They grow up so fast: school entrance at 3+ & 4+ and how to reduce your anxiety as a parent

They grow up so fast: school entrance at 3+ & 4+ and how to reduce your anxiety as a parent

This week our blog considers the decisions of parents with children who are approaching starting school for the first time. Where should you apply on their behalf, bearing in mind 3+ and 4+ assessments? We liaised with our expert primary consultant, Sabine Hook, to go over this and other considerations, and we can hopefully reduce the anxieties around your child applying for their first school. 

Sending your child off to school for the first time is a moment full of pride but getting to that point might seem a daunting undertaking. You want your child to be happy and fulfilled in their new school, whilst knowing that if they get into an academically strong institution now it will help them going forward. London in particular is so competitive for school places that you want to take every opportunity to see them gain an edge.

However, the best way you can approach school entrance for your young child is to focus on their general happiness and growth. The rest will take care of itself. Having said that, there are some broad decisions and questions that we can usefully clear up and lessen your worry.

Be strategic with where you apply your child 

One of the first decisions you have to make is if you want to apply your child for schools where they will be assessed as part of the entrance process. While many schools operate simply on a first come, first served basis, there are lots of excellent schools that do assess for entrance into primary years. These include Highgate, Wimbledon High and North London Collegiate.

The two key principles to follow here are to act early and cover your bases. You can begin to register your child for school entrance from before they are even born, and if you know that you are going to be in the same location in three years’ time then this is a good option.

Furthermore, don’t put all your child’s eggs in one basket. It is advisable to apply for a spread of schools that both assess for entrance and those that don’t. About half of schools do assess, and arguably it’s an easier entrance point to top independent schools than the 7+, for example. But even though you may be desperate to get your child into one of these schools, you still need to have the security of a place at a school without assessment. The role of a consultant can be particularly valuable in helping you compile a roster of schools to apply for, so do get in touch with us if you would like assistance with this process.

3+ assessments: a thing of the past?

Out of the schools that assess for primary entrance, the vast majority of them do this with the 4+. A handful do assess 2-year-olds for 3+ entrance, most prominently Highgate. The quality of this school naturally means some parents fret to put their children forward for this incredibly early assessment.

Not only is assessment at this young age a tricky business, of uncertain worth, but it will likely soon be a thing of the past. This is the last year Highgate will assess at 3+, they have announced, so this is one decision which you can reduce your anxiety about. If your child will be assessed for school entrance, it will likely be via the 4+ and you can save yourself a lot of worry by just planning around that.

The 4+ assessment and how to prepare

There is great variety among 4+ assessments. Some test more ‘academic’ skills such as pen holding, but the majority are more general. They usually consist of a variety of learning games and exercises in a classroom environment, working with other children and following instructions. Teachers are looking for sociability and teachability in particular, so it is about behaviour, partly, but also about your child’s emotional readiness for school. Are they happy with being left without a parent for an hour, for example?

You might therefore be wondering how to best prepare your child for a 4+ assessment. The simple answer is that you do all the usual things a good parent will be doing anyway to help their child develop and thrive. Talk with them, play with them, read them books, encourage them to count things around them. Also, get them into a good nursery. We wrote a blog recently about choosing between nurseries, so read that to help you get orientated on that subject. If the nursery sees your child as someone who will thrive in a certain school, they can often recommend your child to schools even if the 4+ assessment doesn’t go so well.

However, it is vital that you remember not to place too much emphasis on a school’s decision at this stage. The 4+ is a one-hour assessment of a toddler in what for them will be a strange environment. There is no rush for your child to get in to the perfect school and a 4+ assessment is not going to be an indicator of a child’s ultimate potential.

So don’t be too pushy with your child, or put them under pressure going into the assessment; explain to them that you are going to the school to see if they like it. Ultimately, making a big deal of it will make them not act themselves in the assessment which will be unproductive.


Beyond this, for more specific questions or if you have any remaining worries, we do recommend getting in touch with Ivy Education and arranging to speak with Sabine. She has years of experience as a Nursery and Reception teacher, as Head of Early Years, and more recently as a primary consultant.

Hopefully though this blog will ease some of your worries about your child’s first foray into the world of school!

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