With so much choice, how do you select the best prep school for your child?

Posted on 15th Jun 2023 in School News, Prep Schools Guide

Maxine Shaw, Head of Danes Hill School, offers her advice and guidance on selecting a school for your child.

There is a plethora of choice when it comes to schools, state or private, co-ed or single sex, day or boarding; but with so many choices, how do you choose the very best school for your child?

If you are considering independent education then your children are already very lucky. Having parents who recognise the importance of a good education and are willing to support their children as they journey through their school life, is a powerful indicator of success. The question for parents is which school to choose. Single sex or co-ed, day or boarding, selective or family orientated?

Every good independent school will offer your child an excellent curriculum which is differentiated to meet their needs. They will also offer a pastoral care system which ensures they feel safe, valued and supported. We all have great staff, excellent facilities and smaller classes than most state schools. Our children are happy and show a real yearn to learn and thirst for knowledge. So how do you choose?

Some parents are attracted by the academic outcomes that schools achieve, and this is an important factor, but it should not be the driver. Instead, start by looking at your child, look at what makes them happy, are they outgoing and confident, do they love sport, will lessons be a necessary inconvenience and do they really come alive for them at break and lunchtime?

I talk to the school community about their school days using an analogy of an octopus on a zipwire. Every child that joins us at Danes Hill is unique and that is what makes schools such amazing places to work. Each child will have different strengths and talents; some love maths, others science and some love English. We want to keep that individuality, not homogenise it and this is where the octopus comes in. With two arms on the zipwire the children should find their days fast and fun filled, each should end with a smile. The other six arms should be reaching for opportunities beyond the classroom, sports captain, coding clubs, first violin, art scholarships, the list is endless and at Danes Hill we offer over 80 clubs and activities.

We recognise that sometimes the children will fall off the zip wire, but that is good! Children learn more from their mistakes than their successes and it is good to make mistakes in the safe environment that school offers to them. The pastoral care system has many layers that come together to form a safety net. It is a hand on their back to support them but also a hand on their back to give them a gentle push when they need it.

At Danes Hill we want your children to do well academically, but we also want them to love their childhood. It is very precious, and you only get one shot at it. If they are happy, they will work harder and inevitably do better academically, so the question has come full circle. I have three children who all went to different schools and followed different paths; state, independent, day, boarding, single sex and co-ed. I have also either taught or been a governor in all variations as well! There is no crystal ball or guidebook when it comes to choosing. The best advice I can give you is follow your heart, one school will feel right and when it does grab a place straight away. Then sit back and enjoy your child’s enjoyment of their school days.

This article appears in the 2023 edition of John Catt's Preparatory Schools, which you can view here: