Prep Schools

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Top Questions to ask a Prep School

When preparing for the 7 plus, the importance of choosing the right prep school for your child cannot be understated. However, just browsing websites and going on open days isn’t always enough. That is why we have compiled a list of some of the must-ask questions to consider when choosing where you want your child to go.

What is the school ethos?

young girl smiling and looking over her shoulder into the camera

While this is usually information you can find on the school website, it is a good question to ask in person. This will give you a feel of the core values of the school. This is a good question to ask a senior member of staff such as the Head, as their answer will tell you how firmly they reinforce the school’s ethos and how thoroughly it is instated.

Where do the Year 6 leavers go?

This is a pretty key question. Regardless of where you want to send your child, whether you have a favourite school or haven’t even considered it yet, it is important to know how well the Prep school manages their leavers. Seeing if everyone goes to private or state schools, boarding or day schools, mixed or single sex, may inform your decision and give you a greater insight as to which direction the prep school sends their students.

If the prep school you are looking at are affiliated with a senior school, it is important to ask how many students go on to study there, why they choose to go elsewhere, and how well they prepare students who choose to apply elsewhere. Other questions along this vein are:

  • How do you prepare your students for the 11+?
  • Do students get time off school to go on Open Days?
  • When does 11+ preparation begin?

What do you offer in terms of pastoral care?

Pastoral care is hugely important for children, especially when they are younger. It is key that you find out what measures, if any, the prep school has to care for students beyond academics. You should expect a full, detailed answer to this question – it may be a good idea to ask for some specific examples. For example;

  • What do you do to combat stress in the run up to the 11+?
  • How do you respond to friendship issues between young children?
  • When would you involve parents in a pastoral matter?

How diverse is the school?

It is a good idea to get a sense of what range of children – and parents – attend a school. A question about diversity will help gauge what the school feels about having children from different backgrounds, and thus how they teach inclusion and respect. Specific questions to ask in this area could include:

  • How many bursaries do you give out each year?
  • How many students are on 100% bursaries?
  • What areas are families from?
  • How many languages do the student body speak?

What do you offer to children with SEN or gifted children?

This is a great question to ask regardless of where your child stands. If your child currently has Special Educational Needs, it is vital to find out what learning support prep schools offer. However, even if they currently do not need any extra support, knowing what kind of teaching is available if they should later on is reassuring. It is important to find out what is offered to children from when they enter, to 11+, to extra-curricular, as it will tell you how well managed and prepared they are as a school.

How do you handle discipline?

Children will misbehave – knowing how a prep school handles misbehaviour will inform your opinion. It will also tell you about the general culture of the school, and from there you can decide whether it is well suited for your child and you as parents. You may want to ask for specific examples, such as how they handle minor issues to more serious or ongoing problems.

How many children have left in the last year and why?

During Open Days, staff are trying to sell the school, so it can be rather difficult to get and sense of its flaws until your child is halfway through their first term. However, some digging can help you sense what some of the weaker points may be, or just ease your mind. Obviously, children leave school for perfectly innocuous reasons all the time, (and the school will definitely be putting a spin on any journeys that did not end so well), but this type of question may help you cut through some of the sugar coating.

Ask teachers (or students) what they like about the school

You should get a chance to speak to some of the teachers one on one, and if you get the chance, asking for their opinion on the school will give you a fresh, and valuable, perspective on its merits. A teacher will have spent lots of time at the school and will be able to tell you exactly what they think is special about their school. This is particularly useful as teachers can compare their current experiences with past schools they have taught at.

If you have the opportunity, this is also a great question to ask current pupils. Some schools have students leading tours, which will give you a great chance to meet the children and learn what kind of education they are receiving. Asking if a current student likes attending their school will be invaluable when choosing where your child will go. Other questions to ask students could be:

  • What is your favourite part of your school?
  • What do you think of the teachers?
  • What is your favourite part of a week?
  • What don’t you like about your school?

How do you select staff?

Whether it is form teachers, gym coaches, assistant teachers, lunch ladies or nurses, it is really important to know where people are coming from when they are working with your child. It will provide a good insight to see to what standard teachers are being held to when applying, and how (or if) they are kept at that standard throughout their time with the school. Other questions around this area could be:

  • How often do you hire new staff?
  • How long do staff usually stay with you?
  • Why do teachers generally leave?
  • Where do they go?

How do you deal with bullying?

Bullying is a very serious issue that many children face at school. Therefore, bullying needs to be handled delicately, with the victim’s best interest in mind at all times. You want to affirm that matters of bullying are taken seriously and handled effectively as soon as possible. It is worth asking how prep schools handle bullying, whether they have an anti-bullying policy, when they involve the parents in matters of bullying, how they spot bullying, what measures they have in place to prevent bullying.

How often and by what means do you assess students?

Keeping track of how your child is doing academically is likely very important for all parents. Depending on your taste, it is good to find out before you end up at a particular prep school how they assess their students and by what means. Some schools will largely go off the work they produce in class, others will set lots of short “quiz” styles assessments, while some will set written exams. All methods are valid, but as a parent you may have a specific idea of what you want for your child.

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