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How to choose a Pre-Prep School

Long before you may have to consider the 7 plus, you may also have to tackle the issue of whether or not to send your child to a pre-prep school. Read on to find out all about the various factors that you need to consider when choosing which type of school to send your child to at age 4, and how to choose a pre-prep.

Here are 10 things you have to consider when choosing a Pre-Prep School:

  1. Your family values and commitments
  2. Affordability
  3. Your child’s personality
  4. The time of year that your child was born
  5. The logistics of the school run
  6. How you felt on open days
  7. Class sizes
  8. Research on each school you are considering
  9. Leaver destinations
  10.  Any additional needs of your child
how do you choose the best pre-prep school for your child?

What is a Pre-Prep School?

A pre-prep is a private school for children aged 4-8. Children usually enter following a 4+ exam and go on to a prep school at age 7. Many pre-preps are linked with or part of a prep school, therefore guaranteeing a place for children at the same school from age 4 up to 13.

Many London pre-preps hold their own assessments to select children for entrance in to Reception class. These last for about half an hour and, unlike with the 7+ and 11+, is not something that we recommend children should prepare, or be tutored, for. Some of the top London pre-preps might look for:

  • Ability to write one’s own name
  • Whether they can count up to 10
  • Solving simple puzzles
  • Phonic awareness.

So, when debating whether a state school or a prep school is the right thing for your little one, what should you consider? And once you’ve made that decision, how do you choose the best pre-prep for your child and your family?

Family culture and commitments

As with any big decision regarding your child, you need to consider how a school will fit with your family’s ethos and commitments. Yes, most families go through the same daily and weekly routines, but they are still very different from one another.

The school you send your child to needs to align with your family values, and you should consider:

  • Whether you want to send your child to a single-sex or a co-ed school
  • Which extra-curricular activities you would encourage your child to get involved in
  • If you want your child to make more friends in your local area
  • How much emphasis you want to put on academic achievement from this young age.
  • When your child is so young, it’s incredibly hard to know what their abilities are likely to be at 7, 11, 16 and beyond. Choosing to send them to a pre-prep school with little to no indication of how bright they are can be a risk.

On the other hand, the allure of a ‘straight through’ education up to as old as age 13, is undeniable. If your child can get into a pre-prep that guarantees transition to the associated prep, your family won’t have to endure the stresses of 7+ and may avoid school entrance exams entirely until the 13+. By the age of 13, you will certainly have a better idea of your child’s potential, which is sure to take out some of the confusion of choosing a school.

Your child’s character

Again, the age of 4 is too early to have an idea of your child’s academic attitudes. You will likely not yet have picked up on any anxieties or sensitivities and they are likely to change a great deal in the next few years. Therefore, choosing a pre-prep school where they will flourish for the next 5+ years may need considerations including:

  • Do they worry about failing or not doing well?
  • Would they become anxious about tests?
  • Do they enjoy and thrive in competitive arenas in other aspects of their life such as their hobbies or do they shy away from competition?
  • To what extent do they do things they don’t want to, to try and please you?

If any of these considerations give you cause for concern, a state primary may be the more appropriate route at this point. Overly pressuring an already anxious child at this stage could prove detrimental in the long run. Alternatively, the well-rounded atmosphere of a good local state primary could provide the nurturing environment that your child needs in these early years to realise their true academic potential.

Summer-born children

There can be an enormous difference in emotional and educational maturity between a September born child and an August one, after all, they are a whole year older. Schools recognise this and want to offer places to children who are born throughout the year. Most schools therefore weigh the results of the exams to balance up younger children’s results against those of older children.

young girl working at a desk in her classroom

However, we believe there is more of a problem with emotional maturity when it comes to summer-born children being ready for the academic rigour of a pre-prep school. They may not have the concentration or focus for the extra academic work required to flourish. Also, their motor skills may be less developed and therefore they may not be able to write as fast as their peers. If you feel this is the case for your summer-born child, you can always opt for the 7+ or wait for the 11+ if you feel they will be more ready by this age.

The school run

It may seem an obvious factor to consider, however it really cannot be overstated how important it is that the school fits geographically into your life.

Do a practice run – at school drop off time – to see how the reality of the commute will affect your and your child’s day. A stressful school run impacts the whole day, so you can only imagine the strain it could place on family life if there is a daily struggle for you and your child.

If the stress of getting to the pre-prep schools of your choice seems too much, it may well be the case that your child will be much happier, and able to learn more efficiently, at a local state school. Don’t sacrifice your child’s happiness with a back-breaking routine, as it is highly likely to hinder their learning if they associate every school day with such a negative experience.

Do your research

Every pre-prep school will make the same claim that they’re not a hothouse, so you really do need to research thoroughly to find the right one for you. They will all claim to be a pastorally-led school, take this with a pinch of salt.

Online forums can be the best place for this, with Mumsnet full of honest accounts from parents whose little ones have actually attended. Consider whether the school encourage a wider range of extra-curricular activities? 

You may already have an inclination that your child will be interested in sports, but should they develop a creative interest later down the line, you want to be sure this will also be nurtured.

Some pre-preps can keep their leaver destinations a closely guarded secret too, so chatting with other parents and doing local research will help you uncover which prep and senior schools your pre-prep of choice is feeding to.

Attending Open Days

Once you have narrowed down your list of potential pre-prep schools for your child, the best thing to do is to visit your options. There is no substitute for getting your feet on the ground and doing some thorough poking around. Open days are an amazing tool to see the facilities on offer and ask questions. 

During an open day Yyou can speak with staff and pupils and get the feel of a school. Bring your child with you and take note of everything you see.

While the Head’s speeches will be lovely to hear, they will likely all be similar assurances about high standards, pastoral care and great results. Current pupils will be a lot more honest than the school who are trying to sell themselves to you. If the school do not let prospective parents speak to pupils, that is a bad sign!

Further, your child will likely barely interact with the Head, they will instead be spending their time with teachers. Lookout for engaged, enthusiastic, professional and knowledgeable teachers – as these will be the people providing your child’s education and pastoral support.

You may also want to consider prep schools in London.

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