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What are prep schools for?

‘Give me a child… and I will show you the man.’

St Ignatius Loyola

Traditionally, a significant purpose of prep schools was to prepare children for the Common Entrance (CE) exams in their final year to get into public school. As many public schools are now either ambivalent about CE or have dropped it altogether as an entrance exam, some have questioned the purpose of prep schools at all – an unjust conclusion in our education consultancy view.

Here are several reasons why, as an education consultancy, we feel prep schools are so relevant for preparing children for life in the 21st Century, not just exams:

  1. Process of learning - teaching children how to learn effectively is the bread and butter of a progressive prep school. Study skills, independent learning, working collaboratively, working to deadlines, learning how to learn etc., mean not only that children develop sound subject knowledge and skills, but also become confident, autonomous learners. This lays solid foundations not only for the independent style of learning at senior school but also for life-long learning thereafter.

  2. Small classes - small class sizes enable teachers to give more time to individual children and focus on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Also, in tandem with setting and streaming, small classes offer the opportunity to stretch those who are capable, whilst offering additional support to those who find certain subjects trickier.

  3. Holistic education - whether through providing extra-curricular activities, character education, PSHE education or through the pastoral care system, prep schools believe in developing the whole child, not just their academics. Done at such a young, formative age, this forges a secure character for when they reach the turbulent teenage years and then adulthood beyond.

  4. Extra-curricular activities - prep schools provide a huge range of extra-curricular activities which enable children to try new and different pursuits. Not only does this enable children to find their ‘thing’, but it also helps them find confidence and ability in non-academic areas which, today, are valued and celebrated as much as academic ones.

  5. Character education - prep schools develop children’s characters through a huge range of activities and challenges both inside and outside the classroom. Whether through academic work, the sports field, drama productions, music concerts and outdoorsy expeditions, children develop crucial life skills such as teamwork, leadership and empathy from a very early age.

  6. Pre-test preparation - with most senior schools requiring a pre-test process for entry, taken at around age 11, - and the potential stress this causes in children so young - prep schools familiarise children and their parents with these expectations. The children almost don’t notice, as it’s within a familiar, nurturing, positive environment. Also, parents have a reassuring expert to guide them through what can be a confusing process with every school seeming to have different timings and entry criteria.

  7. Pastoral care - all prep schools place a child’s happiness and welfare as their top priority. Unkindness happens in every school (it is, unfortunately, part of human nature) but most prep schools have sensitive and robust pastoral systems to monitor and, if necessary, address this. From informal ‘whisper’ boxes, ‘who can I talk to?’ posters and independent listeners to formal tutorial systems, assemblies and staff meetings, prep schools have a range of means through which they look after their children and try to develop a culture of kindness and happiness.

  8. Letting children be children for longer - a large amount of any prep school day is ‘free time’, and so, whether playing games, riding bikes or making dens in the wood, children at prep schools can be children for longer, safe within a school environment solely set up for them. Moreover, in an age of screens and digital media, prep schools can preserve traditional childhood, not only by limiting time and access to devices but also by having the grounds and activities which encourage children to play together and play outside. Strong, lifelong friendships can therefore be forged at prep school. This is particularly so in boarding schools.

  9. Confidence - prep school life means prep school children develop self-awareness, self-belief and confidence. They undertake positions of responsibility at a young age, compared with senior schools that start at age 11 and the expectations are high for their contribution within the school community. This also means they interview well as they have so much to say. Thus, they leave prep school as confident, kind, and considerate members of the community. This, surely, is the best outcome of any education.

Our education consultancy services

We help families throughout their child’s education journey. From shortlisting to mentoring so your child secures a place in the right prep school for them. To find out more or to get started with us, please get in touch with our friendly education consultancy team.

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