Headmaster’s Blog 17/09/17

Why choose a Pre-Prep and Prep School?

A Pre-Preparatory and Preparatory School is a wonderful experience for any child. I spend many hours telling prospective parents about the advantages of these kind of schools and why they should consider sending their children to a wider family such as Daneshill.

Many parents are concerned about the academic standards that a primary school delivers. Sometimes this displays itself through worries over class sizes, differentiation for individual students – including supporting those with difficulties or pushing the more able and gifted; while fears over disruption and quality of provision are never far away. In a Preparatory School these potential strains of anxiety should be washed away the moment that you walk through the door. Class sizes are small, the needs of individual learners are met, behaviour is exceptional and resources are well above the average, while children are taught by subject specialists from a young age. Of course, no school consistently gets everything right and there is a constant need to improve and be wary of complacency, but these should be recognisable key features.

However, my personal belief is that academic success, whilst vitally important, is only a bi-product of all that a Preparatory School offers. Children who are happy, nurtured and cared for will want to do well and will want to learn. The confidence and trust that is gained by knowing teachers beyond the classroom through music, sport and drama means that communication is clear and when we tell the children why the Wars of the Roses began or how to tackle a quadratic equation, they are keen to listen and to learn. The pastoral elements of a school which include the relationship with the form tutor, Head of House and senior staff are key to providing a genuine sense of community and a nurturing school where children can take risks in a safe environment and learn while remaining as children. For me, this is the most important element of our schools. Colleagues who work in the state sector are often shocked when I explain that we do not have strict and draconian schools rules – we simply do not need them as the children want to be here. It is enough that we constantly encourage our core values and principles which reinforces the desire for self and mutual respect.

The core role of a Preparatory School is in preparing children to be lifelong learners who will contribute to their next school, and also recognise that they are caring citizens who will give to society on a wider scale both during and after their senior school careers. During my time teaching in senior independent schools it was clear to see at the point of entry those who would have a good GCSE or A Level profile because the child already had the qualities of being conscientious, proactive and responsible for their learning; while they had confidence and good basic literacy and numeracy. These should be the elements that a Pre-Preparatory and Preparatory School delivers, and why the investment in education should be made sooner rather than later. No matter how good the decorative brick work, a house will not stand for long with strong foundations that are laid on day one of nursery or reception – education is generally the same and good habits from a young age are immeasurably important.

A Preparatory School does offer huge opportunity in sport, music and drama and every child has the opportunity to play for a school team and perform in a play. The vast majority relish this opportunity and thrive in the face of the challenge ahead of them. While this does not suit every child, I can guarantee that every single one of them feels that they have achieved something by the end of a performance or fixture and looks back with a sense of pride. Perhaps most importantly a seed of commitment, team work and determination will have been planted which will only grow with each new obstacle that we carefully put before them. The foundations are being laid.

Another key question for new parents is why to thirteen? Unless a parent themselves has been through the independent system an obvious point of entry to the senior school might seem at the end of Year 6, not Year 8. Those two years are the real strength of Preparatory Schools and it was the salient eye-opener for me when I joined the sector. During those two years the children get more opportunity for leadership and development than they would ever get in a comprehensive, grammar or senior independent school during Years 7 and 8. The chance to be a prefect, captain the sports team, take the lead in the main school production or deliver a speech at a Sports or Speech Day is beyond the experience of all but a few at that age. When they leave the Preparatory School, these children are more confident, self-assured and prepared for their senior school. Not only that, they have also generally been learning at a standard beyond their physical age. I often use the analogy of being big fish in a small pond. By the time they get to the end of Year 8 they are ready to leave but have benefited hugely from those extra two years of remaining children.

An investment in independent education is the best value investment you could ever make for your child. It is difficult to measure the qualitative benefit of this investment but clearly it is hugely significant. If you want the best start for your child’s educational journey, a Pre-Preparatory and Preparatory School is most certainly the route to take.

David Griffiths