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The End of Prep Schools?

Discussion in 'Independent' started by tonbridge87, Jun 2, 2019.

  1. tonbridge87

    tonbridge87 New commenter

    Reading the Times leader on Saturday, reporting on the Good Schools' Guide and their comment on prep schools dying a slow, lingering death due to the ever improving state junior system and ever increasing costs, I wonder what other prep/junior school teachers' views are on this? Certainly, there has been a move to take at 11 into senior schools, though this is driven by market conditions. The state system has improved, but at what cost? Having regular contact with state primary heads, I see many subjects being sidelined with a focus on Maths and English dominating the curriculum, mainly in the morning, and headteachers constantly looking over their shoulders at Ofsted and the league tables. The Times article appeared to me to be inaccurate in many ways, especially as there appears to be a retention crisis in many state schools and salaries haven't risen that well, though the article seemed to suggest that all these had improved. I realise that it's open season for independent bashing, but are prep schools a dying breed?
  2. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    When I started teaching back in 1982, in a little prep school down in Somerset, many of the same arguments were being made. So have all prep schools disappeared? No, they have not. They have diversified and re-invented themselves, but they certainly have not disappeared. Yes, some of them have gone out of business, but that has always happened from time too time. On the other hand, every week I get e-mails and messages from teachers in the UK who want to leave the UK and teach overseas. The low salaries, poor staff morale and insane house prices make teaching an unattractive career for most young graduates. With many NQTs leaving teaching altogether almost as soon as they have finished their induction year, I fear that state schools are in a much worse state than ever before. The "value added" aspects of education, such as Art, Music and Sport, are the life and soul of every good prep school and they seem to have all but disappeared from many state schools, no doubt due to the pernicious influence of OFSTED and those league tables.
  3. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    This is true, and one reason why I think prep schools will survive. Smaller classes and a greater focus on the individual and his/her needs and talents are two more.
    State primary schools have upped their game considerably in recent years, but most cannot match a prep school in terms of the plethora of activities and opportunities on offer, the specialist teaching (especially in Music, Drama, Art, Swimming, Dance, Sport etc.), the facilities for these subjects, the residential trips, field trips, music tours, instrumental lessons, performance opportunities and the very strong pastoral care.
    I’ve heard it suggested that a state education is the sponge in the cake; a grammar school education is the sponge and jam; but a good independent school education is the sponge, jam and icing.
  4. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Yes, ViolaClef, and maybe the cherry on the top as well!

    Seriously, I do think that the staffing crisis in many state schools makes it difficult (almost impossible) for most primary schools to "up their game". Financial pressures mean that many primary schools have sold off their sports fields. Every week I get e-mails from teachers who want to get out of teaching in the UK and so they go overseas instead. As for the LGBT rumpus that has been on the news and in the TES, is this not another reason for sending your child to a private school?

    Incidentally, I googled the prep school where I first started teaching, back in 1982. It seems to be thriving, with student numbers up, an energetic and youngish head, and a very impressive website.
    JL48 and ViolaClef like this.
  5. ParakeetGreen

    ParakeetGreen New commenter

    The older I've become, the more I have thought about education, at the younger years of life, when life is so full of "natural exuberance", the more I come to the conclusion that these above are potential skills that can be enjoyed or exercised by individuals for the rest of their lives whatever "work" specialism they end up finding themselves in due to circumstance, chance, connections or other changes in their lives and in their personality formation. Added to that the smaller class sizes again at a more human level, a coaching level as opposed to a lecturing level, it's probably a positive future for education when it's taken more seriously by society and the system described here as found in prep schools becomes the "norm".

    The "crush" or "crowd control" of many school systems with the 'constant pressure' system eg exam "rat race" to regulate these schedules is very strange. It's reduced human experience into a numbers game.
  6. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    Good points @ParakeetGreen. I think the history of education (which I and my fellow students studied as part of our teacher training) does cast some light on this.
    When you pay for something you are more likely to value it and not to waste it.
    In Victorian England - a society with very distinct social classes - education was available to each class but had to be paid for. This meant that of course it was not an option for the poorest of the poor, although there are many stories of the poor making great sacrifices to sent their children to a dame school or a local ‘teacher’ from their own class just long enough for their child to learn to read. These teachers and ‘schools’ varied enormously - often the teacher was carrying on some other occupation while teaching but nevertheless many poor children did learn to read in this way.
    When the state started getting involved in education, it was aiming to provide education for the masses - for the working class. Victorian politicians assumed that middle and upper class families would send their children to private or public schools or have tutors and governesses.
    Having made its first grant to education (which then increased with the passing years) the government wanted to make sure its money was being well spent. Hence the introduction of an inspection regime, investigation into teachers’ ‘qualification’ to teach, laying down the curriculum and testing of pupils. This only applied to the schools receiving government money.
    The interesting thing is that the middle class Victorian inspectors did not approve of the working class private schools. While some of their observations may have been valid, others were very prejudiced. My college tutor did his doctorate research on this topic and he made a very convincing case of how legislation eventually deliberately closed down the cheap, working class private schools, forcing the less well off to attend free state schools.
  7. jarndyce

    jarndyce Occasional commenter

    Depends what the state schools are like.

    I've seen lots of young parents who have made a bit of money. Particularly if they've moved from their childhood area, they have no idea of what their area is really like, having never interacted with someone who isn't also rather well off. However, they're against private education as a concept.

    Suddenly, they realise the primary schools available to their child are ones which all the horror stories are written about: class sizes over 30, kids coming in not able to use the toilet or communicate properly, and so on. Much soul-searching later, and then they spend the next 14 years sending their child to an independent.
  8. ParakeetGreen

    ParakeetGreen New commenter


    If - the money per student for education were "given" to the parents of the child, then each day the parents would "pay" the daily rate to the school at the gates at the start of the day [2], I think the psychological difference would have a huge impact, even though, on paper, the money "spent" is ZERO CHANGE DIFFERENT to the current system.[1]

    This thought experiment I believe tells us a significant truth with respect to "spending money" [3] vs "spending money" in government provision (in this case Education). Another elaboration, the daily amount per parent could be allocated according to their choice of selection of subjects according to various merit criteria the student passes in the school to expand their choice of options for themselves[4]...
  9. JL48

    JL48 Star commenter

    Really? I haven't noticed.
  10. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    The horrendous stories that are continually appearing in the TES suggest that JL48 might be right to be just a teeny bit cynical.
    jarndyce and JL48 like this.
  11. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    Largely nonsense IMO. The offering of the two sectors are too different to be considered as being in competition. Our numbers have grown year on year to the point that we have recently expanded to, and filled, a 3rd form of entry.

    The demise of Common Entrance and the opening of Yr 7 and 8 entry to secondary independent schools is having a small impact on the student demographic of prep schools - fake news about improving state primary schools isn't IMO.
  12. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Yes, it does appear that some public schools are trying to persuade the parents to send their offspring earlier, so that they do not sit the 13+ CE exams. I wonder whether this is really in the long-term interests of the public schools (and it certainly is not in the interests of many prep schools!) It might be that students who come at 11 are more likely to get itchy feet at 16.

    Every week there seem to be more and more lurid and shocking stories about the awful things that are happening in state schools all over the UK. I also get more and more e-mails from teachers who want to leave the UK and teach overseas. Therefore I do not understand where this nonsense about the wonderful improvements in state primary schools could be coming from.
  13. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    I agree it is a great shame that senior schools encourage pupils to come at 11 rather than 13. Those two extra years at prep school are hugely enriching for the pupils. I suppose some senior schools have opened their doors for Year 7s to provide for those pupils coming from state schools whose parents are unlikely to send them to prep school for two years and then move them again. Some independent schools which have a Year 7 intake do encourage anyone at a prep school to stay there till the end of Year 8. Others are playing a numbers game and want/need a full cohort in Year 7 - and they can be rather devious in their way of achieving that - suggesting, for example, that there might not be a place if you wait till then, knowing full well that that will not be the case.
    jarndyce likes this.
  14. cathr

    cathr Occasional commenter

    I have taught for 17 years in (boarding) prep schools; a bit on a whim, I started supplying in state schools 18 months ago. I am currently in a long term placement in a fully comprehensive school. Recently, I listened to year 7 students presenting a so called 'extended learning project'. With very few exceptions, the standard of research and presentation skills was a long way below those I had observed in a prep school setting and some of these students, not being boarders, could have had some parental support. The standard of music does not seem to be on the same level either...
  15. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    Music is usually very highly regarded in independent prep schools, with a Director of Music, designated Music teaching room, practice rooms and some extra-curricular activities as a minimum at most. The pupils will have weekly Music lessons from a specialist teacher from Nursery upwards. And there will usually be a good system of individual instrumental lessons as an extra which many pupils will take.

    Most state primary schools do not have anyone on the staff who could be described as a Music specialist and many Heads have little understanding of the value of Music so will not use the scant resources to fund a Music Teacher. Music is disappearing from some comprehensive schools too, or it is not an option at GCSE.

    This would be unthinkable in the independent sector.
  16. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    And similarly in independent secondary schools, many of which have purpose-built music schools that include a concert hall, rehearsal rooms, practice rooms of various sizes, piano studios, classrooms, music library, keyboard lab, instrument stores and similar. My own school had, by the time I retired, four full-time music teachers, 36 instrumental and vocal tutors, a full-time music administrator and a technician, all servicing numerous choirs, orchestras and bands as well as a teaching programme right up to A-level.

    Music is, along with games, one of the two most expensive subjects in the curriculum (as various heads reminded me over the years), but also - again, along with games - a subject that attracts a great many parents and their children.

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