'I wish I knew then what I know now' - the trials of the 7+

As yet another set of inspiring 7+ results starts to manifest itself, including a cohort where 20% of the boys have gained a place at the prestigious St Paul’s School, Head Andrew Forbes of the Falcons Pre-Preparatory School in Chiswick reflects on the somewhat turbulent, rigorous and agonizing process of the 7+.

‘It is always at this time of year, with the majority of the Pre-Prep and Prep schools preparing their children for a variety of exit points, from 7+ through to 13+ Common Entrance, that I feel most for our parents as the competitive nature of the London day school system places such enormous pressure on not only our boys but also on their families as a whole. It is an exceptionally anxious time for everyone, particularly parents, as they wait for exam results, performance feedback and those all-important interview call-backs. These are the inevitables of the system we have all bought into but the toll it takes on both children and families should not be underestimated.

As the Head, I have an unquestionable duty of care to ensure the navigation of the safest passage possible through the often choppy waters of the 7+ in terms of time and tears (and sanity!) for all involved, including teachers. Whilst we are a consistently high-academic achieving school (and the results coming in this year look set to be better than ever) there are always those families who do not get a place at the school they have been aiming for. It is in these situations that my heart truly goes out to them. Their children have been working so hard, and it is often their first real taste of seeming failure. No matter how much we as a school or a parent try to ‘sugar coat’ the rejection, the children always take it to heart, irrespective of their age.

I have now been teaching in the private sector in London for 14 years and if there is one thing I can say with absolute conviction it is that no matter what happens with the outcome of these exams, the children almost always end up at an excellent school which is a perfect fit for them and where they are nurtured and able to thrive. Most parents and children look back at this tumultuous ‘crunch time’ and wryly smile to themselves, sighing with relief that they ended up at their current school as they are doing really well and making the best of friends and memories. One of my fondest, and indeed quite recent, memories was bumping into a mother of 2 boys I had taught when they were in Year 2 many years ago. Her first words to me were ‘I wish I knew then what I know now’. She went on to explain that, as a family, they had all focused so much on the end result of the destination schools that they had not taken enough time to enjoy the actual journey to this destination in terms of their sons’ education. One son went to Manchester University from a grammar school, and the other, having been unsuccessful in gaining a place at their first choice school, was now happily settled in a fantastic school. Both boys were thriving and incredibly happy. Her parting sentence made me smile, ‘We won’t make the same mistake for our daughter who is in Year 4!’

So, how do we ensure this ‘safe passage’? Although our 7+ results this year have been exceptionally strong, I am also cheered by the emphasis all our parents place on ensuring the emotional wellbeing of their sons as well as academic success as this is something that is at the heart of our teaching at the Falcons Pre-Prep. As educators of the next generation it is, in my opinion, our job to support and encourage our children in all aspects of their lives, to celebrate with them and ensure they enjoy these all-important formative schooling years. It is a duty that I do not take lightly and, with so much of the world being run by artificial intelligence, I work hard to find employees who have not just the credentials and qualifications, but who also have the emotional intelligence, passion and drive to be able to impart to our boys the grit and determination to persevere, recover from a setback and carry on with their heads held up high.’