School Life: Why you should spend most on schools for your 11-16 year old

* Read Country Life’s Autumn 2013 School Life supplement in full

I mainly shop at Waitrose, but I do the big Saturday shop at Tesco. We’re looking forward to a trip to a safari park in South Africa, but, in the meantime, we’ve had years of camping in France. So it is with education. Paying for the luxury brand from finger painting to freshers’ week is not the only option.

St John’s College, Cardiff

Zara Axton, headmistress of Manor House School in Surrey, knows the importance of the years approaching GCSEs. ‘When children enter a school at 11, there’s enough time to fill in gaps, get them up to speed and make sure they’re motivated to succeed at 16. Arriving at age 13 leaves only one year to make up any lost ground-there can be problems.’

Many parents agree. ‘If I had to choose five years to pay, I would choose years 7 to 11,’ says Susan Grosland, who lives near Reading, ‘but I would probably sell a kidney to get year 5 and year 6 (ages 9-11) as well!’

Moving on to a State sixth-form college at the age of 16 can give pupils a taste of a bigger, more adult environment in the run-up to university-and lends UCAS forms some valuable street cred.

Janette Wallis is a senior editor of The Good Schools Guide

How to decide which five years of school fees to invest in

* Why you should spend most on fees for pre-prep schools

* Why you should spend most on fees for prep schools

* Why you should spend most on schools for your 16-18 year old