Just wondering how far people are willing to travel for the right school? We live in a rural location with the nearest state/faith primary 15mins drive away and the nearest prep school 20mins drive away. Other larger preps are 35-45mins drive away.
Joining a bit late... we are 13 miles away from DS's school, which takes about 30 mins factoring in the traffic. School is about 5-10 mins away from my workplace, so I don't have the to-fro twice a day problem, but we've been doing the commute together for pretty much his life (he was at workplace nursery before school) and it works. We chat, go through his spellings, he reads to me, mostly in slow-moving traffic jams or waiting for lights to change! So we use the commute time well I think. On the actual school and your points above: (assuming your preps are non-selective!) the YR, 1 and 2 are foundations for what happens in Y3 when things rack up several gears. If your DC is in a pre-prep then they should work to make the transition to prep smooth. If they start state then there might be a hiccup but should be ok. Less of a step than state to indie at CE...
If you have the ££, and are sure you are eventually going to go indie anyway, then I'd go for 2. DC will make lasting friends and there won't be changes in curriculum (or shouldn't be!) and no early emphasis on NC testing. I guess 3 is similar but you'd have to change friends mid-way, or decide to stay there.
Also look at the big picture. Where do you eventually want them to end up at senior school? If indie, which prep school is most likely to get them there? And finally, if you're going indie, and TTC, then can you afford to send both DC of would it be better going state to begin with (saving the fees) and then switching when they're older?
My daughter is at a lovely prep about half an hour away. She is just finishing Yr 1 so we have been doing it for almost 2 years now. I actually really enjoy it - it's a pretty drive (although not so great in the snow!!) with little traffic. I also think that time we have in the car together is lovely - it's a real chance for us to chat without any interruptions. I always feel like I am missing out if someone picks her up for me!
At my daughters school it is the norm for people to have a 20 - 40 minute drive in (as I think it is at most preps) - the only downside really is it can be a bit of a trek for playdates when her friends live 35 minutes in the other direction from school!!
I would absolutely go for the better school - rather than the distance, as I think the distances you are talking about are quite normal.
moonbells you have posted just about every question we have been asking ourselves over the last couple of weeks. It was great to hear it from someone else especially as you touched on my biggest concern which is the transition to prep if we start with state in terms of longer day, different teaching methods, making new friends etc. The prep school we are considering is non selective and offers early years funding (will have to double check we are eligible) which would be an added bonus. Financing 2 through the independent route would be manageable any more and we would struggle with.
Whilst the facilities are great they're not paramount in our decision to start with state or prep, I'm more interested in choosing the least disruptive route and quality of teaching.