Choosing the right nursery or pre-prep school for your littles is such a crucial time. We get some advice
Words Holly Kirkwood
Finding the right school for your children in their early years can be a daunting experience, particularly in London. There is lots of variety, and competition for places at nurseries and pre-preps throughout the capital can be fierce so it bears thinking about quite early on. To find the right place for your child there are a whole host of factors to take into consideration, from friends and family’s input to extensive internet research which can take hours out of your life.
There is so much to think about that we decided to speak to an expert, to get some advice.
How to choose a nursery
Lucy Fletcher is a Placement Director at Bonas MacFarlane and has vast experience advising parents searching for the right school places. As it turns out, she has plenty of advice when it comes to choosing the right early years education for your little ones.
The first thing Lucy very much recommends is going to visit the nurseries and pre-preps, to get a feel for them and the teams who work there: “In the majority of cases, this is the first time that parents will be leaving their children in the hands of someone outside the family home, so you have to think carefully when it comes to how you feel about the people and the establishment,” she says. “Most nurseries are happy to take children from two, and some even younger, but no matter how great it is, you’re going to have to deal with those inevitable moments, when your child is upset and you have to leave them. It’s about how confident you will feel after you’ve had to walk out of the door.”
It’s also very easy to start doing your research and then get caught up with fashionable schools, but this, on the whole, is to be avoided. “Don’t fixate on one place: there won’t be just one school which your children absolutely have to attend – and remember in London there is ample choice.”
Proximity is a factor, for sure: neither you nor your child want to be trekking across London twice a day in the week; it’s also important socially that your little one makes friends who who are easy to arrange playdates with. Again, says Lucy, the last thing you want to do with your weekends is hours in the car.
The Good Schools Guide is an invaluable resource, of course, and there are a number of websites where you can enter your postcode and search for recommended schools locally. Make sure you choose a selection, Lucy recommends, and put your childrens’ names down early – not quite at conception – but the best nurseries and pre-preps do have limited spaces, with preference given to siblings, and sometimes it’s first come, first served.
Getting your children into the right school
The relationships between local nurseries and the best local pre-pre and prep schools are often very well established, adds Lucy, which can make the transition easier for parents and pupils alike. “Often headmasters will have visited their counterparts, to glean an understanding of how they work.” Pre-preps which have good relationships with top local nurseries will have an idea of what they can expect from children who’ve attended these places, which can make getting accepted there more straightforward.
Similarly, prep schools who run the 4+ test often have an idea of what to expect from children who have attended local pre-preps they’re familiar with, and this can be an advantage.
If your child is sitting for the 4+ don’t worry too much, advises Lucy. On the day just make sure that your little one is relaxed: that is when they are able to do their best. “Remember, it’s not a formal assessment, or shouldn’t feel like one,”. Parents must also remember that not all the best pre-preps assess at four – it’s more useful to take a look at which prep schools pupils head for after their exit results.
Looking ahead to university
Aside from all these factors, the most important thing for parents to think about in these early years, says Lucy, is what they are aiming for a little later on.
Not necessarily the Oxbridge question, but would they like their children at day schools or boarding schools; are they aiming for co-ed or single sex, or a mixture, and finally what sort of focus they think their children would enjoy.
Although there are a wealth of outstanding state schools to choose from in London, by large the advantages of independent schools include better facilities and opportunities: often children are offered the chance to experience different things outside the standard curriculum, and to travel, and try different things, from sport to ideas, and it’s then you get to see where children’s strengths can really lie.
There also happen to be a higher number of senior schools for girls in London – a trend which is changing, but dates back to the days when most boys were sent to board at eight.
So it’s less about selecting the university you’re aiming for, and working backwards, but more about opening up choices for your children, so you can see what they really enjoy. When you do look at senior schools, take into account not just Oxbridge, but how many pupils went on to read Medicine, or Law for instance, which demand very specific high-level results, Lucy suggests.
Whether you go for co-ed or single sex really depends on your own feelings, Lucy advises. It seems there is no right answer. She’s heard great arguments on both sides, and it does seem that boys and girls learn differently, but then socialisation is always easier if children have been in co-ed from an early age.
The most important thing is that great headmasters and headmistresses should always be happy to chat about any of your questions or concerns, whatever level your child is approaching.
Many young families moving within London take local schools into account when they buy a house, but then most popular family locations have schools which will meet most parents’ requirements. It just takes a little bit of time and effort to make sure you are happy with your choices, and you keep up with all the deadlines for applications at each stage.
Finally, don’t forget to make sure your children are happy – it’s well known that parents can project their own issues onto their little ones. “Just remember your kids might turn out to want something very different than what you had imagined when they were three or four,” Lucy warns.
It seems that best thing we can do as parents is keep an open mind, and provide opportunities for them to explore their own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s easier to tell what will suit them later on.
Read more on education at www.absolutely-mama.co.uk