Prep Schools

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Prep Schools

What is a prep school?

A prep school, or preparatory school, is an independent fee-charging primary school. Prep schools in the UK are traditionally from ages 8 to 13, with pre-prep school taking on children aged 4 to 8. However, now many prep schools in the UK teach from ages 2 to 11. As the name suggests, prep schools traditionally prepare children for entrance into private schools at 11 or 13 plus. Prep schools commonly use the 7 plus as a large entry point for children.

In London, entrance to prep schools can be highly competitive, as many prep schools are feeder schools for prestigious senior schools. For example, Bute House place about 32% of their cohort at St Paul’s Girls’ School each year. Further, 80% of boys attending Westminster Under (ages 7-13) will go on to Westminster School.

Why do people go to prep schools in the UK?

The main advantage of attending a preparatory school is that they are highly experienced and successful at preparing children to pass the 11 and 13 plus exams. A prep school will teach children exactly what they need to know to pass entrance exams. Children will undergo intense practice on verbal and non-verbal reasoning, essay and comprehension questions, exam technique and time management. So they should know basic mathematics and phonics. This is done as part of their regular education, So by the time they sit entrance exams they are fully prepared to succeed.

Prep schools can also generally offer better facilities and have a larger focus on pastoral care and extracurricular activities. As they are fee-paying schools, they have more resources to provide and can offer a broader education. This extends to outside the classroom in the form of sports teams, clubs and school trips.

Some people choose prep schools for their children because they went to the same one. Many prep schools have traditional backgrounds, which encourage strong family ties. Their traditional nature is also reflected in the uniforms: some schools require children to don hats, bonnets and knickerbockers.
Another advantage of choosing a preparatory school is that some offer an “all through education”. Schools going educating ages 4 to 18, such as Eaton Square, help families avoid the 7, 11 and 13+ entirely. Providing a stable school environment means children have a cohesive and relaxed experience.

What sort of prep schools are there?

There are many different options for parents looking to enrol their children in a prep school in the UK. Most prep schools function as both a prep and a pre-prep, thus allowing children to transition seamlessly from one to the next. Some are additionally associated with a senior school, meaning your child can continue their schooling uninterrupted from 4 to 18. This is a great option for parents looking for a more stress- free education for their children that allows them to avoid the 7, 11 and 16 plus exams.

There are both single sex and co-educational prep schools. Many prep schools are open to both boys and girls at 4+, then at 7+ alternate to single sex. For example, Broomwood Hall is a co-educational pre-prep school that is linked to Northcote Lodge and Broomwood Hall Upper. At age 8 most girls at Broomwood go to Broomwood Hall Upper while the boys go to Northcote Lodge. Both of these single sex prep schools are open for children aged 8 to 13.

Broomwood Hall Prep Schools.

While most prep schools are day schools, there are boarding options. If you were under the impression that prep boarding schools had fallen out of vogue, you could not be more wrong. There has been an influx of parents opting to send their young children off to sprawling hills and cosy dormitories, made all the more attractive with the recent option of flexiboarding. This allows for parents to customise their boarding experience to what Is best suited to their family. Parents can choose between full boarding, weekly boarding or flexiboarding for their children.

Some prep schools are academically selective while others are not. Academically selective prep schools will assess your child, with only the brightest children getting offered a place. For example, Newton Prep is academically secretive at all entry points. Those applying for a place in reception will be assessed via a Nursery “playdate” in the Autumn before entry.

Whereas at Thomas’s prep, a non-selective school, places are achieved through registering your child 3 years prior to entry. Some prep schools, while not academically selective, are socially selective. They achieve this by only allowing applicants from a specified catchment area or hosting parent interviews. This has led to rumours-turned-urban-legends of mothers being barred from picking up their children while wearing jeans and being scolded by the Head for not donning hats and gloves at sports day. While these specifics are certainly not true today, nor were they likely ever – there is something to be said for no smoke without fire!

What to think about when choosing a prep school?

There is a lot to consider when choosing a prep school for your child. If you have particular senior schools in mind for your child, it is worth looking at the leaver destinations for your prospective prep schools. They will be published on the school website and give insight as to what kind of schools are being prepared for.

You should consider what (if any), relationships prep schools have with secondary schools. Some prep schools are feeders for particular secondary schools and thus can get children a place through a phone call. If you have a target secondary school in mind, it is a good idea to see if it has a feeder prep school. If you know which big school you want your child to attend, consider the atmospheres at the prep and secondary schools to ensure your child won’t experience a “culture shock” when they transition. For example, Hornsby House is an academically focused prep school, so if your ideal senior school is incredibly sporty or musical, Hornsby may not be the right fit to prepare them.

Some prep schools are academically selective while others are not. Give the entrance process some consideration when you are choosing which prep school you want your child to attend. In addition, you may want to think about what SEN provisions are available at the prep schools you are choosing from. It is very difficult to know if your child will have any special educational needs. However, knowing that your child will be catered to if they need additional support will put your mind at ease.

Can I go to a primary school instead?

Yes! It is perfectly possible to get into the same prestigious independent secondary school from a state background, however it will be a more challenging journey. There is not the same kind of academic preparation to pass entrance examinations at primary schools as prep schools provide. For that reason, if you attend to enter the private school world at 11+, you will need to put in extra practice outside of the classroom in order to stand a chance. A primary school will provide much less, if any, teaching on how to write essays, how to complete reasoning papers, how to manage time in an exam, and general exam technique that are essential skills for sitting (and passing) school entrance exams.  

Furthermore, primary schools are much less likely to have strong relationships with local private schools as prep schools. Therefore, applicants must get into secondary schools solely based on exam and interview performance. This is a challenging task especially when they receive much less support than their peers attending prep schools.

Choosing the right primary school for your child is key, particularly if you are looking to apply to independent secondary schools. Some primary schools do serve as feeders for their local private schools, which you will need to research.

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