'Why choose an independent school?' A Head's personal insight

Posted on 16th Jun 2015 in Prep Schools Guide, Choosing a school

Mark Brotherton, Headmaster of Giggleswick Junior School, writes the foreword to the 2015 edition of John Catt's Preparatory Schools...

Welcome to the 2015 edition of John Catt’s Preparatory Schools. It is my privilege to be asked to write this foreword as it is a precursor to a wealth of information that will help you understand and, hopefully, select a school to meet the needs of your children. The pages you will turn are full of superb schools that belong to our highly successful independent school sector which is the aspiration of so many parents in this country and abroad.

My first experience of the independent school world was when I attended a (really good) state school. I was a sportsman first and foremost (I went on to become a PE teacher and Director of Sport), and we would often play sporting fixtures against our private school counterparts. We would always lose – quite badly. Even as a young man growing up, it intrigued me that these teams were more advanced than us. So when I went to study to become a teacher I had the chance to take a placement at an independent school, the answers became clear; ethos, time and resources. Now, please do not misunderstand me, I had a valuable and rewarding school education that enabled me to progress to University and shape the person who I am today, but I know that if I had been exposed to the amount of skilled staff, facilities and time on and off the curriculum, I am certain we would have given those teams a far better test.

This to me is part of the essence of why choose an independent school. Academic progress and results are important, and whilst the schools in this directory will have many differences and approaches, they will have a common theme; high quality educational provision and diversity of opportunity. This is why we aspire to send our children to the finest schools in the world. One of the most important aspects of these schools is their ability to spend the time to instil morals and values that are well taught, practiced and celebrated. Naturally, parents want to expose their children to facilities such as theatres, sports halls, art rooms, music schools, swimming pools, sports pitches and such like, but it is the depth of curriculum that enables staff to fully engage with your children, as they begin to develop the child to the young adult; a confident learner prepared fully for the challenges of senior school life and the teenage years. Within this child are embedded the values of respect, trust, participation and perseverance that are enhanced with opportunities for drama, creativity, sport, music and much more.

The schools in this directory will offer a rich diversity and I hope you will spend profitable hours carefully reading through their details. There are many single sex schools – testament to the demand for such education, coeducational schools, boarding and day schools, junior and prep. Many schools will have nurseries attached to them and indeed many will offer the Early Years Funding enabling parents to dip their toes in to the Independent School world for marginal cost. If you have young children then seize the opportunity to involve yourself in an independent school; enjoy a free taste of a private school and its opportunities and possibilities on offer!

How do you choose? Quite simply, visit as many as you reasonably can, as it will only be at that stage that you will truly feel the atmosphere and ethos of the school. Try to ensure sure you visit when the children are in school - speak to the children – they are all great ambassadors for their schools and you will feel the sense of pride they have in belonging. Naturally, you must speak with the Head of the school because she or he is the standard bearer, the person who sets the tone and direction. Open Days are fine, but I would much prefer to see parents on a one to one basis and give them quality time to ask questions and to really have the opportunity to forage in to the depths of my school. After all, this is likely to be one of the biggest emotional and financial investments a parent will make and both parties need to have a chance to get to understand each other.

Ask the school about their commitment to extra-curricular activities, the trips they run and the varied opportunities they offer. Read the most recent inspection report as this will inform you about the school before you visit, but most schools will have excellent reports and thus you need to gauge the feel of the school to make the right choice.

Independent schooling is a gift to your children. The younger years in particular are crucial for learning and development, and I have seen so many fabulous schools that provide the rich opportunities to nurture children. I hope you enjoy reading through this directory and finding the school that will suit your child’s needs best.

To read John Catt's Preparatory Schools 2015 in eBook format, click here.