THE FIRST STEP

Choos­ing a prep school brings with it a whole host of ques­tions and ob­sta­cles. So what do you tackle to be­gin with?

EDP Norfolk - - EDUCATION - WORDS: Janita Gray Janita Gray is a se­nior ed­i­tor at the Good Schools Guide. To find out more visit good­schools­guide.co.uk

Where does the time go? One minute you’re choos­ing prams; the next you’re reg­is­ter­ing for school open days. While there will al­ways be par­ents who try to re­verse en­gi­neer their pre-ver­bal tod­dler’s aca­demic ca­reer from Oxbridge or Ivy League col­leges back­wards, for the rest of us the choice of our child’s first school will largely be dic­tated by cir­cum­stances. But when faced with a choice of good schools, how do you de­cide?

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

If you’re a first-timer at the schools game or have re­cently moved to a new area, it’s very easy to be in­flu­enced by what you hear other par­ents say­ing about the lo­cal state pri­mary or pri­vate preps. How­ever, it’s worth bear­ing in mind that schools go in and out of ‘fash­ion’ for all kinds of rea­sons and that a dis­grun­tled par­ent will make more noise than a whole class of sat­is­fied ones.

Do your own re­search and, above all, go to open days or ar­range vis­its. Bear other opin­ions in mind, but trust your own instincts about what’s best for your child. When you visit a school don’t be daz­zled by fa­cil­i­ties or too quick to judge a lack of glitz – schools are es­sen­tially about peo­ple, not things. Make sure you meet the head or at least at­tend their talk – what kind of an im­pres­sion do they make? How about the chil­dren – could you see your child fit­ting in with them?

END RE­SULTS

If you know that you would like your son or daugh­ter to go to a par­tic­u­lar se­lec­tive gram­mar or in­de­pen­dent se­nior school then it makes sense to choose a ‘feeder’ prep with an es­tab­lished record of get­ting chil­dren places there.

But if you’re not yet sure about se­nior schools don’t worry, the rai­son d’être of preps is to pre­pare pupils for en­trance tests at 11 or 13. An im­por­tant part of any prep school head’s job is to main­tain re­la­tion­ships with se­nior schools and he or she will be able to ad­vise you about which ones would suit your child’s ap­ti­tudes best.

STAND ALONE OR ALL THROUGH?

Many pre-preps and preps are seam­lessly linked schools with a guar­an­teed tran­si­tion be­tween them. Some preps are them­selves linked to a se­nior school and if they’re on the same site will ben­e­fit from shared pro­vi­sion such as sports fa­cil­i­ties or science labs. This ‘all through’ op­tion is very at­trac­tive to par­ents – just get your child in at age three or four and they’re sorted un­til they leave for univer­sity. Or are they? While the pros are eas­ily un­der­stood, there are cons. Come the teenage years and some pupils will kick against the fa­mil­iar­ity of a place they’ve known for years. And all-through isn’t al­ways seam­less. Se­lec­tive schools rarely guar­an­tee that the pupils they ac­cept into re­cep­tion will au­to­mat­i­cally be of­fered a place into the se­condary school.

LO­CA­TION, LO­CA­TION, LO­CA­TION

A great school a short, safe walk away from home is the holy grail for many par­ents. If you live close to a good state or in­de­pen­dent school then con­sider your­self very for­tu­nate. Not only will your child have lo­cal friends, in time they could also be walk­ing or even cy­cling them­selves to and from school.

For schools that aren’t within walk­ing dis­tance it’s im­por­tant to do some test runs at peak times to as­sess the re­al­ity of pick up and drop off. Don’t rely on Google Maps for this, there’s no sub­sti­tute for the real thing. The last thing you or your child needs is a long, stress­ful jour­ney at the end of a school day. That ru­ral prep might look idyl­lic, but may seem less so when nearby lanes are choked with traf­fic. Many pre-prep or prep schools of­fer a bus ser­vice – this could be an an­swer, al­beit an ex­pen­sive one.

There is such a va­ri­ety of de­light­ful prep and ju­nior schools all over the coun­try that what­ever your child’s char­ac­ter and tal­ents you should be able to find a school that’s right for them – and for you.

Liv­ing close to school is a must for many

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