Why British prep schools continue to be at the forefront of education

Posted on 15th Mar 2018 in Independent Schools, Prep Schools Guide

Tania Botting, vice-chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) and Headmistress of Greenfield School, Woking, writes the foreword to our Preparatory Schools 2018 guidebook...

There can be no doubt that our children are living in an increasingly fast-changing world and it has never been more important for schools to ensure that pupils are as best prepared as possible.

If 65% of the jobs that the present generation of children will be applying for do not yet exist, how can the schools of today prepare the workforce of tomorrow? How can teachers possibly know what knowledge the children are truly going to need? The simple fact is that they can’t; they can’t predict the knowledge or facts that the children will need, but they can give them the skills that they will need to acquire new knowledge and understanding.

Prep schools could be perceived as having to deal with a double whammy. They must not only prepare their pupils for increasingly rigorous and competitive entrance examinations to senior schools, but they must also ensure that their pupils are excellent thinkers, problem-solvers and communicators. These are the characteristics that are going to be vital to compete in a fast-paced world of employment.

Prospective parents ask questions on the preparation for employability – not employment – more than ever. Whereas in the past, the future senior schools and the number of scholarships gained by a school each year would have been the main topic for discussion, now there is more concern about how employable their child will be at the end of their education and how the school will achieve this. Parents, who come from a wide variety of professions, describe the frustrations of interviewing today’s graduates who demonstrate poor communication abilities and little, or no, problem-solving or independent thinking skills.

Major factors in this current lack of preparation have been the narrow, frequently changed and distorted curriculums and too much teaching of facts rather than skills. The pressure of league tables and results has been to the detriment of broad, creative and inspiring teaching and successful learning.

The preparation that pupils now require is where a prep school truly excels. Independent preparatory schools have the luxury of being just that – independent. They are independent from most of the restrictions and demands of a frequently-changing Department for Education and the independence to be creative in the curriculums delivered in their schools. A prep school education is broad, focusing not just on the imparting of knowledge, but on enabling the pupils to question and problem-solve, to be creative in their thoughts and to develop strong communication skills. Prep school curriculums are not restricted to mathematics and English lessons, as they have not lost sight of the importance of teaching the arts, humanities, languages and sport, as well as the information technology and STEM subjects that are in such demand.

Of course, prep schools must not lose sight of the fact that they have to prepare their pupils for entrance examinations and to ensure that all of the pupils reach their academic potential but, in our prep schools, academic excellence is a given. There is no need for a prep school to list academic excellence as one of their values as they provide that, and so much more, on a daily basis. Prep schools attract excellent teaching staff and many have specialist teachers working with very young pupils, inspiring them with the love of their subject and having the subject knowledge to allow their pupils to question and challenge. As Neil de Grasse Tyson, the American astrophysicist, is quoted as saying: ‘It is the inspired student who continues to learn on their own. That’s what separates the real achievers in the world from those who pedal along, just finishing assignments.’

No longer should the success of a lesson be judged on the number of questions completed in an exercise book or copious notes copied from the board. That is no longer what this generation of pupils is going to need to succeed.

In addition to the skills mentioned above, prep schools offer so many opportunities through their extra-curricular provision, including teams, clubs, and residentials, for pupils to develop other crucial life skills. Pupils foster and develop confidence, self-belief, leadership skills, perseverance, resilience, independence and a sense of responsibility. All of these are transferable to the classroom and eventually into the work place. The sooner a pupil starts to develop these skills the better and so they are vital components of an early education.

Although only 7% of pupils in the UK are fortunate enough to attend an independent school, they fill the majority of top professional careers and even BAFTA winning, British actors are more than twice as likely to have had an independent education. With statistics like this, prep schools continue to provide the very best education for their pupils, preparing them for an uncertain future and instilling integrity in our leaders of the future. British prep schools continue to be at the forefront of education.