Every parent wants the best education for their child. Often, however, when considering investing in an independent education, the dilemma faced by many parents is whether to choose an independent education for their child during the prep school years or for the ages of 11 to 18.
What may be of interest to some undecided parents, is that outcomes of educational research consistently conclude that the primary years are the most crucial in terms of laying the foundations for success.
I began my teaching career in a large maintained school, with the most powerful lesson learned, that what children really need to achieve their potential, is time and attention. What really matters, I believe, is size; an area where the maintained sector remains somewhat challenged. Compared to maintained schools, class sizes in prep schools are small with often enviable adult to child ratios, ensuring that each child is understood, valued and provided with the guidance they need. Such personalised and individual attention at the very early stages of a child’s educational journey and at such a formative stage in their lives, serves to maximise potential, building an intangible confidence which is pivotal to future success.
Another challenge facing many parents, is that prep schools come in all shapes and sizes. Some are part of a larger school environment where pupils can go all the way through to sixth form, others are stand-alone and some, like Wandsworth Prep, are part of a wider group of similar schools. What parents really need to look for, however, is a school’s ethos, customs and culture, which set it apart from others.
Having the time to find out what really ‘makes children tick‘, is somewhat of a rarity in larger schools but something that we do well. All children want their teachers to know them on a personal level; that they love skateboarding, play football or sing in a choir. Unfortunately, in some schools, children can feel anonymous. A natural by-product of a smaller environment is that every child is known to every teacher; nothing is missed. Teachers can closely monitor each child’s progress, both social and academic, and tailor their teaching accordingly. Parents who make the move from the maintained sector frequently remark upon the comparative speed at which their children progress.
As adults, we spend a great deal of time talking about achieving work-life balance, yet it appears to be often overlooked in many schools, where a drive for success in SATs, for example, results in reduced time allotted to the less ‘academic’ aspects of school life such as sport, the arts or languages. If schools are to instill a love of learning and equip children with healthy bodies and enquiring minds, it naturally follows that opportunities must be provided to develop wider skills and attributes; an area upon which most prep schools pride themselves.
As a prep school, we are not slave to the National Curriculum, but are able to tailor our curriculum to best suit the needs of the children in our care. Academic standards and rigour are a given, but the hidden side of what we provide, is an education which focuses on more than just exam success. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; we are in the enviable position of being able to cherry pick areas of the curriculum which we believe will best ensure our children achieve their individual potential, with equal value placed on learning English, maths and science as there is on sport, languages, music, drama, art and design.
The varied programme of extra-curricular activities that one finds at Wandsworth Prep, introduces children to new skills, engages them in social activities, develops positive learning traits and helps to shape their lives in a positive way. Every child is different, gifted with unique skills and talents, some of which take time to recognise; we see it as our duty to unearth these latent abilities.
A sense of family often epitomises a prep school education, built around open communication. At Wandsworth Prep, the partnership between the parent, the school, and the child, offers 360˚support, therefore seizing every opportunity for the child to flourish, both academically and socially. This, by its very nature, ensures that children feel safe and secure; there are few visitors to the school who do not comment that our children exude a quiet confidence.
I believe a prep school education enables each child to be treated as an individual, to feel valued, and, above all, to reach their full potential. Every child is different and unique and it is at this young age that excellent foundations can be laid, and a sense of aspiration created. All educational establishments have their own record of academic ambition and exam success, but prep schools provide a great deal more than just exam success, offering additional value on many other levels. A prep school education offers a wide and varied curriculum, above and beyond what one typically finds in a maintained school, enhanced by a diverse and complementary extra-curricular programme, which all serve to inspire the interests of each and every child.
At Wandsworth Prep, we recognise that we are a prep school and aim to provide an education which ensures that each child leaves the school as a well-rounded individual, having forged out a niche of their own.
Bridget Saul - Headteacher