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Pre-Prep - builds foundations or complete waste of money?

(64 Posts)
Phoenix78 Mon 27-May-13 13:29:09

I'd be interested in people's views on this as I am undecided.

I know from my own experience that I barely remember by pre-prep days other than winning an award for a poetry reading and learning how to count in French. I believe the main positive influences in shaping my character, aspirations and willingness to work hard came from prep school.

I wondered how many felt that education at ages 4 to 6/7 were key years in determining a child's blueprint.

How important is it to you and why?


amazingmumof6 Mon 27-May-13 17:29:03

yes, education at any age is important.

what are you undecided on?

are you asking if it is worth spending money on tuition after school hours?
or extra lessons like sport or music? or swimming?

not sure what your question is

scaevola Mon 27-May-13 17:35:48

If you're a Jesuit, they're the key years!

And they may be formative of attitude to school (true of any school - positive or negative experiences are decided by quality, not method of funding).

Phoenix78 Mon 27-May-13 17:47:52

The question, in a nutshell, is whether you believe it's worth spending out on school fees between the ages of 4 to 7

Bonsoir Mon 27-May-13 17:50:12

It is nearly always better for children to remain as far as possible within a coherent school system that progresses in a logical fashion from year to year. So if you want your DC to go to prep school, pre-prep will make that easier for them.

Hulababy Mon 27-May-13 17:56:57

DD has been in an independent school from age 4y. Hers goes up to 11y, so this is her last year, equivalent of Y6, and she leaves for high school in the summer.

Do I think it has been worth it? Well yes. She has loved school, every bit of it. She has a school of friends, she knows her teachers well. She is quietly confident and had a lot of very positive experiences. She's not restricted by the NC constraints and the joy of SATs.

Would she have got most, if not all of this, from a non fee paying school? Yes, quite probably she would have. She wouldn't have had the small classes, so her confidence (quiet confidence, not arrogant confidence btw) may or may not have been affected I guess, and her slight dyslexic types issues wouldn't have been picked up on I doubt, definitely wouldn't have had support for it ime, but we'd have still supported that aspect.

But for us it wasn't about that anyway. We didn't chose the school for extra French or whatever. We just chose the school which felt right for her and us at the time, having visited 5 or 6 schools, in both sectors. She is happy and loves learning.

Hulababy Mon 27-May-13 17:57:59

We also didn't want to move DD from school to school, and wanted her to be in the same school for the whole of her primary education, and to remain with the same friends. She will also move up to high school with the majority of her class too.

Phoenix78 Mon 27-May-13 18:09:22

Thanks for the replies.

Hulababy - when you say 'high school' do you mean independant or state secondary?

Hulababy Mon 27-May-13 18:12:44

DD is going on to an independent high school. About 60-70% of her class are, others state. Again before deciding we looked into all our options and chose which worked best for DD and us.

Before DD going to an independent school DH and myself had no experience of them at all as we both went to our local state schools, and I have always taught in state schools.

Bonsoir Mon 27-May-13 18:39:44

I think it is better if DC have continuity up to age 11/13 and don't change school/peer group unless it is absolutely necessary. Thereafter, I think it is important to take their personality, talents and interests (that should hopefully have emerged by then) into account and to choose a school accordingly rather than keeping them with their friends as first priority.

amazingmumof6 Mon 27-May-13 21:08:05

ok, , sorry, I didn't know what pre-prep was! I take it it means private primary education.

a close friend sent her daughter to a private school at the age of 4.
It cost a fortune and turned out to be a huge mistake, because when she went to a state school for year 3 she was way behind every one else from a local (brilliant) state infant school!

the parents regretted their choice. They always knew they couldn't afford private education beyond infants level, but they sent her to the same school where her father went for the sake of it.

I can't afford private so no choice here, but if I could I would choose state through infant and junior levels, pay for extra tutoring if I felt the need, then send them to private.

I hope this answers your question better.

teacherwith2kids Mon 27-May-13 21:32:41


To be honest, the primary influence on a child's work ethic, character, aspirations and attitude to school are you, the parents.

I speak as someone whose siblings (for reasons I won't go into here) went through educational paths from very academic private school, state ex-secondary modern followed by private 6th form, to state (just) ex-secondary modern [last SM intake still in the school when sibling started] followed by state 6th form college ...and all went to Oxbridge to get very good deegrees including further degrees.

Why? Because our parents went to Oxbridge, and expected it of us - and to a certain extent, knew how to get there enough to ensure that none of the barriers indifferent schooling may have put in our way were insurmountable.

Whether pre-prep is worth it depends on a) the pre-prep in question (do not, as a previous poster has so eloquently pointed out, assume that academic standards are higher just because a school charges fees), b) the state alternatives and c) your ability and willingness to do some of the educational legwork (e.g. reading to / with your child every night) yourself.

Pre-preps, in my experience, are more formal than the same years at a state school. Reception, to a parent expecting school to mean rows of desks and an omnipotent teacher at the front, looks particularly alien - despite being an absolutely fantastic educational environment. if you knwo that you want an education for your children that 'looks like your own', then a pre-prep is more likely to provide it. It may not be better than the education provided in the state school next door, but it will be more amiliear to you. If you are willing to be a little more open-minded, and if your local state schools are good, then those may be a more lively educational environment.

it also depends on the selectivity of the next school - for highly-selective prep schools, a pre-prep that offers several years of coaching for the entrance tests may be a good investment (though it is interesting that an acquaintance of mine is FUMING because several state school pupils have got in to their chosen prep school and her child - from a private school - has not. 'I paid money, my child should get the place').

Hulababy Mon 27-May-13 22:20:14

Certainly at preprep level DD's school was still very much more relaxed. There were/are no rows of seats facing a teachers desk. In reception there is still a lot of free flow or continuous provision, also making use of the facilities in the pre school in the room next door. They do some whole class and small group learning activities, and whole class is easier as half the number of children than in state, but tbh they don't do much more compared to the reception classes at my school or the one my godson goes to. Due to class size there is much more 1:1 reading ime, but still some group guided reading type too. Y1/2 again - still quite flexible, have small role play areas, groups of tables, not rows. More academic work than reception and more structured, but still topic based and lots of hands on learning.

DD's is a fairly academic school but preprep remains flexible and informal.

HabbaDabba Tue 28-May-13 00:52:54

Speaking as a parent that went the primary » indie secondary route, the pre prep route isn't my idea of money well spent.

I wouldn't call it a waste of money since you usually get smaller class sizes, better facilities etc but a pre prep offers nothing of significance that you as an involved parent can't provide yourself.

wordfactory Tue 28-May-13 08:09:46

We used private education from the start and yes, I would say it was well worth the money because the classes were small and the resources wonderful.

It was particularly nice that the DC had access to so much green outdoor space...

That said, if money were tight, I'm sure the local primary/together with parents would do a similar job on the basics.

It's at 7/8 I think the real business of a decent prep school kicks in!

QTPie Tue 28-May-13 17:05:06

DS is at an excellent school that happens to be a pre-prep. Because we have gone private, we have chosen the school and have not been subject to the LEA lottery....

Will DS (3) go to Oxbridge and become a brain surgeon? Who knows?! But he is certainly getting a great education and having a lot of fun: enjoying learning is a great gift smile

(We are very lucky to be able to afford it)

Phoenix78 Tue 28-May-13 20:05:45

Thank you to everyone for your views especially Teacherwith2kids for such wonderful thoughtful responses.

Our local primary is ofsted 'outstanding' and has 50% level 5 attainment for key stage 2 results which I think is pretty good from what I've read - happy to be corrected!

ReallyTired Thu 30-May-13 22:25:08

I think a lot depends on what you are looking for in a school. State schools are very play based in the early years and sometimes more able children are not challenged. Private schools often offer better wrap around care and have subjects like French taught by a proper French teacher, smaller classes, better sport, fewer distruptive children.

However private and state schools vary a lot in quality. Some private primaries offer little more than the average state school.

The big divide really comes at prep school stage (ie state juniors) when children have specialist teachers for science, PE, music etc. Having better facilites like science laboratories or a computer room help academic progress.

In a selective school the curriculum can move at the speed of the children's intelligence. Many private schools do not bother with SATs and can progress faster than the national curriculum.

State school primaries often have children working at level 2 and level 6 in the same lesson. (Although there are different tables, the differentiation is a real challenge when teaching a class of 30) There are outstanding schools that do manage to differentiate well.

"Our local primary is ofsted 'outstanding' and has 50% level 5 attainment for key stage 2 results which I think is pretty good from what I've read - happy to be corrected!"

In that case a private school may give your child nothing extra.

happygardening Fri 31-May-13 09:09:09

My DS didn't start independent education until he went to a boarding prep in yr 3. Between reception an yr 3 he attended well regarded and quaint but completely useless rural primary schools. Most of his classmates had attended pre preps (some very pushy) and all had learnt an MFL from reception. It didn't make a scrap of difference on his day to day classroom work or his achievements at 13 which is ultimately what one sends them to a prep school for.
IMO the juries out on paying for a prep i suspect if you want you DC prepared for a scholarship into a super selective at 13 then your going to have to down the prep school route by yr 5 unless you live in a multilingual house and someones got oodles of time to provide a very broad curriculum out of school but certainly by yr 7 unless you plan to home tutor, for those aiming for a super selective at 13 but not a scholarship you might get away with entering a prep at yr 7 again providing you've put in some leg work. For the selective and definitely the not very/non selective you can probably get into many independent schools at 13 from a state school with a bit of extra work outside school.
What I haven't factored in is all the other stuff that you get in a good prep obviously specialised teachers smaller classes loads of extra curricular music is usually significantly better art and games etc are often taught by specialised coaches etc. This comes down to personal choice, the amount of spare time you have and your location if your rural like me you might like the fact that so much is provided by the school as its not available on your own doorstep, Londoners may feel differently, and also if you have to interfere organise your child's waking moment or if your happy to out your feet up and let someone else more capable do it.

teacherwith2kids Fri 31-May-13 11:06:44

50%ish level 5 is good - though I would say it needs to be taken in the context of the school. If the school is in a challenging area of high deprivation and FSM, has lots of children on the SEN register, high pupil turnover etc, then those results would be exceptionally good. If on the other hand it draws from a stable, MC catchment, low SEN, low FSM, then it may well represent only 'expected' levels of achievement given its intake. FWIW, my children's Ofsted 'good' primary, in a nice MC area, has L5 results in the 60 - 70% range and a good percentage of L6s in maths last year - but so they should, given the intake.

Look at the progress measure (between KS1 and KS2) as well, and consider the levels of FSM and SEN. Also consider the age of the 'Outstanding' report - outstanding schools are inspected really quite infrequently, in some cases almost never, and what is required to obtain outstanding becomes greater each year, so an old 'oustanding' (say 3+ years old) is best read as a current 'good' and you need to make enquiries about e.g. changes of key teachers / the head and look at trends in results over time. Some 'oustanding' schools DO remain outstanding, but there are those that drift. A recent 'oustanding' certainly one obtained this academic year, would indicate a very high level of achievement ... but may equally indicate a school obsessed by results and paperwork. Always worth a personal visit.

teacherwith2kids Fri 31-May-13 11:13:38

I can spell 'outstanding', honestly!

Xenia Fri 31-May-13 11:24:32

If you cannot afford it then do not bother but I went from age 4 and all my 5 children did too. Reasons I wanted it at that age for them were:-

1. If they get in at 4 they aren't worrying about getting in at 11 and less competition perhaps at that age than at 11 when all the state school parents pile in.
2. Liked the grounds, atmosphere etc - lakes, fields, hobbies - one got her taste for riding in the school holiday club aged 5 - 7 which became a major enthusiasm for her as a teenager.
3. Music is crucial to this family and 3 won music scholarships. It tends to be a higher standard aged 4 = 7 than in state schools.
4. Soft factors - other parents more likely to be compatible with this family, accents perhaps better, grammar and spelling better. Arguably the children are 1 - 2 years ahead of state schools.
5. Wanted them in a selective school with other children who had IQs of 120+ not with many who had under 100 IQ and plenty who disrupt the class.

I do remember school aged 4 - 7 (private). I remember a lot about it. It was a good influence. It does matter.

ReallyTired Fri 31-May-13 12:56:33

I think that so much depends on the private school in question. If you can get your child into that fanastic highly sort after prep then that is great.

"Soft factors - other parents more likely to be compatible with this family, accents perhaps better, grammar and spelling better. Arguably the children are 1 - 2 years ahead of state schools."

Depends whether you are comparing "like for like" children. My state educated son can certainly hold his own academically with private school kids. Low ablity children will not achieve however much money is thrown at them.

State schools take all comers where as some independents are very selective. Since intelligence is partically genetic there are very few children with low IQs whose parents can afford the fees. (In most cases parents have to be reasonably intelligent to make the money to afford the fees, although ofcourse there is the Royal family... and one or two aristocrats with old money...)

Music is important to our family as well and we can afford plenty of outside music activites. When you choose music activites outside school then you can pick something at the level that your child is working at. ie. if they are gifted then they can join the National Children's Orchestra otherwise if they lack talent they can join the county saturday morning music school and play 3 blind mice on the recorder or when they are grade 2 they can join a local children's orchestra.

Xenia Fri 31-May-13 16:19:55

I certainly was not suggesting children aged 5 - 7 do no music in state schools, but if you want your children with other bright children and they sometimes tend to be those who also excel in hobbies like music they are more likely to be concentrated in highly selective leading schools even at 4 - 7 years.

I suppose one key issue is UK state schools never offer selective education until 11 and at 11 only in a very very few counties which still have grammar schools. The private sector gives you a choice - plenty o f schools for those not too bright or fairly comprehensive and then also if you like that sort of things selective education for brighter children instead at 4 - 11 if you want it.

However as I started my post with if you cannot afford it then remember the 92% of children at state schools do get 50% of the best university places and there are plenty of schools you can choose in the state system simply by house price although that can be more expensive sometimes than paying fees.

teacherwith2kids Fri 31-May-13 17:14:04

Xenia, do you happen to have any data about comparative outcomes for children who transfer to private schools at different points?

ie Do the children who start at 4 do better than those who start at 7, who then do better than those who start at 11, with those who start at 13 doing the least well of all?

I appreciate that there are entry points that are 'easier' (academically, not in financial terms), and those that are 'more competitive'. That may skew the figures somewhat as it might mean that children who are admitted at 4 might not be quite as bright on average as those who are admitted at 11, and therefore might not be expected to do quite as well UNLESS those additional 7 years at a private school actually do enough to outweigh the differently-selective starting point.

However, it would be interesting to know how many of those who go on to 'top universities' (I use inverted commas as of course there are certain universities which are very, very highly sought after for individual courses without being prestigious in themselves ) from private schools went to private schools from pre-prep age, and how many joined much later in their educational career.

Just because there appears to be an advantage at the end point of schooling - once, of course, some children have been gently 'managed out' of private settings that turn out not to be for them - does not mean that the advantage is of the same magnitude from the very earliest point IYSWIM. Nor of the same magnitude from every school.

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