What to expect from pre-prep

Ashford Friars Prep takes an adventurous learning approach which includes practical and diverse experiences

You want your child to attend a nursery or pre-prep school but don't want them to be drilled in literacy and maths. Lesley Finlay asked some of our schools what parents should expect from their pre-prep...

Through my sons, I can see a very strong sense of 'school' being developed, of pride in St Faith's and a collective aim to achieve for it," says working mother Rebecca Smith, the editor of a series of newspapers in East Kent. Her two boys, Fred and Oliver, attend St Faith's at Ash School, near Canterbury. Like many busy parents, she needs to be reassured that the boys are going to be safe and nurtured, as well as being given the most secure educational grounding as possible.

Nova Shoesmith is the head of Pre-Prep and Nursery at Bede's School in Upper Dicker, East Sussex. She says: "In my experience, every parent has three main concerns when their children start school. They want to know their son or daughter will be safe and cared for. Secondly, they worry whether their child will make friends, and lastly they are often quite anxious about whether their child will be happy at school.

"At Bede's Pre-Prep, we invite parents into our classrooms to speak to our staff. Next, we invite each prospective child in for a Taster Day, during which they spend time in classes and meet the children who will become their new friends. We do this because the children themselves know, almost instinctively, what a great school looks like. We then host Information Evenings, where parents go through what every Bede's child has in their Kit Bag from uniform to the timetable."

Pre-prep schools and nurseries follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Nova from Bede's says: 'It is now a statutory requirement that almost all schools have to follow EYFS in Nursery and Reception. In practice this means schools and teachers have to take a play-based approach to learning through structured, purposeful play covering all curriculum areas, rather than just free play."


Pupils at Bede's share their learning with head of Pre-Prep Nova Shoesmith

Louise Baldock is the Early Years Foundation Stage teacher at Bricklehurst Manor School in Wadhurst. She says: "At Bricklehurst, we foster a happy, inclusive, adaptable and safe environment in order to encourage and enable the children to reach their individual potential when they are ready to do so.

"In the EYFS (as with the rest of the school) the children are introduced to many different approaches to learning in a range of styles. The teaching is introduced through topics that are often linked to the interests of the group. The foundations for literacy and numeracy are laid within the EYFS and the children begin to understand and build on the basics of addition, subtraction and the number system and reading and writing."

At Ashford Friars Prep School, good practice has been recognised with an outstanding rating from the Independent School Inspectorate for its Early Years Foundations Stage provision. Richard Yeates, head of Ashford Friars Prep School, said: "We passionately believe in making every day a learning adventure for each child. Children are nurtured as individuals, encouraged to embrace new experiences and to think creatively. They are happy and wholly engaged by the experience in Nursery."


Outdoor learning helps pupils at Ashford Friars Prep School develop all-round skills

Good pre-preps and kindergartens attached to prep schools work closely with their prep schools. Louise from Bricklehurst Manor explains: "The EYFS department work closely together, as well as with the school as a whole. We participate in activities and events with the older children. The eldest children play a nurturing role with the younger ones at play times and lunchtimes and they act as great role models as well as friends."

Mr Yeates from Ashford Friars says: "During their time in Nursery they will be encouraged to seize every opportunity to learn through their play which gives them a thorough grounding in language, literacy and numeracy skills."

One of the attractions of a good early education is the opportunities available to pupils. Mum Rebecca says: "The range of sporting and other extra-curricular activities was another thing that appealed to me at St Faith's. There is everything from tennis to fencing; drumming to violin; art and drama or German and martial arts."

Mr Yeates at Ashford says

"From the age of three, children have regular sessions with specialists in PE, as well as music, cookery, dance and swimming. Learning is child-initiated and we ensure we make full use of our beautiful country setting as well as the excellent facilities on offer at the Prep School site."


Children get hands-on with structured play

At Bricklehurst Manor, this additional stimulation is important. Louise explains: "Children's learning is enhanced through trips and specialists invited into school. This academic year we have been to Blackberry Farm and Drusillas zoo, and welcomed travelling theatre companies, among other things."

Ensuring smooth transition and consistency as children move up the school is a priority for good pre-prep schools. Louise says: "At Bricklehurst, Reception and the Kindergarten, led by Alison Oliver, work seamlessly together and the children and staff are very well acquainted before the transition takes place. Each child is unique and so there is no definitive model for a Reception ready child. However, in our experience the common factor in children moving to Reception is their self-assured confidence, happiness and high level of motivation and readiness to learn, succeed and progress.

"We aim to develop a love of learning and an inquisitiveness to find out about the world around us. We teach children the skills to be able to work independently as well as co-operatively within a group." Such skills are vital as they move through school.

Nova at Bede's adds: "The way our teachers approach learning across the Bede's family of schools is our major strength. We believe in practical learning, tailored for every individual, and these principles are crucial. Any parent looking at schools should expect to see something similar in terms of lesson plans or curriculum provision.

"To make sure we achieve our goals at Bede's for example, every teacher at the Pre-Prep comes together during our Syllabus Planning stage to brainstorm all the exciting questions we will ask to promote critical thinking and activities across every year group. We then check our ideas against the national curriculum to ensure that all key skills and knowledge areas are not only met but exceeded."


children are learning at Bede's without even realising it

For Mr Yeates from Ashford Friars, instilling a love of learning is vital for children as they move up the school. He says: "Children are brimming with confidence, independence and self-motivation, and eagerly looking forward to the next step in their education, displaying a real eagerness to learn."

So parents can rest assured there is a great deal of hard work going on behind the scenes to make sure your child has a happy start to school life. A visit to schools beforehand will allow them to help make that decision - the child's view is important too!