What is a Prep School and why should you choose one?
A Preparatory School (also known as a Prep School) is a private fee paying school that educates children aged 2 to 11 or 13 years. These schools are the equivalent to primary schools within the state education sector.
What is the curriculum?
Schools educate children across three ‘Key Stages’. A Key Stage is a term given to the phase of education a child is in. The first stage is called the Early Years Foundation Stage of EYFS. The second stage is called Key Stage 1 and is for children aged 5 to 7 who are in Years 1 and 2. Key Stage 2 is the phase from Years 3 to 6, aged 7 to 11. Prep Schools may choose to use the Key Stage terminology, or their own such as Early Years, Pre-Prep and Prep.
As prep schools are independent from the state system they don’t have to follow the National Curriculum which is determined by the government, although most do create a curriculum which embraces it. In most cases, schools will develop an inspiring curriculum which follows the bones of the National Curriculum but offers a far deeper and wider knowledge base. Teachers are able to identify the passions and abilities of the children within their class and craft lessons which appeal to the learners at any point in time.
How are Prep Schools different from independent schools which teach up to 16 or 18?
Independent schools may have their own Prep Departments but these through schools should not be confused with stand-alone Prep Schools.
Prep Schools pride themselves on preparing the children for a wide range of competitive entrance exams to senior schools and typically children will be awarded places and scholarships in their chosen fields. They may feed a large number of secondary schools, including independent senior schools, grammar schools and state schools, but the emphasis is on ensuring the pupils are very well prepared for this process. This is done by accelerating the curriculum to ensure time for revision and reflection before entrance exams and providing a huge breadth of opportunities within and outside the classroom for the pupils.
Prep schools focus on getting the best out of every child so that their education is enriched and rewarding and that their academic foundation is the best it can be for their interests and ability. There is no need to fit a mould as prep schools feed into a huge range of senior schools.
Prep schools appoint specialist class teachers who are experienced in teaching children in within the prep age range AND have a subject specialism whether this be in one of the core subjects of Mathematics or teach a specialism such as French, physical education, drama, music, games or computer science.
As Prep Schools are not part of an all-through school, all resources, teacher training, management time, investment and planning is focussed on the 2-11 age range. Children do not need to share facilities with senior age children (who may get priority) and the school’s infrastructure will be developed to meet the needs of that age range.
A perfect way to gain entry to the best senior school for your child
During the course of your child’s prep education s/he will develop interests, talents and passions in many areas of the curriculum but will typically find they have certain strengths that mean one senior school may be more suitable than the next. The school you feel is right for your child at age 4 may well be very different by the time they reach 11.
Prep school head teachers have a wealth of experience in advising parents on which schools to consider for 11+/13+ entry. This is based on your child’s ability, interests, ambitions for the future, logistics and on affordability.
Senior Schools keep Prep Heads informed of their scholarship programmes and prep schools support children in preparation for those exams as well as for the academic and presentation parts of the assessment. If your child is aiming for a selective grammar school place, the key skills will be taught from an early age and your child will be nurtured towards this path.
How else do prep schools differ to state primary schools?
Prep schools offer a holistic education. This educational approach encourages children to explore their passions and interests, achieve their goals, and better understand themselves. Holistic learning benefits children by teaching them to be aware of and appreciate their potential, and encourages learning as a lifelong experience. Prep schools will develop an academic curriculum and an extra-curricular/clubs programme that supports this holistic approach to education. This way, there are greater opportunities for children to explore different subjects and activities and find their ‘thing’.
Most parents, however, choose a prep school because of the ‘value-added’ educational programme offered and the boost to life skills this gives. ISC (Independent Schools Council) research suggests that choosing an independent school equates to an additional two years’ worth of education in the state sector.
Prep schools usually focus hard on ‘people skills’ and on children’s ability to communicate effectively and show courtesy and respect. Good manners and the ability to engage with adults and peers effectively are also developed. All are skills needed to be successful in later life.
Typically prep schools also have smaller class sizes. This allows for greater individual attention and bespoke teaching and learning approaches. Smaller class sizes enable teachers to provide a greater level of regular feedback on academic progress and pastoral support to the children in their care.