Choosing a Prep School
Need some help? Here's the insider scoop on choosing the best school for your child from Colston's Lower School's headmaster, David Edwards
Choosing schools can be a total minefield, but there are a few things you can do. Firstly, check out my snoopy school reviews – seriously, they’ll really help! Secondly, read this brilliant advice from David Edwards, the Head of Colston’s Lower School in Bristol.
He has given us his insider tips for the things you really need to take notice of when you’re looking round a school – and Tiger parents take note, academics aren’t all of them!
How early should you start looking for a prep school?
Around three or four terms before your child will start. You may have lots of schools to choose from so bring it down to your top two by attending open mornings or arranging a private tour. Though do be aware that some schools are hugely oversubscribed so be prepared to go earlier for those and join their list.
When is the best time to view a school? On an open day or an ordinary day during a bespoke visit?
Do both! During an Open Morning you will see the school working at its best. This will give a sense of the school and help you narrow down your shortlist.
Once you are down to your top two or three schools I would suggest meeting with the Head. This gives you chance to have a real conversation about your child as well as seeing the school on a normal day.
Is it worth talking to other parents? Or will that give an unusually rosy glow to the school?
Absolutely talk to the parents – they have been in your shoes! There is a real family feel here at Colston’s, we have families who are on their third generation attending so parents are some of our strongest ambassadors and we find many referrals generated this way.
How important are other parents? Will you get a good sense of community?
Community is an important part of school life and parents do play a role in this. Though don’t worry if you are not the “normal” parent as long as you are happy with the education your child will receive.
Should parents talk to the children themselves? How much can you trust your ‘tour guide’, who is likely to be one of the most eloquent children in the school?!
Yes! In my experience pupils are wonderfully honest and I always encourage parents to ask their guides about their experiences at Colston’s.
Should parents talk to the Head? What questions should they ask?
For me this is key, the Head sets the tone for a school and it is important you meet the person at the helm. Ask them what they consider important for the children. Some schools are unapologetically competitive in regards to gaining entrance to selective senior schools so will run a narrower curriculum with an academic emphasis. The opposite is true of others who consider a broad curriculum with many diverse opportunities to be the best way forward. As parents you need to consider what you are preparing for.
Also find out about them. How long have they been at the School for, what are their plans and make sure a departure isn’t on the horizon!
Talking to the Head should continue throughout your time at the school. I encourage all parents to knock on my door anytime to talk me about things that are going on. It’s an important part of my role, I am here to support.
What are your views on co-ed v. single sex?
This could be debated as long as Brexit! I have worked in both; both have positive and negative traits. It is down to what is best for your child and finding the right environment for them to thrive in.
Is it worth looking at an all-through school?
There is a huge benefit to pupils attending an all-through school. Here at Colston’s pupils in the Lower School get access to all the fabulous facilities of the Upper School including the exceptional sports facilities, theatre and Hilborne Garden.
We find the transition into secondary, which can be difficult for both children and parents, to be a seamless process. The pupils are already comfortable in their surroundings and know the teaching staff, which gives them a real head start.
What about pastoral care? Should parents ask direct questions like what happens when things go wrong?
Happy children learn best so understanding pastoral care should be high on your agenda when looking at prospective schools. Find out what their stance is on bullying or what they would do if your child is unhappy? Who in the school is responsible for your child’s welfare?
Everyone at Colston’s from reception is allocated a house, so are fully supported by a Head of House and team of staff who are responsible for their well-being.
Also check what happens to help your child settle in at school. Here we offer all prospective students a taster day so they can experience what a day at Colston’s is like. During the first few weeks we find them a “buddy” who has similar interests and hobbies to show them the ropes.
Should they ask for concrete evidence of something that has happened and how it’s been dealt with? This is a tricky area sometimes to dig into…Bullying policies? How do you cope with a mental health disorder?
These are all relevant but quite tricky to discuss and certainly no school will divulge privileged information about a previous situation. You should certainly ask about anti-bullying provision and what is in place if a child feels unhappy.
Is it really worth taking the time to look through children’s school books?
Look at the quality of the work and also the comments the teachers have left. Are they providing students with meaningful feedback to help future development? Also take a look at the work on the walls and see how it compares to your child’s current output.
How important is outdoor learning, now that everyone is doing it?
Everyone is doing it because it is important! We believe in a balance of outdoor and indoor learning and certainly make the most out of our 30 acres space for lots of regular forest school sessions, sports and other outdoor fun! We find that these sessions have increased our children’s confidence and had a positive impact on their mental well-being which carries through into the rest of their learning.
How important are learning environments for children – flexible classrooms? Flash new million-pound spaces? Do slightly shabbier environments matter?
It is easy to have your head turned by flashy million-pound spaces, however the real key is the adult in the room. They can be in the best classroom imaginable but if they don’t have a spark then it is all for nothing.
How important is it to look past the academics?
We are proud of the excellent results achieved by our students, but it is of equal importance to us that they become well-rounded individuals with a range of opportunities available to them. We are proud of our enhanced cross curricular programme that gives pupils opportunity to explore subjects like creative arts, STEM and Humanities.
Facilities. Should parents be wowed by them? How important is the astroturf?!
If you have serious aspirations for your child playing sport then having the correct facilities is important. However this is where choice verses practicality plays a part as this can mean travelling considerable distance. Here at Colston’s we are lucky, despite being a city school, we have access to a beautiful 30 acre site, with sports pitches, theatre, AstroTurf and more!
Again it is down to your child. Are they sporty? creative? musical? What opportunities are there and does the school have the facilities to back this up?
Take a look for yourself at Colston’s Open Day, Friday 10th May at 9.30-11.30am – make sure you take a look.