Private schools should adopt a Ucas-style application system to stop children being left with nowhere to go in September, a leading headmaster has said.
Under the current set-up, eleven-year-old pupils are forced by pushy parents to sit endless entrance exams, according to Stephen Lehec, head of the £18,000-a-year Kingston Grammar School.
If independent schools adopted a similar approach to the university application system, he argued, this would mean children can sit just one exam for all schools, and allow parents to prioritise their choices.
He said that at the moment, the whole rigmarole of getting a school place at a highly competitive school is a “gamble”, as schools can make more offers than they have places for, only to withdraw some at a later date, leaving parents and children disappointed.
“As schools cannot forecast with any degree of certainty how many children will start in September, because parents can make any number of applications and even accept multiple offers, they always make more offers than there are places,” Mr Lehec told The Telegraph.
“If, as the admissions deadline approaches, schools realise they do not have the capacity to make good on those offers they may start to withdraw them. In effect, that means schools may be forced to operate on a ‘first-come-first-serve’ basis even before the admissions deadline is reached.”
He explained how parents who thought they had a guaranteed place for their child, can suddenly have it taken away from them, “So naturally, they are furious – who wouldn’t be?” Mr Lehec said.
Last month an independent girls’ school was criticised by parents for its ‘first come first serve’ offer system. The 17,000-a-year City of London School for Girls (CLGS) sent letters offering more youngsters places than it actually had.
Those who failed to accept their place swiftly were surprised to learn that the place no longer existed despite it saying the deadline was March 6.
“We can all understand why schools over offer – because they have no idea who actually wants to accept that offer and attend their school, but we equally have to understand why they may be tempted to renege on that offer,” Mr Lehec said.
He said that an independent, centralised admission system for all independent schools would “stamp out the worst abuses” by schools, and offer more certainty for parents.
It would also benefit children, as they would not have to go through the stress of sitting a dozen different exams.
“It can’t be good for a child’s wellbeing to have to sit eight or ten entry tests and dragged around eight or ten schools,” he said. “It would be a lot less stressful for them if applications were limited to four or five schools.”
Out of over 1,300 private schools in the UK, 190 use the Common Entrance exam either at age 11 or age 13, but the vast majority of schools set their own bespoke tests.
Mr Lehec admitted that the idea of a centralised application system for private schools may not be popular with some of his colleagues as it may be seen as running counter to the ethos of independence.
“Yes, it will cost schools money to set up,” Mr Lehec said, “but they will save money on marketing, save an awful lot of time on guesswork and remove a significant amount of stress for the parents and more importantly for the children involved.”
A spokesperson for CLSG said: “The school operates a transparent admissions process which is clearly explained in our documentation. We are fortunate to be a very oversubscribed school operating from a relatively small site.”