Prep Schools grew out of the need for schools specifically to ‘prepare’ children – boys in the old days – for the great Public Schools. The preparation is academic but also holistic – pastoral and social preparation providing an ‘orientation’ for children especially those coming from overseas.
Cultural integration and providing for new experiences ahead of the jump to senior school – in a smaller, more intimate environment. Prep Schools also mirror the extended day, week and curriculum of the Public Schools with more time given over to sport, art, design technology, music (including performance, practice and ensembles and choirs) and drama.
Rural prep schools typically have a large estate for a small number of children – Bilton Grange one of the biggest at 90 acres for 300 children including 50 boarders.
The academic preparation is, for most children, heading towards ‘Common Entrance’, a suite of exams in English, Maths, Sciences, Languages, History, Geography and Religious Studies, taken in June of Year 8. This is a rigorous examination which prepares children well for outstanding success at GCSE and beyond.
Generally taught as a 2-year curriculum, so if children only come for one year (Year 8) they will have some catching up to do – sometimes this is ok, but it does increase the pressure
Some subjects can be examined at different levels, but some schools will not accept the lowest tier of papers.
Some schools do their own entrance exam, and some will waive the need for Common Entrance if coming from overseas, but the point is that the CE syllabus helps to prepare children for what comes after, and it also teaches them good habits for independent learning and revising for exams, which they need for success later on.
Public Schools receive and mark the papers themselves for the children intending to go on to them, and they set their own pass marks – usually an average percentage across all subjects (usually 55%, 60% or 65%).
Some children may prove to be suitably gifted academically that they might be put forward for scholarship exams; these tend to be examined earlier in the year than CE and most schools set their own exams, which are rigorous and often designed to test high-level thinking, discursive and processing skills as much as subject knowledge.
At the end of the day choosing the right Public School to match the learning needs and aptitudes of each pupil is the most important aspect of a Prep School preparation, and parents and school need to work in partnership to ensure this match is made. There is no point a child struggling to just make the grade to get in to a school only to struggle to keep up when they get there. Some schools have a particular area for which they are justly famed – eg art or music – and sometimes this is a good reason to choose a particular school. It is the role of the Prep School Headmaster to have the connections with the Public Schools and to know where their strengths lie and provide the right advice to parents.