What is a Prep School? (and answers to other questions about Preparatory Schools)

What is a prep school? 
Preparatory, or prep, schools are UK independent schools that are the equivalent to primary and middle schools in the state education sector. As their name suggests, preparatory (prep) schools are schools whose main purpose is to prepare children for entrance to an independent secondary or senior school. Prep schools usually educate pupils up to the age of 11 or 13, before they move on to a senior school where they will complete their GCSEs and have the option to progress onto A-Level studies. 

What is a Prep School? The Library at Sedbergh Prep School

Is there boarding at a prep school? 
Some prep schools do not offer boarding and are referred to as ‘day schools’ or ‘for day pupils only’. Most prep schools, however, will offer boarding, as well as welcoming day pupils, and several boarding options are usually available, which could, depending on the school, include: 

  • Weekly boarding – Pupils board for the school week. They usually arrive at school on a Sunday evening or Monday morning and return home at the end of the school week. 
  • Tri-boarding – Boarding up to three nights a week. A great way to introduce pupils to boarding without the commitment of full-time boarding. 
  • Flexi-boarding – As the name suggests, this option can allow parents to pick and choose what evening(s) they would like their child to board. These can fit in with family or school commitments such as early morning clubs, sports fixtures, Saturday school etc. 
  • Full-time boarding – This is for pupils who board full time at school throughout the entirety of the academic term. Full-time boarding provides great opportunities for international pupils looking to join a British prep school for a term or longer. 
Boarding offers a high level of pastoral care at Sedbergh Prep School

The number of boarding pupils in a prep school will vary depending on each school and the number of boarders it can accommodate. Most prep schools will accommodate boarders from age 7 and boarding numbers often include a proportion of overseas pupils. The common trend is to see more pupils boarding as they move up the school; this can help prepare them for life after prep school, when they may move to a senior school which offers boarding also. 

What are the benefits of a prep school? 
Class sizes tend to be much smaller at prep schools, allowing for more individual teaching time with each pupil. Being independent, prep schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum. All of the schools in the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS) commit to following strict criteria for delivering a broad curriculum, but they are free to decide how and what to teach. This independence means they can deliver an education that is tailored to each child, rather than one that is determined by a governmental didact. As well as smaller class sizes, another common benefit of prep schools is that children will often be taught by subject specialists, rather than having one teacher for everything. This means pupils could have different teachers for languages, PE, performing and creative arts and sciences, similar to that experienced at secondary schools, but at a younger age. A degree of specialist teaching often starts from when children join Reception, aged four, and gradually increases in scale as they move up the school. 

What is a prep school like? 
Prep schools are often set on larger campuses with a diverse range of on-site facilities. With reduced class sizes, every pupil has the best opportunity to learn and grow in an environment where they feel supported throughout their educational journey. With more control of the curriculum, prep schools can provide a well-balanced school experience both in and outside of the classroom. As well on concentrating on academics, prep schools offer a wide range of opportunities for children to discover and develop new interests and skills across the extra-curricular arena, including in art, music, drama, dance, community service and sport.  

What is Prep School Like? Facilities at Sedbergh Prep School

A common ethos of prep schools it to focus on developing children’s ‘people skills’ and their ability to communicate effectively from an early age. This is also an emphasis on helping to shape each child’s character and promoting soft skills, such as creativity, teamwork and independence.  

Prep schools also draw interest from families across the world who are looking for a British education for their child. This provides a brilliant and varied cultural dynamic to classrooms and helps children recognise and celebrate diversity and difference. 

What is a pre-prep school?  

Pre-prep (short for pre-preparatory) schools are independent schools for children starting in either Pre-School (aged 3) or Reception (aged 4). They prepare children to move to a preparatory (or prep) school at the end of Year 3 or Year 4. Many pre-prep schools are linked to a prep school, which provides through schooling from the youngest year group through to the end of Year 6 or Year 8. Pre-prep schools normally offer smaller class sizes than state schools, specialist teaching across a wide curriculum including art, drama, music and languages and options for wrap around care, which are useful for working parents.    

What is Pre-Prep - Sedbergh Pre-Prep School

What age group covers pre-prep?

Most pre-prep schools or departments cover from age 3 to age 7 (Pre-School through to the end of Year 2). Some may start from Reception, which a child joins in the year they turn 5, and may go through to the end of Year 3, when a child turns 8.  

How are prep school standards inspected?  

Most prep schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which is a Government approved inspectorate. The ISI inspects independent schools whose headteachers belong to one of the Independent School Council (ISC) member associations in England. These include HMC, GSA, IAPS, SoH and ISA. Ofsted monitors the quality of ISI’s service on behalf of the Department for Education.  

Non-associated independent schools are inspected by Ofsted. Both ISI and Ofsted use the DfE Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations to report on independent schools’ compliance, however ISI and Ofsted use a different framework and criteria to judge the quality of a school.  

ISI currently complete school compliance inspections every two or three years and a full school inspection, with a focus on educational quality, between three to six years.    

Casterton Sedbergh Preparatory School

How many children are there in a typical prep school?   

The number of children attending a prep school will vary throughout the country. The Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) reports that the average number of children at their member schools is 260 and over half the schools have between 150 and 300 pupils. Class sizes within a prep school will normally be smaller than that in the state sector, so you may find there are two or three classes in each year group in the larger prep school settings.  

Can I get help with paying the fees?  

Yes, it is always worth speaking to a school to discuss the various options of financial support that may be available to parents. Many schools offer means tested bursaries and scholarships, alongside concessions such as those for families with more than one child and for children of ex-pupils.  

For three and four year olds, some schools may offer statutory free hours as part of the Government Nursery Funding Scheme, but this needs to be checked with each childcare setting.   

In 2019, 1 in 13 pupils at an ISC school were in a receipt of a means tested bursary, with £442 million provided in fee assistance by the schools. 

How is the curriculum different at a prep school to a state school?  

The curriculum at most prep schools in England, whilst reflecting the National Curriculum, strive to go above and beyond its boundaries. As prep schools are independent, they are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum’s strict guidelines and can chose their own methods of assessment throughout each stage. Good prep schools will aim to combine an innovative curriculum, that prepares children for life ahead, alongside a breadth of extra-curricular opportunities. The important subjects of art, drama, music and sport will usually be part of a weekly timetable for prep school children, subjects that are far too often disappearing from school curricula. #

Rugby and Sports at Sedbergh Prep School

What is the average price of a prep school?  

The average annual cost of a prep school will differ across the whole country. A prep school in the south east of the country will be, on average, more expensive than one located in the north and it will also depend on whether you are looking at day or boarding fees. The ISC report that the average termly fees for a day pupil place is £6,400, however this will include the costs of both senior and prep school members and fees usually increase with a child’s age. When looking at a prep schools fees, it is worth looking at what they include and also factor in the costs for additional extras. Items to ask about could include school lunches, before and after school clubs, uniform, curriculum trips and visits, residentials and extras such as music lessons. 

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