Before we can identify the right Prep school we need to take stock of the big picture. Your child’s education is likely to be at least a fifteen-year journey and needs a carefully constructed flightpath. In our business we are asked about private schools for entry ages 3 to 18. For ages 14+ it is usually fairly straightforward because student and parent views are beginning to crystalise on preferred subjects, universities and career aspirations, leaving us to recommend a range of top schools and colleges appropriate to the required specialism. However, at younger ages, it can be much more difficult because specialisms and aspirations have yet to form. Moreover, with private school break points at ages 7 and 11 or 13, we have to anticipate the onward journey and the future availability of good schools in high demand.
Thus, you will begin to understand why our approach is to plot a lifetime strategy taking into account the child’s ability, the right curriculum and the best schools to bring out the best a child can be. Our starting point for young children is often the end point! Do parents have a vision of what type of senior school they want?
• Does the parent want his/her child to attend the same famous senior school they attended?
• Do they want a top academic school?
• Do they want an all-round school which is not overly pushy?
• Do they want a transferrable global curriculum in case they move countries?
• Do they want single sex or coeducational?
• Do they want a specific location or are they happy to use a boarding school?
Once we have determined the family’s aspirations we can then work backwards to find the right starting point to ensure the child sets out in the right direction. In our experience, most aspirations fall into one of the five different approaches below:
1. Top academic school aspirations
This strategy is designed for parents with aspirations for highly selective academic senior schools that boast the top grades at GCSE and A-Level or IB. Since we run the most comprehensive league tables in the UK, we are very familiar with top school admissions requirements and the availability of spaces. As a general rule, the higher up a league table a school is, the more selective its admissions and the harder it is to get a vacancy. Thus, your best chance is to choose a prep school with a long history of success in getting its leavers into your target top senior school. We spend a lot of time researching leaver destinations of preps and grading them accordingly – so let us know your aims for your children and we will help.
2. Elite public boarding school strategy
Here we are talking about famous public boarding schools including Eton, Winchester, Harrow, Wycombe Abbey and Cheltenham Ladies, which are in our top 10 boarding school league tables by gender categories. An effective way to secure a place is to place your child in one of the top boarding prep schools which feeds these schools and we have researched the best prep feeder schools. It is not simply a matter of the school coaching your child to pass the specific entrance tests, but also the ability of the prep school head to make a personal recommendation to the senior school cemented by the close relationship with that target school. An alternative route is to use a good day prep school, possibly supported with outside tutorial backup for the senior school’s tests, but it is not always as effective as the prep boarding route. Note that many tutors have limited knowledge of the actual assessments they are coaching a child for – see our section on Tutoring for further guidance.
3. All-through school strategy
An all-through school educates children from either 4 or 7 through to 18, such that there is no need to change to a different senior school at either 11 or 13. There is no guarantee that an all through will accept a child into its senior section, but it normally takes an extreme example of bad behaviour or laziness to be refused entry.
In Greater London, where demand for good senior schools is so high and vacancies few, it can make good sense to use an all through to take away the pressure. We have identified 67 all throughs in Greater London, albeit a significant proportion are girls only schools. Bear in mind that all through schools will not go out of their way to prep your child for competing academic senior schools. Speak to us for more information.
4. International school strategy
Non British parents often approach us to find international schools because they want a global curriculum, particularly if there is a probability their jobs may take them away from the UK and their children may need to transition to a similar curriculum elsewhere. The most common curriculum is the International Baccalaureate, which offers the Preliminary Years Programme (PYP) up to age 11, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) from 12 to 16 and the Diploma Programme from 16 to 18. Whilst there are some 80 UK private schools offering the IBDP, there are only around 12 offering the PYP or MYP and 90% of these are in the Greater London area. The main alternative is the American curriculum of which there are even fewer providers.
Another reason for choosing an international school is if your child is bilingual or at the extreme speaks no English at all. Bear in mind that many UK prep schools will not accept a child with no English at all, especially if they are “an elite prepper”. However most international schools will accept bi lingual children.
5. Other lifetime strategies
The previous 4 strategies cover most of our enquiries, but of course there are others. For example some parents want to educate their children privately in a prep school and then want them to pass the 11+ in order to transfer to a free state grammar school. Whatever your wishes, we will do our best to map out the route of lifetime education to suit your child.