• What is a senior school?

  • How and when do I apply?

  • How to find the right senior school for your child

  • Assessment

  • Fees

  • SEN

What is a senior school?

Senior schools – also known as secondary schools – educate children from the age of 11 to 16 or 18. The school system is made up of state-funded schools, which are free to attend, and independent schools (otherwise known as ‘private’ schools, which are fee-paying).

Independent senior schools are independent of Government control and don’t have to follow the National Curriculum, but they do have to be registered with the Government and are inspected regularly, either by Ofsted or the School Inspection Service or the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

Some independent schools take pupils of all ability, while others are highly selective usually on the basis of an exam such as the 11+ or the Common Entrance.

Some senior schools are called public schools. The term refers to a group of long-established boarding secondary schools that were given independence from the Crown, church or government in 1868. The original seven were Charterhouse, Eton College, Winchester College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School and Westminster in London. There are now several hundred ‘public schools’, including many girls’ and co-educational schools, nearly all with a proportion of day pupils, and the majority with boarding fees upwards of £35K and highly selective entrance requirements.

How and when do I apply?

The main point of entry to senior school is at 11 years in Year 7 or at 13 years to join Year 9. Students can also enter Sixth Form at 16+.

Senior school entry requirements vary hugely. Some admit children of all abilities, while some, particularly London day schools, are highly selective and heavily oversubscribed.

11+ entries need to register during the early autumn term of Year 6. For entry into Year 7, students sit the 11+, typically in the January of the year of entry. The exams tend to be in maths, English, science and verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Most schools will require applicants to sit papers and then a shortlist will be offered an interview.
Increasingly, for Year 9 entry, schools are using a pre-test, either of their own design or the ISEB Common Pre-Test.

This is sat in Year 6 or 7 to select pupils ahead of Common Entrance which is sat in Year 8.

Common entrance (usually shortened to CE) is the name of the examination taken for entrance into some senior independent schools at age 11 (usually girls) or 13 (boys and girls). The 11+ CE examination is used mostly by girls’ boarding schools and consists of papers in English, maths and science. The 13+ covers eight core subjects at a higher level. The 13+ application deadline can be up to three years prior to entry and timely registration is vital.

How to find the right senior school for your child

  • Think about the sort of senior school that you want. Do you want an all-through school where pupils can go from prep to senior under one roof?
  • Do you want single-sex or co-ed?
  • Do you want boarding or day, and if so, flexi or full? Many boarding schools now include a large proportion of day pupils and weekly boarding is increasingly popular. There are also state-funded boarding schools where you pay tuition fees only.
  • Think about practical issues such as class size, teacher numbers, sport and music facilities and proximity to your own home. Even if your child is boarding, you will want to be able to visit for sports matches etc.
  • Visit the schools. Get a feel for them. Do the children look happy, relaxed, engaged? How do the adults interact with their pupils etc.?
  • What are the exam results like? Study the school’s ISI or OFSTED report.
  • How does the school help with Special Educational Needs?


At senior schools, students are prepared for public exams. GCSEs are held in the summer term of Year 11 and A-Levels or the IB syllabus is followed in Sixth Form.

More schools are doing GCSEs and the IB, with some schools still offering AS Levels at the end of Year 12.


The fees for senior schools range from approx £12,000-£18,000 per annum for a day school to a max of £40,000 per annum for full boarding.


If you have a child with Special Educational Needs, find out what support your chosen school offers. The majority of senior schools now have a SENCO – a specialist SEN co-ordinator. There are also more specialists SEN schools than ever before, both boarding and day.