Deciding on post-11 education options for your child can be daunting. With so many choices out there, from going straight into senior school, aiming for grammar school or moving into an independent boarding school, there’s so much to think about.
With children’s teenage years being some of their most formative, SoGlos spoke to Wycliffe College to find out why it recommends staying at prep school until Year 8, instead of moving straight into senior school – and the benefits that provides.
About the expert – Helena Grant, prep head at Wycliffe College
Helena Grant heads up the prep school at Wycliffe College in Stonehouse. Having worked within 13+ prep schools, as well as at schools in the UK and abroad, she has extensive experience in working with Year 7 and 8 students within a prep school setting.
With a background as an English teacher, Grant has a deep appreciation of pupil’s intellect, as well as experience as a pastoral deputy helping pupils mature and develop. She finds seeing pupils grow into confident young adults, ready to move into senior school, particularly rewarding.
Most parents may assume that children start senior school in Year 7, but Wycliffe College is encouraging parents to keep their children at prep school until Year 8 – why is that?
It is very simple – childhood and academic enrichment. Life for this age group is intense, particularly with social media, access to films and YouTube with the trillions of choices at a finger click.
Our young people are seeing and hearing more than they ever have and many believe they are many years older than their birth age.
The education environment, therefore, is what needs to ‘hold them’ to both allow for brain development and maturity – and to open up the world of learning and curiosity.
The school arena has to ensure pupils are challenged and exposed to deep learning. It is important the emotional space allows for independence, but also retains a structure which helps to guide them.
We do this with a team of pastoral leaders who are passionate about supporting mental health and who know this can be a time for pushing some boundaries.
Our leaders guide pupils back to the road with discussion, firm and caring guidance to ensure they are ready, at the end of Year 8, to move on to their next stage of transition.
What is the environment like for Year 7 and Year 8 pupils at Wycliffe prep school?
We are incredibly blessed with a purpose-built Year 7 and 8 hub. Our Year 8s have a common room – a place for hanging out with their peers, making tea and toast, playing table tennis and table football and being able to truly relax.
The classrooms are spacious and light, with high walls to showcase wonderful artwork and a tutor room for each group which is ‘their’ place.
Year 7s and 8s access the whole campus for their lessons – and that includes senior school for sport and visits to specialist rooms for cooking. We have also created our own purpose-built kitchen for our pupils; science labs; drama theatre; music studio; and high-quality sports pitches, including a newly built astro.
Upper Prep (Years 6 to 8) are in school for Saturday mornings for academic enrichment and a cross-themed approach for subjects such as sustainable futures; entrepreneurship; philosophy and ethics; and ‘STEM’ projects.
We utilise our Round Square connections and our older pupils take part in collaborations, workshops and conferences all around the (virtual) world – and our subject leaders share their passion for their curriculum area with the school through assemblies and presentations.
How do class sizes at prep school compare with senior school? What difference does that make for pupils?
Our classes rarely go above 20 or 21 pupils and this is similar going through to Wycliffe College from Years 9 to 11. A-level classes are smaller again.
What opportunities do Year 7 and Year 8 pupils have at prep school that they may not have at senior school?
The greatest opportunity here is leadership and the chance to be a role model to younger pupils with a true sense of leading, rather than a badge on their jumper and no more.
Leadership skills, whether or not a child holds a position of responsibility within the school, are vital for all young people moving forward.
Our pupils come away with learning about how to manage complex social situations with their peers, considering their part in the framework of a community and get to know themselves better.
This self-knowledge, partnered with more time in an environment where they are still allowed to be children, is a powerful combination.
What impact does staying at prep school for this additional two years have on children when they start senior school?
Due to a higher self-awareness and having given themselves more time to bridge the gap between what they are now exposed to and their maturing impulses, Year 9 is then a much smoother transition.
Pupils have more self-confidence and are more resilient in managing a bigger year group and more intense academic pressure.
Scholarships are also available moving into Year 9 and this year we have had 24 of our pupils successfully secure a scholarship.
What is the process of moving from prep school in Year 8 to senior school in Year 9?
The process of joining state senior schools in any year out of the ‘normal’ entry points is one which is managed through the Local Education Authority and based on what spaces are available.
From Year 8 to Year 9 at Wycliffe, there are no additional exams. The handover between academic and pastoral teams is detailed and consideration of which house will best suit them thought through carefully.
Transition points are put in – such as Year 9s coming to talk to Year 8s; Year 13 prefects coming to talk; and visits to the senior school are put in place.
What kind of fees can parents expect to pay to keep their children at prep school for Years 7 and 8?
Our fees in Year 7 and 8 are £5,905 per term.