Prep school and learning support: grateful for any advice(22 Posts)
Our DS is in Y2 and goes to a private prep school. He is young for his class (born in June). We were asked by his teacher at the end of Y1 to consider learning support - we were taken aback at that time as there was no indication that he needed additional support or that he has special needs (he hasn't been assessed / we haven't been asked to get him assessed). The teacher emphasised when we queried that he was too young to be assessed for anything, so it was left to us to think about learning support to help with school work. We were aware then that he was a bit behind - partly age related and partly because we didn't spend enough time at home going over school work (he was/still is playful and we didn’t think we needed to push him on school work). However, we did that over the summer holidays and we felt that he was doing well - was able to tackle homework with minimal guidance. His reading is at Level 4, gets about 50-60% of spellings right on written work. He is at the bottom group for math (3 groups in total) - good with smaller numbers (up to 10) - overall, we thought/think he is doing well for his age. However, school got in touch again (now in Y2) to ask if we would consider learning support; they are of the view that he will benefit from learning support as it will help address of his lack of progress compared to the rest of the class. They acknowledge that he is young for his class, but go on to say that therefore, he will really benefit.
We are requesting a meeting to understand what specific concerns the school has - no mention yet on any special needs, just additional learning support to help him get up to speed.
Any guidance from parents/teachers on what we should be asking at this meeting would be appreciated. Can we say no? Obviously, this is a prep school and they are working towards getting good results in the future, so maybe that’s what it is. Our concern is that we don't want our DS to start feeling that he is not good at school work or be perceived as such by his classmates – he is emotionally quite mature and perceptive. We may be being a bit sensitive here, but we also feel let down by the school for making it seem as if our DS is not good enough, especially given we pay private school fees for small classes and one would hope good support in the classroom (learning support will cost us extra).
It sounds like the school are pointing out that your DS is "behind" his classmates and that this isn't acceptable. Perhaps cynical, but I suspect if you say "no" to learning support, they may be looking to "manage you out" in the future.
Personally I'd look to be moving my child into a less pressured environment.
Does the prep feed into an independent secondary that you hope DS will attend? I ask because independents can & do manage out children whose academic performance will negatively affect their results. I know that's a long term view right now but bear it in mind if you say no to the learning support.
You are doing the right thing asking the school to be more specific. I'd be thinking of asking them whether he is behind compared to just the rest of his class or behind compared to the national average? Are they meaning extra support across all subjects or just a selection? How is he socially & behaviourally, not just academically. What does he excel at? What does he enjoy?
Ask a little more about what they propose, so do they mean a person who will provide one to one support all the time, or being taken out of one lesson for extra work on another instead? They are being a bit vague & you need to know specifics both of what they perceive the issues to be & how they intend to resolve them.
Unfortunately it's one of the problems with many prep schools - the small class sizes and more attention from the teacher is great if you are the kind of child who gets the hang of things quickly and are ready to work at a fast pace. It rarely seems to be of much help to children who are struggling or who would do better with a slower pace.
Your son doesn't sound as if he's particularly behind - most state schools you would probably be told that he was doing just fine especially considering a June birthday.
I think the suggestion of extra tuition is a bit of a cop-out from the school. If it is a particularly academic school with the main selling point being the results at CE/scholarship, then you may find that the pressure only increases and that you are managed out if your DS isn't keeping pace.
Can the school give you details of the exact areas where they thing extra tuition will help? Are they expecting your son to have a certain number of lessons or is this an on-going plan?
If it does turn out that your son has some kind of SEN then you may well find that a good state school offers a great deal more than an private prep will. I'm not biased either way but have seen both sides - I went to a very hot-housing prep whereas DD is at an inner-city state primary (She's being assessed today for dyslexia by the school so I am getting to see the differences where SEN is concerned).
Thanks so much for all your responses. The school feeds into a few local independents and it is understandably results oriented (after all, a prep school). But it is non-selective at nursery (so my DS wasn't assessed at nursery) and we took away from the process that it would be less pressured than other prep schools with 4+ assessments.
I will ask the questions. He is a happy fun loving child. He reads well, enjoys outdoor play - can't say he excels at any one thing. His close friends are in the other section (they mixed up the boys in Y2) and he misses them and complaints about not having a close friend in his class. But the teacher assured me that he is never by himself. Other kids do come up to him in the playground.
I wish he would be a bit more outgoing - he is a bit reserved socially and quiet, and if no one comes up to him, he will stand back and simply watch the others. But I am like that as well, and maybe that's his nature. For me, the most reassuring thing when I worry about him being by himself in the classroom or playground is that he has never cried or otherwise objected to going to school.
He sounds like a lovely boy, I hope the meeting goes well
The most important thing about school is that he enjoys it.
It might be worth looking up the National Curriculum requirements and see how he would score against them for Y2.
From what you are saying - reads well, 60% of spellings correct etc, it doesn't sound as if there is too much wrong - . I would get a lot more information about the EXACT issues from the school.
If it's just a case of being a bit unsure of certain things in maths, then maybe a couple of 1-2-1 sessions to go over it would help. If they're worried because he's not reading Harry Potter and the rest of the class are, then you might want to look at whether this school will be a happy environment for your son for the next however many years.
It's a tricky one as you always want to give your child the best start in life, but schools are often great for one kind of child and not for another. There are plenty of children who get into very academic secondaries via state primaries so a more relaxed pace in the early years isn't always a bad thing.
Thank you Midnight. I think so too It is difficult when you are told that your child might need help or is otherwise struggling. You are not really in the best place to be objective about it. But at the same time, you do know your child best (fair enough he spends almost 35 hours a week at school). But everything you do to reassure your child can be undone if the school and you are on different pages!
I do want DS to do well in school (more for his sense of achievement than to top the class), but I am not sure the school is really supportive of DS or similar kids. In fact, I don't follow schools these days: Maths homework for Y2 comes in one sheet with different tasks for different ability groups. DS knows his group and the first time, we asked him to try one of the other sums and he refused - he said that it wasn't for him and he wasn't to try it. He is only just turned 6. Why do they make this so obvious to kids and parents? I think, like the other posters have mentioned, clearly the school is gearing up for future assessments and for all the non-selection at nursery, trying to make-up now / manage weaker students out.
Will you need to pay extra for the learning support - I suspect you will if it is a 1:1 session.
Lots of children in private pre-preps and preps get a bit of extra help with things - spellings, handwriting, maths etc. It is usually done in a very tactful way.
If he is already in ability groups for maths/phonics which I would assume he is then I doubt he'd find having a bit of extra help would make him feel like he was failing in anyway.
But definitely ask where he is coming in assesments in terms of class average etc.
As an aside and this is purely anecdotal - my eldest was bottom set for maths etc at that age. He is an august birthday but now age 12 is top set in a selective senior school for maths and doing very well academically.
Thank you Elfon. We have thought about looking at other schools as well. You are right, the school has to be the right fit for him and him for the school.
That's reassuring MrsCampbellB. That's what we feel as well - that he will catch up. My husband was very young for his class and he remembers age 6, 7 and not having a clue what was going on. Which was one of the reasons why we choose a non-selective school for our DS - for a gentler environment to help him settle down and find his feet.
We will definitely ask the questions suggested on here. From memory (when we are approached in Y1), we have to pay extra.
Thanks very much. Really so grateful for all your responses and feeling so much more reassured/prepared for the meeting. I am at work typing away as I was upset and unable to focus after the call from school!
I think it is worth starting the discussion with the school about what they meant by "learning support".
DD is in a selective private and I am guessing that a good 10-20% of the kids go in and out of classes for "learning support" (1:1 is pricey, but group work is free). Some are dyslexic, some have difficulties with writing legibly etc others meet with learning support to get help with organisation/behaviour and friendship issues. I only discovered this recently when out some of the parents...DD has never mentioned it.
As a rule of thumb the staff still follow the same lesson/topic of the class but will tackle it in a slightly different way.
That's interesting Madcats. Now that you mention, I think DS was part of a group that did special lunch sessions once a week towards the end of Y1. It was advertised as a club and was free and they did problem solving and confidence building type stuff - that's how it was advertised. We didn't think much about it and then his class teacher approached me in the playground and asked if we had seen the leaflet and how he thought it would be fantastic for DS. I didn't think twice about it and signed him up and he seemed to like it and he liked the teacher as well. I've just checked the teacher's name on the school website and she is part of learning support....
Yes, we will definitely ask what they mean by learning support, how it is different (if at all) from special needs , re DS, what specific areas/concerns they have and how and how often they propose to tackle and for how long.
If they are flagging it up now I would prepare yourselves for looking at alternative schools for year 3. You may find there is a transition meeting in Spring term dying which they may suggest your dc is better off elsewhere. Alternatively you may find yourselves paying for learning support indefinitely.
I would add to the voices that recommend going into this positively. In our school many, many kids go to learning support of one sort or another and it can be a very positive experience. For example, DS went into small groups led by learning support for the first term of year 1 for both English and maths. He loved it, went with five friends from the year group and always spoke enthusiastically about the club (as he saw it). By Christmas he was promoted out of both groups because he had become too good. Over the holidays reading just clicked and one year on he always has his nose in a book.
I would recommend asking how many children have the same or similar support needs, how long they envisage the help being needed, how you can support this at home and whether there are any other activities at school that they would recommend. For example, in our school some after school clubs are designed in conjunction with the learning support specialists and can provide extra practice in some skills without the child ever knowing about it (the club may be about space or Lego, but they might focus on extending language, or patterns, or counting etc).
TBH, reading level 4 and secure at numbers up to 10 in yr2 seems a bit behind even in state school?
If he is a late bloomer(or just too young), it maybe a good opportunity for him to catch up?
I would also take it as an opportunity to catch up. If you don't want him to feel like he is behind, you should welcome additional support. He does sound like the needs to catch up. DD goes to an admittedly selective prep school in London but most even in Year 1 would be more advanced than what you describe. Of course people can say if he is young he might naturally catch up, but it may not happen and his motivation and confidence may be affected. I would give him extra support (at home if not via a teacher) to see if it helps close the gap. He will be happier at school if he is more comfortable with the reading and Maths. Don't make a big deal out of it in front of him, but do support him if he needs to catch up.
I have experience of state and private schools. This is one of the positives of a private school - they can work with your DS on an individual level.
DS2 is in year 2 and he has learning support, as do 4 or 5 other children in his class. Some others have been on it for a short time, it has improved their reading or their understanding or whatever needed extra help, and then they haven't needed it any more and gone on to be more confident in their lessons.
Ours is a non-selective prep and I measure it by how it helps DS2, not how it helps my older two who would do well wherever they were.
It's always a bit of a shock when someone flags up something about your child that you didn't expect. But I would go into the meeting with the attitude that they're are trying to help and want the best for your DS and take it from there.
OP, you say you want your DS to keep up in school so that he can feel confident etc.
However, you don't want him to have learning support and you don't want to help him at home because you think he should be playing?
I don't think you can really have it both ways?
My DS is August born and in Y2. He can do quite a bit more than your DS (ORT 8, easily calculating within 100) but is non-the -less a bit behind in his totally non-selective prep. We worked really hard with him over the summer between Y1 and 2- he did an hour, sometimes more, of school work everyday on his basic skills. It has made a HUGE difference and he is now feeling so much more confident and comfortable at school.
He is currently being assessed for dyslexia and we will certainly take learning support if the school suggest it. I can't imagine why you wouldn't?
If your DS is behind surely he already notices this? I would get some support in place at school and home before he falls further behind in your position. He might have to work when he could be playing sometimes, but it will make him feel better at school.
What you describe does sound 'behind' for any school especially the maths. DS3 is at a prep school and has learning support as well. I see it as one of the advantages of a prep is that they notice when a child is lagging and take action. Most of the prep school parents I know do quite a lot at home with their DC to ensure they are up to speed. Maybe ask what else you can do at home? Or decide that you need an entirely different approach/school if you simply want a wait and see approach.
I would give them the benefit of the doubt - they are trying to help your son, and they may manage it as tactfully as last year. If it isn't going well, or your DS feels inadequate, then you need to look at ways to boost his self-esteem and, yes, perhaps moving schools.
FWIW, I teach year 2 (in the state sector) and I would be very concerned with the maths. Reading/writing I would have on my radar, but the maths would worry me. The target cards for my class, for example, include "I can add a 2 digit number to a 2 digit number up to 50 in my head." This is for children working below the expected level.
As a more concrete example, in the y2 SATS last year, one of the questions was, I think, to find 3/4 of 20. No counting AIDS provided. Admittedly this was towards the end of the paper, but it's a long way from numbers to 10.
It's early in the year, and your DS is young, but he still has to be able to compete with the older children in his year. Surely one of the things you pay for is the expectation that they will get targeted help when they are struggling? I would expect that for any child in my class.
These are mastery assessment for yr1 and yr2.(maths)
Have a look.
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