What constitutes a "hot house" prep?

(18 Posts)
Strawpole Sun 26-May-13 09:38:14

We are going through the throes of selecting a prep for DS and happily have a choice of preps some of which are generally considered nurturing and others often described as "very academic" or a "hot house". It's hard to interpret these classifications without a benchmark so my question is the above, really.

Is it excessive amounts of homework?
Over ambitious expectations for destination schools?
Perhaps the reputation is more a reflection of the parents' rather than the school?

Homework obviously ramps up with age. I guess things only get "serious" at around Y4 or Y5 (pre-testing in Y6)? Boarding schools seem to timetable prep of 40 to 50 mins per day, but have heard London days setting 1.5 - 2 hrs?!

Is it possible to do your own thing at a supposed hot house?

Would be grateful to hear thoughts from experienced parents. Thanks!

nightingalefloor Sun 26-May-13 14:03:50

Not my own experience, but I have a friend who teaches at a prep which would be described as a 'hothouse', although the school itself would never admit to it. Compulsory after school prep twice a week from year 3 until 4.30, every night from year 5. The entire of KS2 is rushed through in years 3 and 4, then the whole of year 5 and the beginning of year 6 is purely revision. The whole entrance exam thing is taken insanely seriously, my friend teaches year 5 and 6 and she reckons she has about 10-15 meltdowns to deal with in the autumn term before the exams start- that's in a yeargroup of 2 classes, max 12 in a class! Then the rest of year 6 after the exams are over is a complete wash out, very little effort put into their lessons because they already have their secondary place and no SATs to worry about, so they get a lot of colouring in/design a poster type work. There have been pupils in the past 'encouraged' to leave because the school didn't think they would get into the top girls independents in the area and therefore would muck up their statistics hmm. This isn't a London prep either, it's in a fairly quiet area with only moderate competition for independent secondary places compared with some areas of the country. Based on her teaching experiences there, my friend says no way in hell will she be sending her DCs to a similar school.

LIZS Sun 26-May-13 14:08:29

imho a hothouse is one which teaches the kids purely to pass the next set of tests, be that 11+ or CE, to the exclusion of a more rounded education, and focus on ticking boxes for scholarships such as Grade 5 music. They will also weed out the less conforming characters along the way.

scaevola Sun 26-May-13 14:19:18

Hot house means excessively focussed on academic results at the expense of a rounded educational experience.

Not to be confused with highly selective preps which also get excellent pass and scholarship results, but which do so because the children are clever and can therefore flourish when there is a fast academic pace and also get a broad curriculum and plenty of co-curricular activities.

It's the lack of balance that makes the hot house.

LePetitPrince Sun 26-May-13 16:29:44

Any school that encourages children to leave instead of coaching and investing in them is a hothouse. They may claim to give a rounded education but they are more concerned about published results than the individual child.

Strawpole Sun 26-May-13 21:27:51

@ Nightingale, your example certainly sounds pretty bleak. Teaching rigidly to a syllabus and relentless "revision" (exam practice?) doesn't light my fire. Do these kids head home at 4.15 (extra hour doesn't sound all that bad) and unwind or is it straight to the tutors and then to burn the midnight oil? Doesn't sound like the former. The academic approach might bore the poor souls to death but unlikely to cause meltdowns, is it? Must be more pressure from lack of play (in the widest sense) and/or expectations?

@ LIZS your definition sounds like the example cited by Nightingale.

scaevola makes an interesting distinction, but how do they get these clever children? I'm not completely convinced that screening of three/four year olds accounts for the entire outperformance of the "balanced" preps, can it? Some of the outperformance may be genetics of catchment area, maybe some from good teaching, but maybe a also a good measure of graft and hours put in by their pupils/pushing by parents or ex post culling of laggards (like LePetit alludes)?

Thanks for the input.

scaevola Sun 26-May-13 21:35:34

I was thinking prep, not pre-prep, and the assessments at 7/8 would be more reliable.

stealthsquiggle Sun 26-May-13 21:37:18

Teaching to the test, academic work above all else, and encouraging pupils to leave would all tick the "hothouse" box for me. DC's school has no academic selection at entry (they can't - simply not enough parents who can afford it in catchment area or looking for boarding), loads of sport and extra curricular stuff, lots of contact time and no homework. They consistently get scholarships to "top" schools and (due in no small part to good matching of child to target school) have never had a CE candidate fail to get in.

That said, they are not aiming for the super-selective day schools, on the whole, so the pressure is maybe less acute on the CE candidates.

Strawpole Sun 26-May-13 21:56:17

I stand corrected, scaevola. smile

@ stealth - DC's school sounds nice. Maybe I should move? smile

nightingalefloor Sun 26-May-13 21:58:42

Strawpole after school clubs start at 4.30 when prep finishes, ending at 5.30. Years 3-6 have to stay one night for 'games night' until 5.30 after prep, set night for each year group, no negotiations. So if you want to be in the choir/netball club etc then you'll be staying until 5.30 at least two nights a week. A lot of them have tutoring outside of school (my friend's former colleague left the school a few years ago and now tutors the pupils, she has SIX pupils from year 4 alone (yeargroup of no more than 24) because they rush through the whole curriculum in years 3 and 4 and they can't all keep up. Plus music lessons to get a music scholarship to top independents. The HT calls the parents in at the beginning of year 5 and tells them what schools to look at for year 7, in order to talk the ones who are unlikely to get into the top ones out of trying so that they can publish their '97% got into their first choice secondary' type statistics hmm I got into a top independent selective without any of this, from a tiny village primary not geared up to obsessive practice papers whatsoever, so I'm a bit skeptical. Personally, I think if a child needs two years non-stop coaching in lessons, plus an hours' supervised prep every night and 3 years of private tuition to get into a school, it probably isn't the school for them.

The other thing to point out is that these schools aren't set up to deal with SEN. Parents have to pay for SEN assessments/support etc, and the school will encourage those not fitting the mould as such to leave (three cases my friend has come across in as many years, and she only teaches years 5 and 6).

stealthsquiggle Sun 26-May-13 22:08:43

Strawpole - we like it (clearly) but it's definitely not for everyone. Full boarding day, so including activities which he has chosen to do (no pressure from school, all non-academic) , DS (Y6) is there 63 hours a week most weeks.

MrsFrederickWentworth Sun 26-May-13 22:16:47

Don't forget that one person's hot house is another's reasonably academic.

I do think that if the rest if years 6 or 8 post exams are a write off, then hot house is the word. And if they teach to test.

But some will be good albeit pretty academically pressurized, I can think of both boarding and day in that category.

The only important thing is to find a school to suit the child.

stealthsquiggle Sun 26-May-13 22:31:00

Agreed, MrsFW. The top set in DC's school are pushed quite hard, which I know my DP are a bit hmm about, but it is not "teaching to an exam", never at the expense of sport/drama/music/fun, and DS thrives on it, on the whole. I think (from distant observation) that the pressure on all concerned in areas with super-selective day schools is in a whole different league. It's one of the reasons I like being a country bumpkin wink.

Kitchencupboards Sun 26-May-13 22:42:38

For me it is a reception class with no free play, all children writing beautifully by the April of reception yet doing little art and music. It's a school which declares the EYFS, "stupid",It's all children knowing all times tables by the end of year 1 and no differentiation in teaching and no setting, even informal, at any point. It's the vast majority of the children getting into the top day schools but missing out hugely on what the other less academic preps are delivering. It's on paper great but in reality actually rather petrifying.

Strawpole Mon 27-May-13 08:06:02

Nightingale The compulsory extra curricular doesn't bother me per se - I had to do compulsory sport 6 days a week at boarding school for the first 2 years which probably did me a lot of good. The tutoring is the is the smoking gun, though...Obviously, the unnatural pace is too quick for the majority (save for the most talented) so many need the tutoring to keep up.

MrsFW You're point resonates with me. I think one of the schools we've been offered falls into the "academically pressurized" category - they certainly don't "teach to test" (perhaps the opposite?) and have stacks of extracurricular but the pace that they set is most likely going to be challenging for the majority. Problem is - how do you determine if this a particular school would suit DC when he is only 4.5???

Stealth I'm a bumpkin too - a true dairy farming bumpkin turned metro smile

Kitchen Wish I had known to be more probing about Early Years before...the school tour was soooo long ago that I can't really remember!?

So hard?!! Do you (A) be optimistic and let DC have a crack at the academic school [and pick up the pieces ] move it it doesn't work out; or (B) take the less pressurized option (by reputation, at any rate) and potentially have denied DC the opportunity to benefit from probably the "best" prep in the country London?

Kitchencupboards Mon 27-May-13 11:02:05

Strawpole, we took the less pressurised open with one of ours and have no regrets. She is still well ahead of her peers in state schools yet the breadth of what the school offers is huge and really personifies a rounded child centred education. She is bright but not brilliant and it's likely she will continue on to a very good but outstanding independent secondary where maybe she will go on to the best university but more likely to a good one. My youngest is super bright and our recent thinking was that a hothouse prep might be a good option however, having viewed a few we are going for the same as our other child with a view to reviewing for year 3.

Hamishbear Mon 27-May-13 11:32:59

They are v out of fashion & I think many increasingly believe should be phased out for all but the naturally brilliant. I like the idea of academic rigour & competitiveness/ambition being encouraged for all. I know too many whose children have had a wonderful well rounded time at the creative, non hot house feeder school & then failed to get into the selective school at 11 or 13.

The children feel they know their place on the IQ bell curve and are not inspired to strive academically in the future.

MrsFrederickWentworth Mon 27-May-13 12:01:39

The questions I would ask myself would be

Does dc join in
Does he ask interesting questions
Are there any obvious signs if insecurity/weakness or conversely talent
Is he a busy boy or, like ours, say at 2, " go way, mummy. I want to sleep. And you've.said that before . It's boring "
When is he happiest, when most engaged?

We sent our dc to a rounded prep following the local primary, it was what he needed. The teaching was mainly pretty average. He got into one of the most famous but turned it down for local good. Sometimes he regrets it but not much.

I regret it more, but accept that he might well have been miserable at v well known school and it's mire important for him to be happy than for me to want him to have an outstanding education and possibly be miserable .

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