Wicked Smart

Spotlight on schools: The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School

spotlight on schoolsjudith aitken

Wicked Smart are dedicated to understanding the ins and outs of the top prep schools in London, and every week we will be shining the spotlight on a different prep school. Our focus is to zone in on the 7+ procedure and to shed some much-needed light on what parents and children should expect. This week,it’s the turn of The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School!

habs boys.png

The basics


Butterfly Lane, Elstree WD6 3AF, United Kingdom

Headteacher: Gus Lock

Pupil role: 1095 (boys only)

Termly fees: £6782

Ages: 5 – 18

Website: https://www.habsboys.org.uk/

What’s good about it?

Awarded the coveted title of ‘Independent school of the year’ by the Sunday Times in 2017, it’s no surprise that this day school for boys is a popular choice among London parents, despite not being located in the heart of the city.

With notable alumni including Sacha Baren Cohen and Matt Lucas, it’s understandable that the previous headmaster labelled students at the school as being ‘slightly quirky, unusual boys.’

With more than 35% of students moving on to an Oxbridge education, this school is one of the top prep schools in the country. Although there is undeniably a pressure for boys to achieve academically, the pastoral care provision in the school is deemed to be excellent. The boys will often meet up with Habs girls, and there are many extracurricular activities available. The school has a strong reputation for debating and they also offer a combined cadet force. It’s worth noting that participation in sports is necessary, but boys have a variety of choice ranging from cricket, rugby, fencing and squash to name but a few. Boys are also offered the chance to play a musical instrument of their choice – free of charge – for a year.

What does the 7+ exam look like at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boy’s School?

7+ entrance exams are held every January, with around 120 boys applying each year. The school does provide some degree of transparency about the content of the exam by providing sample papers on their website: https://www.habsboys.org.uk/7PlusAdmissions

At Wicked Smart, we have found the questions within the Habs Maths papers to be the most academically challenging we’ve seen. Emphasis is given to problem solving, and often answers require multi-step working out.  As well as Maths, papers in English, Grammar and Reasoning are also given.

In 7+ writing papers, it is common for children to be given a choice of titles to write about, but we have often seen Habs papers giving children one choice – a continuation of the comprehension text they have just read.

Of the 120 boys that apply, 48 are invited back for the interview stage of the selection process. This involves a meeting with the headteacher and the deputy head as well as the child’s parents. It is not unusual during this meeting for families to be asked if they have sought the help of a tutor.

After the interview, boys will be invited to participate in Year 2 Maths, English and sports lessons. Not only is this a good opportunity for boys to find out more about the school, it allows teachers to assess how prospective students interact with their peers.

In a nutshell…

There is no getting away from the fact that the competition for Habs is fierce. The good news however is that multiple entry points are available for boys. Should your child simply not be ready at 7+, the options of 11+ and 13+ are available. Also giving parents peace of mind is the common view that once a child has secured place in the prep school, they are almost guaranteed a place in the senior school.

It is clear that Habs offer exceptional facilities and a range of extracurricular activities that will allow boys not only an excellent academic education, but the chance to explore sports, music and the arts as well.

Spotlight on schools: City of London School for Girls

7+, spotlight on schoolsjudith aitken
city of london school for girls.jpg

Wicked Smart are dedicated to understanding the ins and outs of the top prep schools in London, and every week we will be shining the spotlight on a different prep school. Our focus is to zone in on the 7+ procedure, to shed some much-needed light on what parents and children should expect. This week it’s the turn of City of London School for Girls!

The basics



London, EC2

United Kingdom

Headteacher: Ena Harrop

Pupil role: 707 (girls only)

Termly fees: £5727

Ages: 7 – 18

Website: https://www.clsg.org.uk

 What’s good about it?

Arguably the leading school for girls in the UK, City is a highly competitive school that delivers a rigorous academic programme. The school is often considered to be more diverse than other leading London prep schools as the student body is formed of a wide mix of ethnicities and cultures.

Alumni of City of London School for Girls often end up in Oxbridge or Ivy schools, and carry with them a true sense of self, determination and a ‘can do’ attitude. Resilience is key for City girls, and they are surrounded by like minded teachers, who also have impressive academic records.

Although the school is notorious for its packed academic curriculum, extracurricular activities are strongly encouraged and there’s an impressive range of sports facilities for girls to enjoy both at lunch time and after school. Despite being an inner-city school, City of London School for Girls boasts its own swimming pool, tennis court, indoor gym and climbing wall to name but a few.


What does the 7+ exam look like at City of London School for Girls?

Of the hundreds that apply, 24 girls are welcomed each year, making the 7+ entry procedure at City fiercely competitive. The initial assessment day is held in November - rather than most other schools who assess in January - where 50 girls complete papers in English and Maths. Reading and story writing abilities are assessed in the English paper and the school is looking for evidence of accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar.

 City are aware of the impact that age has on the ability to perform academically, which is why tests are age standardised. Exam papers are completed in small groups to make prospective students feel more relaxed and comfortable and the school is very vocal in its instance that prospective students should not receive tuition in the run up to the big day. They are looking for independent thinkers, girls who have integrity and a unique personality. Teachers at City believe that it is very evident on exam day which girls have been overworked prior to the exam, and they stress the importance of girls coming to the assessment day feeling fresh.

That being said, the content of the exam is challenging, and only those who show high levels of academic ability are likely to be awarded a place at the school.

If successful in the written examinations, girls will be invited back to the school to complete practical assessments in a classroom, where teachers are looking for girls who are able to interact with their peers as well as show an inquisitive nature. After participating in activities in English, Maths and DT, girls attend an informal interview which lasts for around 20 minutes. Again, this is a chance for the staff members at City to get to know your child, as well as an opportunity for girls to ask any questions that they may have about life at the school.


In a nutshell…

More than 10 girls apply for 1 place in the City 7+ entrance exams, and despite insisting that no tuition is necessary to pass the exam process, there is no denying the fact that the schools are looking for the crème de la crème. Educators and parents both share the same goal in that they want what is truly best for the individual child. City even say themselves in the school handbook that they are keen to develop happy, independent girls who come to school looking and feeling energised, rather than tired and demotivated from being overworked. It would be unfair to advise those who favour the ‘slow and steady’ approach that City is the school for them, as the pace is fast and the curriculum is demanding. If, however your child is a true high flyer who tends to just ‘get it’, then this school may very well be the one for them.

Top 10 strategies for helping your child to spell

7+, English advicejudith aitken

Helping your child to become a super speller is no mean feat for teachers and families. At times it can seem like that ‘lightbulb’ moment is never going to happen, and too often spelling practice can become a laborious task.

To save your sanity (we’re talking to children as well as parents and educators here!), we’ve collated a list of our favourite suggestions for turning spelling revision into F-U-N! These short, sharp tasks - aimed at KS1 children - can be shoe horned into the daily routine, and with any luck your children will develop their spelling skills as well as having a good old time!

In true ‘Top of the Pops"‘ style (shout out to those who appreciate the reference), here are our top 10 suggestions for creating super spellers!

10. ‘Code words’ poster

To the naked eye, it may look like merely a laminated sheet of paper, but oh no. This poster is so much more. Encourage your child to channel their inner Jason Bourne by use their spelling words as secret codes to enter and exit the classroom or house. Dictate one of their spelling words and ask your child to both orally spell the word and write it down on the poster. Successful spellers will be granted entry. (Disclaimer: we are not suggesting that children are banished from said classroom/house forever if their spy spelling skills aren’t yet up to scratch).

9. Read all about it!


When learning the first 100 high frequency words, encourage your child to become a detective and ‘hunt’ for the words in newspapers and magazines. Providing a magnifying glass helps to give this activity that little edge, not to mention the fact that it is an essential piece of detective kit. Time your child as well, how quickly are they able to find a list of 10 words? No pressure, kids! For a nosy at the full list of high frequency words, follow this link: http://www.highfrequencywords.org/first-100-high-frequency-word-lists.html

8. Buzz off!

fly swatter.jpg

You know that time is tight when the fly swatter comes out! If you only have a spare 5 minutes to work on spelling, jot down your child’s spelling words on post it notes and spread them across the table. Your child needs to ‘swat’ the word that you shout out, then challenge themselves by turning the post it over and either spelling the word aloud or writing it down.

7. Make it sensory.


There are so many ideas online about how to make spelling a sensory experience. From writing in shaving foam, to making words from playdough, using the senses really does help to ingrain spelling patterns in children’s minds. Our new favourite idea involves paint and a zip lock bag. Squeeze a small amount of paint into the bag, zip, and voila! Your child has an instantly erasable surface to work on their weekly spellings.

6. Mnemonics (funnily enough, not an easy word it itself to spell)


We challenge you to find a classroom where the word ‘because’ isn’t spelt using a variant of this mnemonic. Creating a silly mnemonic on the school run can really help to jog children’s memory of how to spell a word. What’s more, by creating their own mnemonics, children are using their imagination and are receiving a well earned rest from endless rote learning strategies. It is also a proven strategy for those who find reading difficult or for children with dyslexia.

5. Repetition

Sometimes there is just no getting away from the fact that some words just need to be learnt off by heart. Good old fashioned repetition needs to be relied on here, but there are ways of making this an exciting spelling strategy. Try playing the game ‘ZAP!’ Create multiple flashcards of the words that your child is finding tricky, and also create some flashcards that simply say ‘ZAP!’. Place them in a container, give them a good shake and take it in turns to choose a card. If your child pulls out a spelling word, they need to turn the card over and spell it aloud. If successful, they can keep the card. The game continues in this fashion until a ‘ZAP’ card is drawn. When this happens, all cards are put back in the container and the game starts again.

We have created our very own spelling games pack with this game included. Our version of ‘ZAP’ links directly to the National Curriculum Year 3 and 4 statutory spelling list https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/239784/English_Appendix_1_-_Spelling.pdf which is regularly used in 7+ and 8+ assessments. Purchase your instantly downloadable spelling pack today via our website : https://www.wicked-smart.co.uk/new-products/7-spelling-pack


 4. Chunk it up

When learning to read and write, the very first thing children are taught is to recognise phonemes - what sounds different letters make. Try utilising this strategy when helping your child to spell. To jazz it up a little, write the tricky words on A3 paper then physically cut them into chunks e.g. SH, O, P

If your child is a fan of the outdoors, use giant chalk to write the word on the ground and draw lines between the letters to show how it can be segmented. Another idea is to use lego blocks with sounds written on the front, where children can literally build the word chunk by chunk. Also a favourite for the livelier breed of children is to use hoola hoops, where children jump into the hoops to spell the word, shouting out the sounds each time. Segmenting sounds then blending them together is the foundation of all literacy, so it might help your child to go back to basics and give this strategy a whirl!

3. Highlight it

Unfortunately we’re not talking about honey golden streaks and a blow dry here, instead we’re thinking more along the lines of spelling patterns. It’s best to tackle spelling by looking at one pattern or rule at a time. For example, one week you may be revising words containing ‘ay’ or ‘o_e’. Write down a list of words and give your child a set amount of time to find and highlight words containing the same pattern. Up the ante by writing out the words, but leaving spaces where the sound should be. Can you child crack the code and recognise which sound is missing?

2. Rely on the iPad

Too often parents are made to feel guilty for allowing their child ‘screen time’. We say go for it! There are so many fantastic educational apps available now, and many of them focus on the development of spelling. Our favourites at the moment are:

  1. Make it purposeful

    An obvious one to finish with, but potentially the most important thing to consider when working on spelling with your child. Like anything, if the task you are working on has a genuine purpose, it increases the likelihood of becoming intrinsically motivated, and this strategy allows children to see how spelling is used in our everyday lives. To make spelling practice purposeful, there may need to be some slight ‘engineering’ on the parents’ side - little white lies if you will! For example, show your child the shopping list you made (littered with spelling mistakes) and see if they can help you fix the multiple errors.

    Other ideas including writing for an audience, where children begin to realise that in order for information to be understood, it needs to be spelt correctly - perhaps a weekly menu of what’s for dinner, a poster of house rules or writing letters or emails to family members.

    We love ‘Kidblog’, where children are able to create their own blog, and what’s even better is that teachers have access to the blogs and are able to safely share the accounts with other students and schools.

    Spelling workbooks do have their place, but opening your children’s eyes to the fact that spelling is a ‘real life’ thing, and not just a boring classroom exercise is perhaps the most important lesson we can teach.


As ever, we would love to hear of the spelling strategies that you find most successful with your children and pupils! Please get in touch to share your ideas by commenting below or emailing us at Judith@wicked-smart.co.uk

Happy spelling!

How Disney can help with 7+ comprehension

judith aitken

Here at Wicked Smart we are partial to a little tv time after school (with or without a G&T in hand!) and we recently watched an incredible documentary called “Life, Animated” which showcased the life of a young man called Owen Suskind. Owen has autism and when he was a child he lost the ability to communicate with others. Incredibly, he used Disney films to regain his communication skills and as he grew older, he continued to use Disney movies to teach him  valuable life lessons. In his secondary school, he even set up his own Disney club to explore the moral issues and messages of particular scenes. The film made us laugh and cry in equal measures and opened our eyes to the ways in which the obsessions of children with autism can be harnessed to help them achieve their full potential.

In schools and during tuition lessons, we often see children’s faces fall when they word ‘comprehension’ is mentioned, so we have been inspired by Owen to create our own Disney themed resource to help make comprehension more engaging. Ideal for 7+ prep, our resource asks children to investigate the scenes of some well known films, making inferences about what they can see or what they already know.

Using Disney films in learning really allows for children to understand the thoughts and feelings of characters with ease due to their exaggerated expressions and gestures, making it ideal for children of entrance exam age.

This resource doesn’t require children to analyse a chunky piece of text, making it ideal for those who are embarking on their 7+ journey.

To enjoy our fabulous freebie, just click on the following link! : using-disney-to-teach-comprehension

Thank you Owen for giving us a unique insight into autism and also for giving us new ideas on how to “unlock” the potential in all of our students.

Spotlight on schools: Wetherby Preparatory school

judith aitken

Wicked Smart are dedicated to understanding the ins and outs of the top prep schools in London, and every week we will be shining the spotlight on a different prep school. Our main focus is to zone in on the 7+ procedure, to shed some much needed light on what parents and children should expect. This week it’s the turn of Wetherby Preparatory School!

The basics

Address: Bryanston Square, London W1H 2EA

Headteacher: Nick Baker

Pupil role: 352 (Boys only)

Termly fees: £7220

Ages: 7 - 18

Website: https://www.wetherbyprep.co.uk

What’s good about it?

Wetherby Prep school is often considered to be the number 1 prep school in the country. It could be said that Princess Diana put this school on the map, choosing for both Prince William and Harry to attend the Notting Hill establishment. Many other notable alumni have attended Wetherby and it was awarded the ‘best prep school’ title by Tatler in 2012.

We believe however that this school rightly deserves its notoriety due to the standard of education delivered, as opposed to the glitz and glamour seen at the school gates! Wetherby prides itself on being a small community school, where siblings receive priority on entry (a word of warning - do not expect this at all schools!).

The curriculum is well rounded, where a more holistic approach is taken to learning as opposed to the more traditional methods of other prep schools. Academic rigour is valued, but sports and extra curricular activities are also strongly encouraged to develop a well rounded student.

Classrooms aren’t silent and stuffy, instead children are encouraged to question, debate and explore various ideas and opinions. The teachers at Wetherby are committed to ensuring that all students are confident and happy individuals.

What does the 7+ exam look like at Wetherby?

It’s not a surprise to hear that the 7+ exam procedure at Wetherby is a more relaxed affair than at other schools. Although the school itself is not forthcoming with exactly what will be assessed, parents are made aware that teachers are looking for children who have potential both academically and socially, and it is one of the few schools that does seem to keep their promise on this.

Once registered, prospective students are invited to attend an assessment day in January, where they will be asked to complete English and Maths papers. Social skills are also closely observed during group exercises, but care is taken to ensure that there isn’t an air of competition amongst the boys. If successful, families will receive a letter a few weeks after the assessment day. Each year, 20 boys will be welcomed into Wetherby to begin Year 3.

There is a pre-prep school at Wetherby, and any boys in attendance here will automatically feed into the Junior school if they wish.

In a nutshell…

Wetherby is refreshing in the sense that it is not looking for the uber intelligent child geniuses of the world - they understand that they are dealing with children who are only just beginning their educational journey. Wetherby’s values focus on manners, respect, courtesy and the development of children’s abilities both inside and outside of the classroom.

15 'wins' that only educators will truly understand

judith aitken

Let the victory dance commence!

The teaching profession is a stressful one, with more paperwork than you can shake a stick at (although that stick is useful in batting off brand new initiatives that are thrown our way on a seemingly daily basis).


Let’s all take a minute to think about the joys of teaching. Of course, seeing children blossom before our very eyes is simply wonderful, but these 15 teacher victories help us remember that it really is the little things that count. When even one of the following  events happens during our day, celebratory dances can be seen in the corridors and Teacher-Teaching Assistant fist pumps are absolutely necessary.

  1. The moment when you realise that everyone, yes everyone has put their name on their paper.

2. When after a search similar to a police raid, the pen lid...is...found.


3. After a long hard day of teaching, your two little helpers return with the packed lunch boxes and none of them are leaking some foreign, sticky liquid.


4. After a wet playtime, one of your children (who you now think is a real life angel) has cleaned your whiteboards and organised your dusters.


5. The special moment when you – the chosen one – are given first dibs on backing paper and border rolls.


6. When it’s someone’s birthday and you can’t see the staffroom table for cakes.


7. Running dangerously close to home time with an inconsolable child clinging to your legs and you find their missing tooth. Bring it Tooth Fairy!


8. Those moments where you get to enjoy a full mug of tea, while it's still warm, from start to finish.


9. The feeling you get when you finish the final head count on a school trip and everyone is present and correct.


10. Finally, the topic/skill you have been teaching for months on end “goes in” and your children say “ohhhh….now I get it”.


11. That look you give your best friend when you find out that they will be your stage partner next year.


12. The moment you discover that office staff have replenished the stationary cupboard.


13. Usually, a piece of birthday cake brought in from home, soggy and wrapped in kitchen roll is a no no. However, when your children bring in sealed, shop bought baked goods…..


14. When the music department ask if it's 'ok' to have an additional singing assembly with your class, and hope that you're not offended that this time round, your presence isn't required.


15. End of term. ‘Nuff said.


Our review of the BBCs ‘Grammar schools – who will get in?’

judith aitken

The 11+ exam is, and always has been, a contentious issue. The current BBC documentary investigates both grammar schools and comprehensive schools, highlighting the highs and lows of the examination process. Recurring themes are woven through each episode, and we have decided to have a closer look at the key issues that appear to be surrounding such an important stage in a child’s education. Perhaps most fundamental of all however, is the question of whether or not the wellbeing and happiness of our children is truly at the heart of the selection procedure

Family life

The programme follows families from varying socio-economic backgrounds, some of whom have dedicated their lives to ensuring that their child succeeds in the 11+ exam, even working additional hours to finance private tuition. Other families show a more relaxed attitude to the 11+ exam, consistently telling their children that trying their best is all they as parents can ask for. It was hard to ignore that for those parents who viewed the 11+ exam as some kind of gateway to lifelong success, their children appeared to carry an immense amount of pressure, believing that if they didn’t ‘get in’, then they would be a failure not just of the exam, but a failure in life. It makes for extremely tough viewing to watch children from such an early age develop real anxieties about their future education, and it can only be assumed that these negative attitudes will last far longer than the time it takes to sit the 11+ exam. Surely it is no coincidence that parents who didn’t pay as much significance to the exam had children who were similarly less concerned. Listening to the teachers speak on camera, it certainly seemed that they too felt that all children were capable of achieving great things, regardless of whether they ‘got in’ or not. 


Delving deeper into the effect that the 11+ exam is having on the mental wellbeing of children, it was interesting to see that these feelings only deepened for some pupils who went on to study at a grammar school. When children are surrounded by the ‘cream of the crop’, it is easy for them to lose sight of what an ‘average’ student is, and they were at times seen to be in tears when discussing their grades. One girl even refused to go home when she was unwell, as she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to catch up on her studies.

On the flip side, the comprehensive school that was being followed in the series clearly had a high number of children with additional support needs, whose behaviour was negatively impacting their peers. The support system that was in place for these children should be credited, with many full-time staff solely responsible for improving behaviour. What the cameras didn’t show however was the real effect that this is having on the conscientious, studious pupils who are trying their best to learn. Would a grammar school with limited class sizes and few real behaviour management issues be a more suitable setting for these children?

Talent spotting

The headteacher of the grammar school stated that the 11+ exam was grammar schools way of ‘talent spotting’ – an idea which doesn’t seem fitting when describing primary school children who haven’t developed fully in their academic lives. Although a smorgasbord of qualifications offers far more opportunities for our children, it’s hard to ignore that many of us will know highly successful individuals who left school without a single qualification to their name. What we are getting at here is that the 11+ exam appears to only hone in on children’s academic skills, rather than children as a whole. Social skills, team work and resilience are surely key indicators of potential, not forgetting that for many children ‘the penny may not drop’ in terms of their studies until much later than aged 11.


The crux of the matter is this; is the 11+ selection process offering equality for our children? Although the grammar school in the documentary has a high percentage of ethnic minority students and those from working class backgrounds, the idea of a grammar school still segregates those who ‘made it’ and those who didn’t. So, what are the successful candidates being offered that others aren’t? Smaller class sizes and better grades are almost a given, but the accolade of attending a grammar school may be enough in itself. Being selected alone can boost children’s self-confidence, leaving those who were unsuccessful feeling rejected and less likely to achieve. The equality issue naturally spreads to parents, where many have argued that those who are able to afford extra tuition will be giving their child a better chance of attending a grammar school. Does this leave parents feeling like they haven’t provided the best for their child if additional tuition wasn’t feasible?

There is no doubt that both comprehensive schools and grammar schools want the best for our children, both striving to help pupils reach their fullest potential. The issue of how children end up in their secondary school however seems to be the problem. A selection procedure at 11 years old not only creates a divide between those that ‘got in’ and those who didn’t, but issues of anxiety, well being and stress are thrown into the mix.

We believe that the most powerful weapon in protecting our children from all these pitfalls is the family unit. The secret to real success may be a supportive environment where children are encouraged not pressured, praised not berated and celebrated for their successes rather than commiserated for their shortcomings.

Banishing 7+ myths: the truth about school entrance exams

judith aitken

The 7+ exam is an elusive creature, where we can only find out what has been assessed through our children’s accounts. This interesting conversation can result in many misconceptions about the exam, so we are here to iron out the wrinkles. We’ve listed the top 5 myths that make the rounds each year on the run up to the exams; some of which are complete hearsay and others which you should take heed of!

1. You need 100% to pass the 7+ exam

Our verdict: Not entirely untrue

Many prep schools will insist that successful children are not those who simply achieve perfect scores in the exam papers. Children are also assessed on their social skills, interview performance and a solid school reference. As much as this is true, we must face the fact that the 7+ exam is becoming increasingly popular, meaning that schools can afford to be fussy and select the cream of the crop. If a few hundred children are battling for 24 spaces, it is sadly the case that those who don’t perform as well during the English and Maths papers will be much less likely to be accepted.

2. Children are removed from exams if they have a tutor

Our verdict: Be careful

Over the past few years, word on the street has been that before children sit the 7+ exam, they are asked to raise their hand if they have a tutor. Rumour has it that some schools even single out well-known tutors in the area and remove children from their exams if they admit to the fact that they have received tuition from the said individual. We have a feeling that removal from exams is a bit of an urban myth, however it is true that schools are wary of tutors and often explicitly advise against tuition. Schools can sense a perfectly prepared interview question a mile off, likewise they can tell from an initial glance if a story has been regurgitated from hours of extra tuition. Tuition should be little and often, otherwise it may seriously affect your child’s chances of achieving exam success.

3. All prep schools offer a sibling policy

Our verdict: Myth

Do not bank on your child attending the same school as their sibling. Unfortunately, with the top prep schools becoming vastly oversubscribed, many do not offer a sibling policy. It is sadly the case each year that schools reject as many siblings as they accept – each successful child is instead accepted due to their own personal performance. It’s well worth checking which schools offer a sibling policy, as it may make life much easier in the future! Notable schools that do adopt a family style approach are Wetherby Prep, Fulham Prep School and Bute House.

4. Over 50% of the Maths exam consists of problem solving questions

Our verdict: True

The Maths exam is designed to assess children’s knowledge and understanding of the entirety of the Year 2 curriculum, but it’s also used as a tool to see who has the ability to think outside of the box. Maths papers can often consist mainly of multi-step word problems, where children need to be able to think logically and show resilience. Incorporating problem solving questions into an exam also helps to make the entire process ‘tutor proof’ – something which schools are extremely keen to do. Papers that follow a similar format year after year are being overhauled – Latymer Prep have actually scrapped their reasoning tests as they believed they were more of a reflection on how much tuition a child has had.

The world of entrance exams is often very ‘hush hush’, making it difficult for prospective parents to get a true sense of what to expect. The rumour mill kicks into gear each year regarding what schools are looking for, what will be assessed, and which children will get in, but it’s important to remember that none of us will ever have the secret recipe to exam success. School open days will provide the most accurate source of information, but perhaps the key ingredient to exam success - one which is far more likely to trump any nugget of insider info – is a happy and relaxed child, with happy and relaxed parents.

UK prep schools - finding "the one"

Entrance exam advicejudith aitken

When it comes to selecting a school for your child, the entire process can be just as stressful as moving house or starting a new job. With so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Here are items we consider to be top of the agenda when choosing the ideal school.

Think carefully about the type of education you are looking for

This may sound obvious to some, but with so many prep schools available, it’s worth considering what is of utmost priority to you. For example, do you favour a traditional school, or one with a more modern approach with innovative teaching strategies? How about sports facilities or a focus on performing arts? Next comes the decision of a single sex or co-ed school, and for those who are keen to avoid the 11+ exam, it may be worth checking that your ‘number one’ school offers direct entry into the senior campus.

Go on a tour of the school

Open mornings are great for gaining a first impression of a school, but a guided tour around the campus is where you will be able to delve deeper into the nitty gritty of how the school is run. Notice how the receptionist welcomes you into the school and the way in which staff are interacting with one another as this is a good indicator of overall morale. During this time, it’s also great if you are able to sneak away from the admissions staff to chat with class teachers. Asking them about timetables and subjects covered will help you to understand what daily life is like, and it’s worth asking open ended questions such as “tell me about your students”, to find out more about the range of children that attend the school. As informative as handbooks and inspection reports are, only a visit to the school will allow you to soak up the atmosphere and  get that ‘gut’ feeling about if the school is ‘the one’.

Interview the interviewer

During a parent interview with the headteacher, it can be easy to forget that the application process is mainly about you deciding if the school is right for your child. Don’t be afraid to ask your own questions – here are our top ten for helping you make a final decision about the school:

1. What kind of pupil flourishes at your school?

2. Can you explain the key points in your school improvement plan?

3. What learning support provisions do you currently have in place?

4.  What would you say the values of your school are?

5. Tell me more about the specialist teachers at the school.

6. What extra-curricular opportunities are available? (Particularly useful for busy working parents as many schools offers breakfast clubs and after school activities)

7. Can you talk us through the pastoral care provided at the school?

8. Can you put us in touch with the PTA? (It’s always a great idea to connect with other parents as they will often speak more candidly about their experiences)

9. What does a typical day look like at the school?

10. How are prospective students assessed, and how are pupils prepared for exams once they are attending the school?

With such a crucial decision ahead of you, the most important thing to remember is that you can never be too thorough. Don’t be shy to ask as many questions as you need in order get a real sense of the school’s values and take your time before making any final decisions.

We wish all families the best of luck in choosing a school in which their child will be able to flourish both academically and socially – there really is an ideal school out there for everyone!

Get it write! Our 5 favourite books for teaching writing

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Creative writing is often assessed in school entrance exams, but sometimes it’s difficult for teachers to find the best strategy for their pupils. With so many teaching and learning styles to adopt and an infinite amount of advice on how to teach the subject, we decided to whittle it down to the five authors that we are currently fan-girling over.

1. Pie Corbett


The king of storytelling, Pie Corbett is the creator of the infamous story mountain. He encourages children to structure their stories with a beginning, build up, problem, resolution and ending. He also coined the phrase “magpie” – where children are taught to use inspiration they find in books, or from the modelled work of the teacher.

Corbett has created a mini sign language for storytelling, where children from a very young age can associate certain hand gestures with commonly used story phrases. Using this method sees children from as young as Reception including “once upon a time”, “suddenly”, “fortunately” and “finally” in their own stories. Way to go, Pie!

2. Lucy Calkins


In her book “The art of teaching writing”, Calkins favours the writing workshop approach, where a piece of writing is developed over the course of a few weeks. She suggests spending a few days each on the following: generating ideas, planning, writing, editing and celebrating the finished article. She also discusses the importance of “mini-lessons”, where specific skills are developed, such as creating an effective story ending or how to add dialogue to a story.

It’s no secret that Calkins loves a Post-it note – use it to mark favourite pieces of writing, to jot down suggested edits or to provide feedback to peers.

3. Sue Cowley


Perhaps our favourite ever book title, “Getting the buggers to write” offers practical, easy to implement strategies – a real dream for busy teachers! In order to get our pupils to write, and continue writing, they must be truly engaged and motivated. She makes the vital link between reading and writing and suggests that if we want our pupils to become confident writers, we really need to nail the basics of spelling, punctuation and grammar. A solid foundation is key to the development of a strong writer.

4. Alison Wilcox



Alison Wilcox – we love you. As teachers we understand the importance of modelling writing, but sometimes it can be hard to write an incredibly descriptive, powerful piece ourselves! Descriptosaurus comes to the rescue with pages upon pages of descriptive words and phrases, and even better, they are organised into specific genres and categories! For example, there are entire pages on describing animals, settings or people… the list is endless. A real life saver for those that need amazing ideas FAST.

PS – the suggested words and phrases can be printed and used as word banks for children too!

5. Liz Chamberlain


A fantastic option for trainee teachers or NQTs, Chamberlain explains that we need to stop viewing writing as an isolated subject. Instead, we need to encompass writing, reading, speaking and listening as a whole. She champions a cross curricular approach, slotting writing into all curricular areas and giving writing a real purpose. She also sees the importance between the work done at school and how that can be continued at home. The use of story sacks are a wonderful way of discussing writing at home, making the connection between reading and writing, all the while developing children’s engagement and enjoyment of writing from a young age.


How to get your primary students writing

English advicejudith aitken


“She just won’t put pen to paper”.

“It’s a shame as she has such great ideas”.

“Boys – they just don’t like writing”.

Comments like this can be heard up and down the country, whether children are in Reception or Year 6. We want to tackle these comments head on and have created a list of suggestions to get them all writing! (And yes, we refuse to believe that gender has an impact on your ability to enjoy the writing process).

1. All you need is a little mix

Unfortunately, the girl band won’t be able to help you here, but a range of writing materials will. Create a writing area in your classroom or house, where children can independently choose from a variety of writing tools. Offer pens, pencils, crayons, poster paper, envelopes, cards, post its, shopping lists – anything you can possibly think of that will inspire your child to write.

2. What’s the point?

Writing needs to have a purpose. Write a thank you letter then take a trip to the post office, write a wish list of things you would like to see and do, design and write a poster advertising the dance show you will be performing (in your living room to an audience of Mum and Dad) or write a postcard to your family members, describing your holiday adventures.

3. Strike a pose

Children need to see writing happening all around them, and as adults we should be modelling writing at every opportunity. Enlisting their help in writing the shopping list or writing an email can assist children in recognising the value of writing.

4. Don’t let SPAG bog you down

When reading reluctant writers’ work, it’s important to look past spelling and grammatical errors and focus instead on the fact that they have put their ideas onto paper. Generally speaking, it’s best to have one focus during a writing lesson as this will help children to stay on task and avoid becoming disheartened.

5. Treat them as authors

If they’ve written anything at all, then they are a fully-fledged author. Children should see themselves in this light as it avoids the notion that writing is only for adults, or those who have wonderfully descriptive language. If your child has written a particularly creative piece, laminate it or frame it to show them that their work is valued and is something to be proud of. Publishing work by putting it beside the other books on the bookshelf will further reinforce a sense of ownership and pride.

6. Writing isn’t just about creativity

Parents and teachers alike can tend to focus on the development of creative writing, but other forms of writing should be given as much attention. If your child has a tendency to be, shall we say ‘bossy’, then they may be excellent at instructional writing where they put their knowledge of officious verbs to good use. Alternatively, your child may be a budding politician and be a dab hand at persuasive writing. Children who enjoy Art or Humanities may prefer report writing, where they can combine their research skills will annotated drawings.

7. Quit playing games…

Please don’t listen to the Backstreet boys. Never stop playing games when it comes to developing writing. If your child has a restricted vocabulary, “BINGO” synonym games are great. Similarly, “Guess who” is a super way of adding description to characters. Pie Corbett is one of our favourite writing experts who lists a wide variety of games on his website: http://www.talk4writing.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Jumpstart-Imitation-Games.pdf


How to pass the 7 plus exam

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Of course, there is no secret formula to passing the 7+ exam (although inventors are very welcome to try!) but we believe that the following tactics will increase your child’s chances of success. Good luck!

Know your stuff

Yes, schools say that they are looking for ‘potential’ in children, but the sad reality is that due to the competitive nature of the exam, those who are more academically able will be considered over those who don’t perform as well in the written tests. Your child should have a solid knowledge and understanding of all the skills outlined in the Year 2 curriculum. Annoyingly, as the exam usually takes place in January, this means that your child may be assessed on topics that they haven’t covered yet in school. It is at this point that you may wish to recruit the help of a tutor, or order in some additional homework materials. Our favourites are Bond Books and Carol Vorderman’s 10-minute maths.

Ooze confidence

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and schools are looking for children who are able to suggest their ideas in front of their peers and show respect towards others. It takes a lot of gumption to say, “I don’t understand”, so schools will generally be impressed by a child’s honesty and self-awareness. Encourage these skills by enrolling your child in extra curricula activities, where they are mixing with children other than their classmates.

Whatever you do, don’t prepare answers to interview questions

Teachers are well aware that most children have been tutored, so are actively on the look out for “model” answers. Instead, encourage your child to show initiative during an interview, perhaps asking the interviewer how they are, or asking a question about the school (yes, this can even include a question about what is on the school dinner menu!) Impeccable manners are right up there with academic ability, so working on “pleases” and “thank yous” in all situations will put your child in good stead.


It really is as simple as that. Reading is the closest you will get to the magic formula for exam success. Reading will improve your child’s comprehension, creative writing, vocabulary, spelling, concentration skills…. the list goes on. Reading can be squeezed into any part of the day – if your child is a reluctant reader then use the school run as an opportunity to listen to an audio book. Also, it doesn’t matter what your child is reading. Of course, it would be wonderful if they were devouring children’s classics, but really anything will do! Magazines, leaflets, even the back of a cereal packet – the power of reading should not be underestimated.

Choose the right school

Before even thinking about how best to prepare your child, be sure that you have selected a school that will meet your child’s needs. If you’re child isn’t a high flier, a regimental, academic school may not be the best fit. Luckily, we are spoiled for choice in London and there are a number of schools that cater to specific needs; some offer fantastic sports grounds for budding athletes, others offer first class performing arts facilities – stick with your child’s interests and exam success will be far more realistic.

Above all else, we believe that successful 7+ candidates are children who are happy, relaxed and engaged in their education. It can be tempting to become stressed and anxious about the exam, but additional pressures on children will only have a negative effect on their performance.

We wish all 7+ candidates the best of luck; stay calm, keep working hard at school, show respect to those around you and we are sure you will shine!

How to add some fun into 7+ revision!

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If 7 year olds are to sit an exam – and an extremely challenging one at that – the least we can do as educators and parents is to make the experience enjoyable! We all know that children learn best when they are engaged, so we’ve compiled our favourite strategies to ensure that our children associate education with excitement.

Channel your inner Jason Bourne

In a similar fashion to disguising vegetables into children’s meals, learning can be packaged in many exciting ways. Exam preparation can be daunting for a child, but it could be sold as a series of challenges, where completion of each challenge unlocks a piece of the puzzle. Delivering challenges in the post adds to the mystery, and a “welcome” pack from the secret service will make things even more official. Don’t forget to include an agent badge complete with an undercover alias, and branded stationary.

Also popular with children is role reversal, where the student becomes the master. Ask your child to mark your work (littered with mistakes, obviously) and challenge them to ‘up-level’ it – can they reproduce the work, making it much better than it was before?

The world is your classroom!

Take learning away from the desk and incorporate it into everyday life. For example, practise addition and subtraction using the numbers you can see on car registration plates, describe the setting of where you are using the five senses, or create shopping lists – not forgetting to check the total costs and calculating change, too!

Family games nights will also give your child a chance to work on their reasoning skills (and their gracious loser face). Chess is particularly effective in developing problem-solving skills.

Let’s make it snappy, people

7 plus revision sessions should be a 100m sprint rather than a marathon. Your little Usain Bolt should aim to work in 20-minute blocks, when their mind is less likely to wander. Revision time can be increased as the exam edges ever closer, but a “little and often” approach will help to maintain focus. Timed activities also add an element of fun and challenge, for example can they complete the task before the timer runs out?

Study buddies? The more the merrier!

As ambitious as it may sound, group tuition or paired revision can work (provided many a rule and regulation are put firmly in place). Children tend to be competitive in nature, so being able to see another child’s work or hearing a different approach to solving a problem may inspire them more than if they were solely listening to the drone of a teacher. Asking children to edit one another’s work can also be useful as they often take more heed when feedback is given by their peers. A word of warning though – children are notoriously tough critics, so perhaps a lesson in diplomacy prior to the study session is a wise idea!

Pop culture – pay attention

Is your child Harry Potter daft? Go the full Hog(warts) and use scenes from the films as creative writing inspiration, write comprehension questions based on the novels and create quidditch word problems for maths revision. Whatever their ‘thing’ is, harness it and use it as a base for learning. It can be time consuming for busy working parents to make materials specifically tailored to their children’s interests, which is why we at Wicked Smart offer a bespoke exam paper service. Using your child’s interest as the focus, we can create papers that alleviate the boredom of revision and increase the enjoyment of revision sessions. Dare we say it, but 7 + prep could actually be an enjoyable experience!

The 7+ exam comes at a such a crucial time in terms of shaping children’s attitudes towards their learning. Our main goal is to foster a real love for learning and a hunger for knowledge – both of which will long outlive the time taken to sit a school entrance exam.