning permission to refurbish the building at Cone Ripman House in Chiswick which will bring facilities up to date at the outstanding school for performing arts.


Artist’s impression: De Matos Ryan

ArtsEd in Chiswick has received planning permission to create a new studio theatre, as well as additional rehearsal and teaching spaces. The plans for Cone Ripman House will optimise the existing buildings and unlock the potential of currently empty courtyard space. The project will cover all aspects of ArtsEd’s provision and will see significant improvements in the facilities of the Day School and Sixth Form as well as the Schools of Acting and Musical Theatre.

ArtsEd was originally built as Chiswick Polytechnic in the 1950s and adapted for the schools’ use on arrival over thirty years ago. The refurbishment will bring long-awaited world-class facilities to the site in line with its world-renowned reputation for conservatoire training.  Included in the development will be a new state-of-the-art Studio Theatre to complement the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre which opened in 2013 and was the first significant addition to the school’s facilities since first making its home in Chiswick.

Principal Chris Hocking said:
“We are delighted to be able to move forwards with our refurbishment plans and provide our students with facilities that match the exceptional quality of our teaching – ensuring that future generations continue to leave ArtsEd as outstandingly confident and creative young performers.”

Once the refurbishment is complete, ArtsEd students will all be hosted in one location, ensuring that they all enjoy the best possible performing arts environment. ArtsEd will also be able to share these new facilities with the wider community through its continuing programme of evening and weekend courses.


For any special occasion, a beautifully designed book or a classic story is a great gift and keepsake. Victoria Evans has a selection for kids big and small.


illustrated by Jessica Courtney Tickle (Lincoln Children’s Books)
The follow-up to the bestselling The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker. With beautiful, full-page illustrations from Jessica Courtney Tickle. It tells the classic story of Sleeping Beauty, brought to life with music from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet. Hear 10 famous pieces of music from the ballet and be transported into this wonderful fairy tale.

(Laurence King)
Let imaginations soar with these animal themed storytelling puzzle pieces which can be matched in all sorts of ways, for multiple storytelling combinations. Great for the classroom, or as an alternative to traditional bedtime stories.


For the young makers in the family is Now Make This, a beautifully designed handbook offering unique and exciting DIY projects for kids. This unusual and engaging book of activities grants children access to world-class design in their very own homes, and may even inspire a few to become designers themselves!

chosen by Michael Morpurgo (Oxford Children’s Books)
From brave heroes and battling beasts to mighty gods and magic spells, these are timeless tales to treasure forever. An enchanting selection of classic myths and legends, chosen by the UK’s best-loved storyteller. This is a great choice for shared reading, and for more confident readers to read-alone.


by Rory Dobner (Laurence King)
An acclaimed artist, Rory Dobner has created a cast of lovable and magical animal characters, inspired by the objects he collects around his home and on his travels. His ink illustrations have been commissioned by MTV, Disney and Nike, and his distinctive homewares range is available in stores including Liberty and Fortnum & Mason.

by Kimberlie Birks (Otter-Barry Books)
This anthology features new poems by National Poetry Day Ambassadors such as Deborah Alma, Joseph Coelho, Sally Crabtree, Jan Dean, and also a poem chosen by an ambassador to share. Look out for classics by Chistina Rossetti, WB Yeats, Shakespeare and Keats, among others.



With our Autumn issue focussed on getting back into the swing of studies, we’ve chosen books to compliment and inspire learning, whatever the age of the children.



by Jason Fulford & Tamara Shopsin (Phaidon)
The third in a series of ground-breaking books from the author-artists Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford created in partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art.
This clever book of collage features see-through acetate pages with beautiful autumnal elements, playfully designed to invite young readers to dig through a pile of leaves and uncover the surprises throughout. The clever design also presents the opportunity for children to add their own images between the book’s clear pages.


by Hazel Maskell, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Laurence King)
This is a fascinating introduction to the seasons, following a family of foxes through the year. The book opens out into a stunning four-part carousel, revealing intricately detailed pop-up scenes of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Follow the boxes as the tiny cubs grow up through the year, and explore the woodland scenes to discover animals, trees, plants and owners.



by Anna Weltman (Ivy Kids Books)
Discover how maths can be artistic and art can be mathematical with this awesome activity book, full of fun drawing challenges with a mathematical basis. Amazing patterns with a mathematical essence will be revealed as you follow the simple activity instructions. Learn incredible maths facts as you draw the beautiful designs.

(October 2018, What on Earth? Books)
An up-to-date history of the world covering topics from dinosaurs to robots and everything in-between. Jam-packed with illustrations, photos, timelines and a glossary, index and reference material, Jacqueline Wilson calls it ‘absolutely amazing’ and it gets the thumbs up from Horrible Histories author Martin Brown: ‘from the Big Bang to yesterday’s breakfast, this BOOK OF FUN AND DISCOVERY makes sense of it all’.


by Barbara Oakley PhD & Terrence Sejnowski PhD with Alistair McConville (TarcherPerigee Trade Paperback)
If you can remember your least favourite subject at school, it’s probably the one that you also found most difficult. This book aims to teach kids to train their brains to learn the hard stuff, instead of just assuming they can’t do it. One of the book’s authors and a professor of engineering, Dr Barbara Oakley, struggled with maths at school, until she learned how to learn.

by by Kimberlie Birks (October 2018, Phaidon)
This is a book for older, design-savvy and style-conscious kids or those interested in product, lighting and furniture design. It showcases work by contemporary superstars such as Marcel Breuer, Jean Prouvé, Nanna Ditzel, Philippe Starck, Nendo, Marc Newson, Donna Wilson, Kengo Kuma, and Marcel Wanders. It also pays tribute to those who have shaped children’s design and pioneered products for kids.




Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal (Simon and Schuster) Words and Your Heart
Never underestimate the power of words is the point of this heart-warming read. It gently explains that what you say can have an effect on a person’s feelings. With playful illustrations set against a simple colour palate, this book about being kind is just the ticket at a time of year where consumerism is at an all time high.

The Wildest CowboyThe Wildest Cowboy by Gareth Jennings and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Pan Macmillan) Brought to you by the writer and director of Sing, uber talented Garth Jennings has come up with a cracking story of what happens when Bingo B. Brown turns up in a town they call Fear. A rip-roaring rhyming tale vibrantly illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. Julia Donaldson fans will enjoy this.


The Variety of LifeSticker Art by The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie (Hodder Children’s Books)
Make space on your shelves for this big but beautiful book which explores the diversity of our planet. It is absolutely stunning to look at and there are so many facts for young minds to absorb. This timeless book brings non-fiction to life in a way which all ages can appreciate. This is really such a great book – absolutely beautifully done. Treat your kids to it.

Harper and the Fire StarHarper and the Fire Star by Cerrie Burnell and illustraded by Laura Ellen Anderson (Scholastic)
This is the fourth instalment of the successful Harper series – a girl with a rare musical gift. It sees Harper and her friends on a mission to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical Circus of Dreams. Laura Ellen Anderson’s illustrations really bring the story to life with her zingy illustrations.


Optical IllusionsOptical Illusions by Gianni A. Sarcone and Marie-Jo Waeber (QED Publishing)
Now this is exactly the kind of book that will keep young minds busy. Jam-packed with brain-whizzing tricks of the mind, not only do you find out the science behind the illusions but there’s a whole section on how to create your own. One for kids and adults alike.

101 Video Games To Play Before You Grow Up101 Video Games To Play Before You Grow Up by Ben Bertoli (Walter Foster Junior)
If you’re struggling to get your child off their video consoles for more than 10 minutes, buy them this book which they’ll actually have to read before returning to Fifa 18. This is bucket-list territory and is perfect for all big kids!




Look out, It's a Dragon
by Jonny Lambert (Little Tiger)
Saffi the dragon doesn’t want to capture princesses or crush castles, all she wants to do is make friends in pastures new. So far, so lovely. But, as she quickly discovers, it’s not quite as easy convincing the other animals that she’s not trouble. Jonny Lambert’s gorgeous illustrations really bring this story of acceptance to life.

by Jon Roberts, illustrated by Hannah Rounding (Graffeg)
Kya, in many ways, is just like your average four-year-old. She likes ice cream, jumping, being cheeky and isn’t so keen on vegetables. However, she is autistic, and you will discover the ways in which she is different. You can almost feel Kya’s energy through the illustrations alone. This gentle book guides the reader into how Kya understands the world as written by her dad.


by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams)
A clever re-working of the Hans Christian Anderson classic, focused on Ma Ding, a nine-year-old boy, who becomes the Emperor of China. Realising he is being tricked by dishonest ministers, he decides to play a trick of his own. Beautifully illustrated by David Roberts (of Rosie Revere, Engineer fame), it weaves Chinese tradition with a message of kindness.

by Harry Heape, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley (Faber & Faber)
In this very funny debut, heroine Pippin lives in Funsprings, where she spends an enormous amount of time with her granny. All sounds pretty ordinary, until you find out that Pippin can speak to animals and her granny used to be a crime fighter. When mysterious goings on begin to happen in the town, can the pair use their skills to solve the mystery?


by Vashti Hardy (Scholastic)
Adventure awaits in this cracking book by Vashti Hardy. The twins, Arthur and Maddie, are on the trail of their father, a famous explorer, who, they’d been told, had died on the way to the South Polaris. The intrepid duo join a new crew, led by Captain Harriet Culpepper, as part of a race to the South Polaris. Can they cut it on the ship, and will they find the truth about their father?

by Jason Reynolds illustrated by Chris Priestley (Faber & Faber)
Written entirely in verse, and spanning the time frame of just one minute, this book follows the story of Will, who is seeking to avenge his brother’s murder. He must follow The Rules: No Crying, No Stitching and Get revenge. As he takes the lift, he is joined by a host of people from the past who make him think about the task ahead. Gripping and darkly illustrated, it is a stunning future classic.


“I think he might be even cleverer than his brother,” said Monika, “so I’d like him to try.” She meant tto ry for a place at Latymer Upper. Peter’s brother was at a good comprehensive and would have done well anywhere. Monika worried that Peter was unconfident and, at his brother’s school, might lose interest and drift. Just before I was due to meet Peter to test his English and maths, Monika called. “Forget it,” she said. “I’ve lost my job. And his dad’s on zero hours.” “Bring him anyway,” I said. “We might as well take a look.”

Peter turned out to be a natural. He grasped how to approach a comprehension exercise without being told and wrote a beautiful essay. His maths was swift and accurate. He tried for Latymer Upper on the understanding that he could only take up the place with hefty assistance from the school with the fees. He was awarded a bursary which covered 100% of the fees plus additional help with extras.

This does not happen every day but a third of children attending independent schools now get some help with the fees in the form of scholarships and bursaries.

Since the government’s Direct Grant and Assisted Places schemes were abandoned, schools have built up their own funds in order to offer places to the bright children of broke – or semi-broke – parents. Why? They need pupils who will bring them top results and sporting glory so that they attract more of the same.

School fees have gone up out of all proportion to average wages and even to house prices in the last ten years.

In 2007, Westminster School charged just under £16,000 for a day place. Today you’d pay £26,130 – a rise of nearly 64%, whereas average salaries have risen only around 15% in that time. Godolphin and Latymer charged just under £12,000 in 2007. Now it’s just under £21,000 – a rise of 75%. For most professional families independent schooling in London is no longer affordable.

So, what help is available?

Most London independents offer at least some fee assistance in the form of scholarships and bursaries. These days, few scholarships are worth a major chunk of the fees, though some – awarded for promise in e.g. academics, sports, art, music, drama etc. – can cover up to 50% of the fees in some cases. Schools now channel most of their available funds into means-tested bursaries. These go to children who, like Peter, would not be able to attend the school without financial help. 100% bursaries are relatively rare (though University College School had 52 pupils on this level of assistance when we visited) but many schools will offer 25% or 50% to those pupils they really want and the bursary can be supplemented by a scholarship for able children. You can have both.

You have to be prepared to reveal your home circumstances every year – with complete honesty.

But you can have a joint income of a surprisingly high amount (up to £120,000 at St Paul’s Boys’) and still qualify for some help. And it’s not just your income that is scrutinised but your essential outgoings and lifestyle. So, if you have elderly parents to support that would be taken into account. But if you take four holidays a year, have two homes and a yacht, you can probably forget it.

Not all schools have much to give away but some have lots. If you want to give this a go, you need to educate yourselves on what could be available to you so as to give it the best shot.
The Good Schools Guide holds up-to-date information on the fee assistance offered by more than 700 schools and is the only centralised source of such general information.


by SUSAN HAMLYN, Director at The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants


If you’re looking for some educational present ideas, there are plenty of science-based reads available this winter. Here are my top 5 inspirational books featuring Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths.




Catchment areas? Oversubscribed prep? Think again…

By Susan Hamlyn, Director at The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants

St Catherine’s School, Bramley

The arrival of a baby these days produces less unalloyed joy than in earlier times. Along with the multipacks of nappies come bucketfuls of stress. This is especially true of new parents in London who think wistfully of their own, often far less pressured, childhoods. They look around their chic – (or less chic) – London borough and see queues of exhaust-emitting traffic, crowded buses, unsupervised parks and schools, which are either good and over- subscribed or unacceptably poor.

Not that many London schools aren’t good these days. But few have much space – especially outside. Staff turnover can be high. The best state primaries have catchment areas the size of an exercise book and good preps are highly competitive and expensive. Then there’s the pressure. Schools are expected to pack more and more into a short day. A common sight is a child on his way to school, heavy rucksack on his back, instrument case in one hand and sports bag – bootlaces and cricket bat perilously tipping out of one end – in the other. Can this be the only way?

Well, it isn’t. Recent years have seen a change of thinking in both parents and schools. Increasingly, London parents are sending their children against the commuter traf c to schools in the Home Counties. Hazel and Chris Tomkins are typical: ‘Alba is a lovely child. But she was getting lost in the local school – there were simply too many children who needed more attention than she does. She is sporty and needs a lot of space. Since she went to her country prep, she’s got into the borough athletics squad and is much happier.’

Likewise, doctors Nour and Shazia Mahmood, enthuse about the change in their twins: ‘Their new
school has a minibus that collects from a couple of streets away and brings them back in the evening. They did have to sit entrance exams, but it was far less competitive than preps in London – three children for each place rather than 12! And the teaching and results are just as good.’

Schools within commuting distance see London as an excellent new market. Papplewick, a boys’ prep in Ascot, Berkshire, reports: ‘Since our transport service to and from Chiswick was launched, we have experienced a 100% rise in interest, resulting in a second service to and from Brook Green.’ And they confirm what parents say:

‘We offer a huge range of extra-curricular activities and sport in a rural environment. This all takes place within a school day, rather than parents having to ferry their children to after-school activities around London. All prep is done at school here, so there’s no homework. Parents report that their sons are less stressed, happier and working harder. They also achieve good academic results.’

Papplewick School, Ascot

Senior schools also now offer weekly boarding especially tailored to professional London families. A key influence is the lack of space in London schools and the necessity of ‘bussing’ to local sports grounds. St Catherine’s School in Bramley, near Guildford – headed by the highly-experienced Alice Phillips – tells us: ‘Interest is high – we see about 90-100 families at every open morning, of whom about 20% are looking at weekly boarding.’ This is partly because St Catherine’s offers: ‘Space. Green vistas. Outdoor facilities, which include floodlit netball and tennis courts, lacrosse pitches, athletics track, plus a huge sports hall, swimming pool, fitness suite, gymnasium and dance studio. And outstanding on-site facilities – we offer musicians an auditorium with superb acoustics. Actors have a state-of the-art theatre and technical box.’

But it’s not just facilities. Many parents worry about the intensity of an urban childhood. St Catherine’s says: “Here their daughters can develop at a pace less dictated by the media and peer pressure. We are not isolated – we are located at the heart of a village community with Guildford on our doorstep. St Catherine’s girls are very busy and are more likely to be in a club, in an orchestra rehearsal or doing sports after school, rather than kicking their heels around a city centre.’

So – another sleepless night worrying about catchment areas or oversubscribed preps? Perhaps it’s time to look outside …?


For more news on schools and education take a look here.


If you’ve decided to go private for secondary school, by the time your child reaches Year 5 you’ll be contemplating the start line of the 11+ marathon. Having just been through the process myself, I decided that those Year 5 parents, as well as those closing in on application deadlines in November, might want to hear what it was REALLY like, straight from the horse’s mouth. I’ve spoken to parents to gather their perspective on the process, and how they think it could be improved, in addition to bleeding them dry of proper, useful advice and the lowdown on some of London’s most sought-after educational establishments. I think it’s worth noting that the parents I spoke to have children in a range of schools: Putney High, Harrodian, Latymer Upper, Francis Holland, Arts Ed, Ibstock Place and Kew House. So, you will be getting a decent overview.

11 plus advice


General feedback from the parents I spoke to was that the process is ‘pretty awful’, ‘tough on parents and children’, ‘frustrating’ and ‘a bit like childbirth – you eventually forget the worst bits!’ One parent told me that their new headteacher recently congratulated the parents and pupils for having made it through the 11 plus process in West London, begging the question of whether it is better dealt with out of town (more on that in our Schools Out piece, p29).

One thing is certain, it’s a competitive business and applying for only one school would be foolhardy. Spreading your bets and applying for eight schools is equally daft. It just adds stress and is exhausting for your child (and really, are there eight schools you really love?). Be grown up and make some decisions!

The schools don’t exactly discourage applications; as one parent put it, ‘they can make serious money from the registrations, so they’re not going to turn people away!’ Emmanuel School in Clapham is the only one we know of that caps applications each year.

Beware, the cut-off is getting earlier and earlier.

Blink, and you’ll miss it. And don’t rely on other parents to let you know. It’s every man and woman for themselves in this game.

Part of the process involves creating a shortlist. Be ready for some schools to host open evenings that are like ‘bun-fights’, where they don’t control numbers. This results in some parents not being able to get a good feel for the school. Others require a ticket, so you need to book well in advance or you won’t get a look-in.

Try to get to as many open days and evenings as you can, even though it becomes a drag in the final stages. It will give you the opportunity to form a better opinion about what is important to you: single-sex, city, out of town, sporty, musical, all-rounder, religious.

Once the choices are made, be prepared for the interview. Some schools only interview candidates that reach a certain exam standard, but most will interview all pupils who apply, sometimes before the exam.

Recent questions included:

  • Tell me how a Fitbit works?
  • Describe this object. To this day, I still don’t know what it was my daughter had to describe.
  • What is time?
  • Rank the schools you have applied to in order from favourite to least favourite (yes, really, a child was asked to do this).
  • What was the greatest invention of the 20th century?
  • Who do you think should be on the new £10 note and why?
  • If you could be anyone for 24 hours, who would you choose & what would you do?

So, now you’ve prepped the questions, you’re ready, right? Wrong. You’ve got the environment to contend with. Some schools rip your loved ones from you at some distance from the exam centre, others provide a welcoming talk, tea and biscuits while you wait. Some interviews are one-on-one with senior management, others are in groups (when, inevitably, one over-confident chatterbox talks over everyone else), and often there will be many interviews taking place in one room at the same time. And then there’s the speed-dating type of interview. Oh yes, not just something for adults. The most important tip here is for you to give your child the confidence they need to be themselves. We have to trust that these schools know what they’re looking for and which child will fit in.


This is a difficult one. Some of the best schools in the country happen to be within a two-mile radius of West London. So, it naturally follows that it’s competitive. We all go into this with our eyes open. It’s a selective approach to education, so how is it best to select?

Kew House is regarded very positively by local parents as it puts a lot of emphasis on the interview with the headmaster (who, by the way, puts nervous children at ease in seconds).

The interviews are also all finished by the end of the Autumn term, meaning it’s one less thing to worry about in January.

A parent I spoke to suggested that there should be a limit to the number of schools that parents apply to. She said:

‘I think this would mean people categorised their choices better. The more academic kids would apply for the more academic schools, with maybe one fall-back. Instead, the less academic kids would apply for the middle/lower ranked (academia-wise) schools, with maybe one hopeful. This would stop the more academic kids being offered loads of places in schools they are unlikely to accept, therefore stopping so many kids having to go through the wait-listing process. It would also make the numbers applying to the schools more realistic.’

Another idea was to put co-ed schools together, like the North London Girls’ School Consortium. So,

‘one maths and English paper are taken by each child, and all schools consider these papers. The mixed schools, such as Ibstock, Harrodian, Kew, Radnor House & St Benedicts, could form a West London Consortium. If they want to do their own verbal/non-verbal tests, then they can, but the main exams would be cut down considerably.’


  • Get a tutor.
  • Don’t get a tutor. The debate will go on.
  • Get a folder & get organised! Buy stamps and envelopes now. Few of the schools use online applications. You’ll need photocopies of your child’s passport & passport-sized photos of him/her. The admin around applying and each exam day (whether your child needs to wear a certain sticker, take a card with them, etc) is surprisingly full-on, but you need to be calm and in-control so they don’t feel your stress as well!
  • Focus on your child and what they need from a secondary school, not what others think or which are the most popular schools of the moment.
  • Some people go completely bonkers through the process … ignore them.
  • When you look around a school, try and look for the reason you might not want your child to go there. These schools are all excellent!
  • Try to get to as many open days and evenings as you can, even though it becomes a drag in the final stages. You will form a better opinion about what is important to you: single-sex, distance from home, the journey to school, sporty, musical, all-rounder, religious.
  • Many schools host more than one open day at different times of the year. When trying to narrow things down, going to a second open day is a good way to help finalise a view. You may well see a school in a very different light the second time around, especially if you only saw it once, right at the beginning of the process.
  • Believe in your own judgement regarding your child’s potential, and be realistic about where they will get in. There’s no point putting them through the stress of a highly academic school just because you really want them to go there when the reality is that they will probably achieve more in the long term if they went to a school that was more academically appropriate for them.
  • Listen to your child. Having gone through this process twice now, both my children have been very clear about which school is their favourite, even if it may not have been my first choice. They are the ones who have to spend the next five to seven years at that school. So, it’s better they make the decision with you, rather than you deciding for them.
  • Don’t cross-examine your child after each exam. Chances are, they will have made some classic errors and it’s very difficult to pretend not to care! Best not to know.
  • Be ready for rejection. Getting offers from all their schools is for the very few. Knowing how to be positive is an important skill here.
  • If you’re on a wait-list, call the school immediately and express your 100% desire to be part of their intake in the Autumn. One headmaster joked that this is the time to send flowers and chocolates to the registrar concerned. Joking aside, begging letters, expensive gifts and stalking have been known.
  • Alternatively, take the view that if the school doesn’t want your child, you don’t want them to go there!
  • Relax, do not stress. It does work itself out in the end. Easier said than done. Take it from one who knows!

With thanks to Cherry Wood, Claire Rimmer, Sharon Hart, Maria Viader, David Ewen and Sarah Norman-Taylor.


Here’s a selection of great books for all your budding scientists to get their brains whirring over the holidays.

Big book of stars and planets


by Emily Bone
Age 4+

A large interactive picture book with fold-out pages featuring art based on images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

£9.99 Non-fiction Hardback

Ada Twist, Scientist


by Andrea Beaty
Age 6+

The latest rhyming offering from the New York Times bestselling author of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect. Meet Ada, another classmate asking curiosity-led questions, who loves to experiment. In the book she has to solve a household smell problem using science. A beautifully illustrated tale of perseverance.

£10.99 Fiction Hardback

Astronaut's Handbook


by Louie Stowell
Age 7+

Shortlisted for The Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize 2016 and published in association with the UK Space Agency, this book is a step-by-step, how-to guide for budding astronauts and space scientists. With a foreword by Tim Peake, this is a fun read with fab illustrations.

£6.99 Non-fiction Paperback

Lego chain reactions


by Pat Murphy
Age 8+

What is Christmas without Lego? Grab some Lego bricks and use in conjunction with this great book of instruction and inspiration. It comes with its own Lego pieces to help young engineers create moving machines which can be used together to create chain reactions.

£12.99 Non-fiction Paperback/Box

Fun Science


by Charlie McDonnell
Age 13+

By You-Tuber “charlieissocoollike” comes new Fun Science, a journey through science, written and illustrated with humour by a geeky science fan. It is designed to inspire even the least scientifically inclined teen!

£14.99 Non-fiction Hardback


With Christmas around the corner, we know your attention will be turned to trees, tinsel and Christmas lists in no time. If you’re keen on your kids having a little education thrown in there’s a host of STEM/ STEAM-inspired toys and gifts on offer. Ahrani Logan has selected her favourites.


For 2-4 Players Age 7+
Xtronaut, released in September 2016 to coincide with the launch of NASA’s inaugural asteroid mission OSIRIS-REx To Bennu And Back, is the first board game grounded in actual NASA missions. The mission will only be complete when the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft brings a sample of the Bennu asteroid back to Earth in–wait for it–seven years! In the meantime, the asteroid mission’s lead scientist Professor Dante Lauretta has created Xtronaut to keep us busy on Earth whilst we wait. The game’s attention to detail and scientific accuracy are thanks to him and his highly experienced team. Dante told CITY KIDS that he hopes this game will enthuse and inspire children (and parents, too!) to delve more into space and STEM subjects.

Amazon price: £51 (variable)


Age 8+
Virtual reality has really taken off in 2016 and this toy, released earlier this year, offers a great entry point for kids. For those of you who remember your old Viewmaster, be ready to upgrade! Using a smart phone app, the new Viewmaster offers a kid-friendly VR experience with 360-degree immersion into a range of scenarios through the Viewmaster VR “Experience Packs,” which include Wildlife, Destinations, and Space. Although Viewmaster VR works with most phones, check your phone’s compatibility first. Experience Packs need to be purchased separately. A delightful upgrade from Google Cardboard VR. Happy immersion!

Amazon price: £14.99 (variable) RRP £22.99
Experience Packs: £3.99 (variable) RRP £7.99


Age 5+
These cards are perfect stocking fillers: they will distract your little ones on Christmas morning whilst you get the lunch on, or provide for a little relaxing quality time after lunch over a box of Quality Street. The robots, made of high-quality, pre-cut cardboard with colourful designs by graphic designer Jonathan Klemenze, will satisfy the artistic makers in your family. No cutting or sticking required. Winner of Brand Licensing Europe 2015 License This! Competition.

Amazon price: £5.25 for a pack of 15


Age 3+
Inspiring a new generation of coders, the BBC released the micro:bit first into schools, and then from July, to the general public. Sized at 4×5 cm, it’s a fun and easy-to-use pocket-sized computer. Kids can create games, animations, and scrolling stories using this nifty programmable piece of kit. Bluetooth Smart technology means you can connect your micro:bit to other devices. USB and battery power box need to be purchased separately.

Amazon price: £14.80 (variable) RRP £14.97


Age 3+
hape discovery spaceship
Not your average doll’s house, this toy is designed to look like a real space shuttle. It even contains a treadmill for budding astronauts who want to recreate Tim Peake’s London Marathon in space! With 37 birch wood pieces, it requires some easy assembly, which you might want to do ahead of Christmas morning so your child can take off immediately!

Amazon price: £78.99 (variable) RRP £104.99
Also available at the Science Museum


World Book Day at SexysI’m often surprised to hear that so few parents have heard of state boarding schools; but they are often recognised as the UK education’s ‘best-kept’ secret. Given that state boarding can offer a stable, caring environment and provide high-quality education, state boarding schools seem to offer the Holy Grail – all at a reasonable cost.

Any student with a UK passport is eligible for state boarding. The costs are limited to the boarding element. The educational provision is, like community-based state schools, free. Therefore, state-funded boarding school fees are typically around a third of the cost of the independent sector. A state boarding school costs, roughly, £10,000 a year; a number that compares positively to private school fees, which have increased by an average of 20 per cent since 2010 – four times the rate of growth in average earnings, according to Lloyds Banking Group. That’s not a small difference, especially for London parents struggling with rising living costs, and juggling the demands of the school run and extracurriculars, while working long hours or with travel expectations.

Of course, cost isn’t everything. Our children’s education is worth every penny, but pupils at my own school, Sexey’s in Bruton, Somerset (and, no doubt, at the other 37 state boarding schools up and down the country), are also involved in their local communities. They have an understanding of how the breadth of society works, and most importantly, can converse easily with people from all walks of life. Simultaneously, they also benefit from many of the elements often valued in independent education: excellent facilities, pastoral care, and a range of extracurricular activities that promise a tailored, unique experience for each child, from music, sport, art, and drama to horse-riding and debating.

Boat Scene at SexysBut, what about the level of education? All state boarding schools follow the National Curriculum, and pupils take the same exams as they would in a state day school. Whilst the exams are the same, the performance typically exceeds that of many other state schools, with state boarding schools frequently featuring at the top of league tables. For example, Sexey’s achieved the best state school GCSE results in the South West this year. It was also listed as being in the Top 50 state schools across the country for their GCSE grades. The school’s A Levels this year were also strong: over 34 per cent achieving A*-A (versus 25.7 per cent nationally); and over 86 per cent reaching A*-C (versus 75 per cent nationally). A survey of parents by the State Boarding Forum found that over 80 per cent choose state boarding schools due to their high academic standard, and the opportunity for children to fulfil their potential.

Of course, boarding isn’t for everyone. If it is something you would consider for your child, there are 37 different state boarding schools around England – from selective to comprehensive, from co-educational to single-sex, from primary, secondary and sixth-form.

Parents usually find a school that meets their requirements, no matter how specific they are. For further information, please take a look at the State Boarding Forum website


Three at-home experiences for your budding scientist

As the nights draw in, try these fun, indoor, at-home STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) activities. These three simple experiments encourage curiosity using objects sitting around the house.


With Guy Fawkes around the corner, you can create your own spectacular display of colour without lighting a single sparkler!


  • Clean empty jam jar
  • Water
  • Bowl
  • Food colouring

Steaming HomeFill the jar with water. Measure out three to four tablespoons of oil (whatever is handy in the kitchen) into the bowl. Add drops of different food colouring to the oil and mix gently with a fork. Then, carefully pour the oil/food colouring mix into the jar of water. The food colouring slowly sinks out of the oil and dissolves in the water, creating a mini firework visual effect.

HOW IT WORKS The food colouring dissolves in water and not oil. As the oil is less dense than water; it floats to the top; while the droplets of food colouring sink to the bottom; dissolving and dispersing in the water on the way.

TOP TIP Food colouring will mix so don’t over-stir!


Any gummy bears sweets leftover from Halloween? Prepare to make them grow.


  • Glass or bowl
  • Water
  • Gummy Bear

Steaming HomePlace the gummy bear in a glass or bowl of water. Record what it looks like over time. Leave for four to ten hours. Has your gummy bear grown?

HOW IT WORKS The gummy bear absorbs water, a bit like a sponge, through osmosis. Osmosis is a process by which molecules (in this case water) move from an area of high concentration (the glass/bowl) to an area of low concentration (the gummy bear), causing the bear to swell. If you leave the bear long enough it will completely dissolve.


Building is always fun; try this nifty little engineering project without the risk of stepping on any blocks!


  • Three paper cups
  • Paper
  • 12 x 1p coins

Place two cups on a solid surface and set the sheet of paper on top to build a bridge. Place the third cup on the centre of the paper. Does it hold? Add coins one by one to the balanced cup. Count how many are needed until the “bridge” gives way. Now take a second sheet of paper and fold it so it resembles a concertina. Repeat the experiment with this piece of paper. How many coins can be added to the balancing cup until the bridge gives way? This is a fun challenge to do with friends. The concertina “trick” will always win. Check out the difference between many, smaller folds and fewer, larger folds.

HOW IT WORKS Everything exerts a force, including the cup. The cup exerts a downward force on the flat paper; as it gets heavier with coins, the paper gives way. Folding the paper spreads the force across more paper, allowing it to support more weight than a flat piece of paper. Larger, fewer folds work better than many, smaller folds to support the weight of the cup as it is filled with pennies. Try it and see!




Hiding Heidi by Fiona Woodcock (Simon & Schuster) Hiding Heidi
This gorgeous debut by picture book author and illustrator Fiona Woodcock weaves in a lovely theme of friendship and compromise. Young Heidi loves to play hide and seek and is the mistress of disguise much to the annoyance of her friends. So when she throws a party and decides on the usual party game, her pals search high and low but she’s so good at hiding they continue the party without her making Heidi realise that it’s time to include the games all her friends like to play.

Beautifully illustrated by Woodcock who has worked on animated films, commercials, and West End shows, her whimsical style still packs a punch whilst subtly celebrating the skills that all children possess.


Everybody Feels… Sad! by Moira Butterfield & Holly Sterling (QED Publishing) Everybody Feels... Sad
Great for tackling emotions, the Everybody Feels series explore different feelings children may be experiencing in an approachable and relatable way. In Everybody Feels…Sad! the book is divided into two separate stories told from the child’s point of view. One features a girl called Chloe who has lost her toy elephant and the other is about a young boy called Omar whose cat has to be put to sleep. Both stories look at why the characters are sad and how that sadness is resolved (Chloe’s pet is found, Omar gets two kittens), but it also gives brilliant practical advice for parents on how to work through sadness, whatever the situation. This includes tips on discussion points, using art and role-play to help facilitate their emotions. With warm illustrations that bring to life very real circumstances this is a must for helping children navigate the ups and downs in life.

The series also includes feeling scared, happy, and angry.

Nature’s Tiny Miracle: Bee by Britta Teckentrup (Little Tiger) Nature's Tiny Miracle: Bee
Another stunning book by the uber talented Britta Teckentrup. A joy to read on so many levels it charts the amazing work of the not so humble bee. With ever decreasing numbers, this book is a stark reminder of the vital work they do as we follow our bee from flower to flower. Teckentrup’s work is a visual delight and every page features a cut out where you can peep through and see our bee in action.

Coupled with her intricate collage work the tale is told through rhyme with the closing sentences summing the whole book up nicely: “As the bees fly on through buds and burrs, a tiny miracle occurs. For every plant and flower you see was given life by one small bee.”


Alpha, Bravo Charlie Alpha, Bravo Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes by Sara Gillingham (Phaidon)

Nonfiction topics are going through a much-needed resurgence and this visually arresting reference book takes the subject of nautical codes to a whole new level and brings them to life. Any child with a love of boats will find this hugely fascinating as it details the phonetic alphabet, morse code, flag meaning, semaphore facts about a variety of boats. I’m not sure how handy it would be knowing the ‘Keep clear of me: I am engaged in trawling’ flag will be on a day trip down the Thames, but there is plenty of flags which could be made on a rainy day to reenact any given circumstance.

One for geeky girls and boys who loves facts and hand signals.

The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison The Other Alice
Everyone can relate to writing a story and not finishing it – imagine if that story held the clues to a mystery. That’s the premise of this gripping drama written by the award-winning Michelle Harrison. When Alice goes missing, it’s down to her brother Midge to find her. But where to begin? When he discovers a novel she hadn’t completed, The Museum of Unfinished Tales, it’s down to him to uncover the clues and track her whereabouts. The problem is the villains in her tale have come to life and are loose in the town. Can Midge and his friends Gypsy and Piper (also characters from the story) find Alice before it’s too late?

This is a genuinely, page turning read. Harrison keeps the story moving on at a fast pace, there’s also enough intrigue and suspense by the bucket load. Plus, there’s enough magic realism to add another layer of interest. A cracking read.


Here I stand: Stories that Speak for Freedom Here I stand
For those young adults who are socially aware and politically-minded this collaboration between Amnesty International and Walker will be just the ticket. Written by twenty-five celebrated authors and illustrators including Neil Gaiman, Matt Haig, Sarah Crossan, Chris Riddell and Frances Hardinge, this collection of stories and poems keeps alive the debate around human rights.

Despite the fact that many rights and freedoms have been won, there’s still a long way to go and this book reminds of that fact. Told with a mix of humour, sadness and truth, they all have a powerful and poignant theme running through them as they explore topics such as execution, war and people who are marginalised in society. An truly thought-provoking read for teens and adults alike. All royalties go to Amnesty International and you can follow the debate on #hereIstand




Animals are Delicious
Aimed at the pre-school age Animals Are Delicious, illustrated by Dave Ladd and Stephanie Anderson (Phaidon), is a collection of beautiful fold-out board books that focus on three animal food chains – land, sea and air. With the premise that ‘Everyone is hungry’, we learn that all creatures are somebody’s lunch somewhere down the line.
Curious children everywhere will love these books as they’re illustrated in both colour and black and white, and give easy to remember facts about the plants and animals that inhabit the Earth.


Harold's Hungry Eyes
Harold’s Hungry Eyes by Kevin Waldron (Phaidon) is just a big win on so many levels. It tells the humorous tale of Harold, a Boston terrier (move over pugs) who spends his days dreaming about food and sleeping on his favourite chair.

Except one day his world is rocked with the rude awakening that his chair has gone missing, and when he sees it being taken by the refuse collectors, it leads to a mission to find it. He ends up getting lost in the city, which not only makes him miss home, but makes him hungry! Bicycle tyres become pretzels, doorsteps become wafers, lorries look like cheese and before long Harold is absolutely insatiable. All is not lost as he eventually finds his way home, and there’s a lovely surprise waiting for him…

This is the fourth picture book from Dublin-born artist Kevin Waldron who shares his studio with Oliver Jeffers and Jon Bergerman. Visually arresting with a zingy colour palate, this will firmly become a favourite. My only warning is I guarantee your audience will be hungry once hearing this story.

Goodnight Tiger
Goodnight Tiger by Timothy Knapman and Laura Hughes (Little Tiger) is an endearing story of a young girl called Emily who cannot get to sleep. Why? Because the jungle animals on her wallpaper keep waking her up. Now, that’s an excuse I’ve never heard before. Still, they’re making a racket because they, too, can’t get to sleep, so it’s Emily job to get them all back to the land of nod.
So as she encourages them to have a bath, hot chocolate and sings them lullabies she finds her efforts are fruitless until she reads them a bedtime story. A fun tale that reinforces the bedtime routine. A must for the little sleep thieves in your house.


The Bubble Boy
For those who enjoyed the hugely successful Wonder by R J Palacio, The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster (Simon & Schuster) is a natural choice. Joe is eleven years old and can’t remember a time when he wasn’t in hospital. He has a rare disorder called SCID and his life is spent living in a bubble. Even those who visit him carry the risk of contaminating him with life-threatening germs.

As depressing as this book sounds, it’s an absolutely cracking read. You’ll experience just about every emotion possible as we’re introduced to Joe’s world., which goes from being lived in his dreams, to dealing with extreme loneliness. With only his sister for family, he finds friendship in the form of Henry, who has the same condition but they’ve only Skyped because Henry lives in America, and his new nurse Amir who is a striking character.

Big Nate Blasts Off
Fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid will love Big Nate Blasts Off! by Lincoln Pierce, and as it’s had the seal of approval by Jeff Kinney himself that surely must mean it’s a hit. Big Nate has been around since the early nineties as it started off as a comic strip. Clearly Pierce has stuck true to his roots as there are illustrations on every page, meaning the jokes come thick and fast.

When Nate gets a job on the school newspaper it’s a chance to showcase his artistic skills, that is until he makes fun of Randy, the toughest kid in school and then of course it’s no laughing matter. With most of the action taking place in a school setting most older children will find the various scrapes that Nate gets into funny even if shamelessly American but don’t let that put you off, it’s an easy read with plenty of chuckles along the way.


Red Witch
Red Witch by Anna McKerrow (Quercus)
It’s 2047, and Devon and Cornwall have voluntarily split themselves off from the rest of the UK to form the ecopagan Greenworld, a peaceful and self-contained counterpoint to the dystopian Redworld, governed by private security and at war for the last scraps of fuel left in the world. However, all is not as harmonious as it might be in the Greenworld, and after cursing a boy and girl for murdering the boy she loved, 17 year old witch Demelza Hawthorne runs away across the border to the Redworld in search of a new life.
In once-magical Glastonbury, she meets the enigmatic and criminal Bran Crowley, who introduces her to the beauty and riches that the Redworld can offer to the right person; he’s looking for power, and Melz certainly has it. But will Melz be comfortable making a deal with the King of the Underworld?
Demelza is a fabulously feisty yet sensitive protagonist as we see especially from her journal entries. The story is packed full of rounded characters that leap off the page, as well as the vivid portrayal of dramatic Cornish scenery, and the powerful vision of a dystopian Glastonbury. This book has it all – adventure, romance and real world magic. Anna McKerrow is a rising star in the UK YA scene – an absolute must-read.

Rebel of the Sands
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (Faber) 12+
Amani lives in Dustwalk, a violent and corrupt wild west-esque desert town she’s desperate to leave. Yet the desert plains are full of danger, and the Sultan’s enemies are on the rise. Yet when Amani meets the mysterious Jin, she finds a way out of the oppressive and threatening Dustwalk, only to find that running away from trouble brings her into contact with some terrifying opponents – and magical new friends – in her search for the Rebel Prince.
Rebel of the Sands is an original and thrilling fantasy novel full of adventure, myth and magic. Amani is a fantastic heroine: brave, bold and witty. It’s a joy to immerse yourself in the fully developed world that Hamilton creates – a blend of the Wild West and Arabian Nights, with some killer comebacks and sharp dialogue between the sharpshooting, street-smart Amani and the hero and love interest Jin. The original mythology and legends woven into the world building are fascinating. It gives the story depth and authenticity, and the politics of Amani’s world are both familiar and foreign. Highly recommended.

Sharon Fried-Jones is a west London mum, who by day is the Head of Marketing and Digital for the charity BookTrust which inspires a love of reading in children, and by night is an aspiring children’s author with a love of clashing clothes, picture books who longs for a good night’s sleep.


Richer education

If your child is curious about science, or in fact, if they find their school classes a touch dull, then why not seek out a place where they can get involved in real life experiments. Every Saturday, Richer Education runs workshops in science, robotics and civil engineering, taking their learning to the next level.

Courses take place at Imperial College and each workshop is designed to inspire and motivate primary aged children into learning about science in a hands-on, practical way. A typical science workshop might be anything from dissecting a real heart, turning wine into water, to literally holding fire in their hands. In robotics, children can learn to write code, build a robot with robotic arms, that can grasp objects and how to synchronize multiple robots to make them dance. In Civil Engineering, children learn to find solutions to real life engineering challenges, in a child friendly way.

Science Saturday workshops are 9.30 – 11.30, whilst Robotic Saturday workshops run from 12-2pm, and Civil Engineering classes are at 2-4pm. All classes take place at Imperial College.

For more information go to



Eight year old Max realised his dream of becoming an estate agent, as he officially opened Hamptons International’s latest branch at KidZania London.

He was invited to open the branch and became its first ‘Junior Estate Agent’ after sending the company a letter asking what qualifications and skills he needed to enter the profession saying “I really want to do this job when I grow up”.

He was invited to cut the red tape alongside KidZania London’s mayor, and went on to make his first sale within the concession.

KidZania London is the UK’s first educational entertainment experience which aims to offer real-life work experiences for 4-14 year olds. You have to see it to believe it. Hamptons International is just one of several global brands including British Airways, Renault, H&M and Cadbury’s which gives children an insight into how their industry works.

hamptonsbranch Hamptons International Opens Branch at KidZania London (8) 150116


Schools – is there a more hotly discussed topic amongst parents? We don’t think so.
Rebekah Hall sat down with Toby Young, Catriona Sutherland-Hawes and Tony Ryan to determine whether the fear and paranoia perpetuated by some parents is justified.

The Great Schools Debate

We’ve all heard the stories and some of us have seen them in action. Stand-up fights between mothers outside school gates over waiting lists; lying about tutoring and keeping those tutors names a well-guarded secret. This inevitably creates stress and apprehension… creating tension and paranoia. It’s little wonder that some families move away from the West London bubble.

However, even out of town, you can’t escape the facts. There is pressure on school places as pupil numbers grow. Data from the Department for Education (DfE) predicts an extra 900,000 children in English schools over the next 10 years, and statistics from the Local Government Association report that this will cost £12 billion. Private school fees have trebled since 1990 to £286,000 per child over 14 years of day school according to The Killik & Co Private Education Index. So yes, parents do have reason to worry. Maybe that’s why it is impossible to avoid those draining school discussions, especially in West London.


A six-year-old has a creative writing tutor, maths tutor and must do 100 sums before he is allowed to play. A father is angry with the head teacher because his son failed to get into Oxford, despite his son’s average marks. Urban myths or a reflection of the competition for places at West London private schools?

As registrar for the past nine years at Latymer Upper School, Catriona Sutherland-Hawes says she often sees a lot of worry revolving around a parent’s desire for their child to attend a specific school. Unfortunately, she admits to seeing trophy hunting, with some parents unable to bear the thought of their child… failing. “The difficulty comes when parents think the best place is actually the wrong place; aspirational parents don’t always accept that,” says Sutherland-Hawes.

In these competitive times, what is her advice for parents? “I genuinely think there is a right school for everyone and there is a lot of choice. Parents are not always willing to accept that what they might think is the best place is not somewhere that will suit their child.”


While state schools continue to improve, (and private schools up their fees) they are included in the discussion too. Parents worry about catchment areas and consider moving house to within metres of their preferred school. League tables play their part as competition across the board increases.

As Chiswick School achieves better results, head teacher Tony Ryan says he’s seen more anxiety from parents due to the current entry waiting list. “Parents are now concerned about … the possibility that they might be just outside the catchment area,” says Ryan. “For some parents in certain geographical areas, there is huge anxiety because we are their first choice.”

To help alleviate some of the pressure, Chiswick School increased its intake from 215 to 240 pupils. While this means increased class sizes, Ryan is confident the school can manage without impacting the classroom. “We have a … moral purpose to try and provide a place for as many local parents who want it,” says Ryan.

During exam time, Ryan sees more parents at his door and receives many more phone calls. His advice for parents is to stay informed
throughout their child’s schooling. “The more information you give parents, the less anxious they are likely to be with [their child’s] results,” Ryan says.

Toby Young, CEO of the West London Free School Academy Trust, says parental anxiety in primary school is a combination of things.

“Parents with pre-school children are concerned that their children won’t get a primary place due to the national shortage, or concerned that their child won’t get a place at their first or second choice of primary,” says Young.

If you’re in the first situation, he suggests moving, going private, or urging the local schools to expand or start a free school. If in the second group, then Young says to “send your child to your third, fourth or fifth choice of school and supplement what they’re learning at home.” To supplement learning at home, he naturally points to his book What Every Parent Needs to Know.


Tutoring. Perhaps the hottest topic of all. To alleviate worry and keep up with the Joneses, parents often turn to tutoring to help ensure
entrance into a top school or to achieve better test results. Analysis entitled Extra-curricular Inequalities [2014] by The Sutton Trust and Ipsos MORI states that, of 2,800 11 to 16 year-olds, 23 per cent of young people nationally and 37 per cent in London, say they received private or home tuition. The national figure was 18 per cent in 2005 and 24 per cent in 2013.

But what we all want to know is, are tutored kids better off?

Sutherland-Hawes knows tutoring is rife, and has become an industry. “If you need to be tutored to get into a school, then it’s not the
right school,” she says, adding that Latymer is only interested in a child’s natural ability on entrance exams. “If you are not at the right academic level for that school … you will then struggle. Three years ago, we stopped doing verbal and non-verbal reasoning, as it was being over-tutored. It wasn’t giving us an idea of the child’s natural potential.“

However, she does believe some exam preparation is a good idea, but warns not to the point of memorising an entirely irrelevant story for the English exam. She tells of one particular year when children from the same prep school wrote the same answers in the English section. However, the answer had no bearing on the actual question, and their tests were marked down. In another instance it was obvious that many children in one postcode had had the same tutor. “Exam preparation is different,” she says. “I fully support sitting down, doing exam papers to time, and getting used to that technique … Being tutored adds artificial intelligence; preparing for the exam is being aware of what is coming and having your timings right.”

Young suggests that the decision to tutor or not depends on where a child falls on the ability spectrum and parents’ ambition for their child. “Children with exceptional ability are going to do well in public exams … without any need for private tutors,” Young says. Those children most likely to benefit [from tutoring] are those on the pass/fail border.”

At Chiswick School, tutoring seems to be used as it was originally intended. Ryan says he rarely meets a situation where a child is being over tutored. At his school, tutoring is used instead as a healthy top-up. Outside of school Ryan doesn’t believe that a tutor should be a requirement for any parent, but if used, should complement what is being taught in the classroom. However, the school does bring in tutors to help give students more individual attention. “We employ tutors [to] work with small groups,” he says. “A tutor [will] come in and diagnose where [students] are and work with them … before we put them back into lessons.”


We can all agree to some basic ground rules, like do your research, read Ofsted reports, visit every school, meet with heads, ask tough questions and listen carefully to the response. Walking into a school, every parent should have an instinct as to whether the school is the right fit for their child, and this is far more more important than simply accepting a school as being a “top” school. Schools should also be a good fit with a family’s educational values because, frankly, you will be attending that school too.

When asked for some golden rules, Sutherland-Hawes provides sound advice. At the top of her list is for parents to listen to head teachers because they have special knowledge of a child’s abilities. Also, she says, at secondary level ask your child what they think because it’s just as much up to them. “Ask yourself, will my child be happy here? Don’t be over aspirational. Be sensible about your choice,” Sutherland-Hawes says. “Keep [children] calm.”

Young’s advice is two-fold. He feels that children likely to benefit the most from going to a good independent school are those from very disadvantaged backgrounds who have high IQs. “If any parent reading this thinks their child falls into that category, they should find out what the eligibility criteria is for full bursaries”. He adds that, unless your child is one of a handful who would really benefit from going to an independent school, send your child to the local state school. “Take the money you would otherwise have spent and put it in a savings account. You can then use that nest egg to help them buy a flat when they leave home. That flat represents far better value for money than a private education,” says Young.

Ryan says he works closely with parents. “We constantly check the progress of students at school, and we [bring] that back to parents,” says Ryan. “You want them to go to a school you trust, where they can get the right education, the right mould. It’s not just the exams you are buying into. You’re buying into a much bigger deal.”

Still need a last word of advice?

“Don’t listen to anybody,” says Sutherland-Hawes. “It’s about your child. Trust your own instincts and judgements; there is a right place for every child.”

And by the way, she occasionally reads Mumsnet. You’ve been warned!