A successful Prep School

What does a successful Prep School look like?

Sitting enjoying a Sunday lunch with friends last weekend, we mulled over the Sunday papers together. A group of nearly 40 somethings: friends from school days and mostly alumnae from a girls’ academic school. You can imagine the tone of the conversation – feisty debate and comments flinging back and forth! It was only a matter of time before the Times Top 100 Prep School list was presented to me with much questioning as to why St Catherine’s, along with so many other top Prep Schools didn’t feature…. at all. With one friend in marketing and two with three year old daughters, it was hardly surprising that the conversation became quite intense.

I appreciate the feel good factor of seeing the name of your child’s school listed and hence I felt that it might be useful for you to hear why St Catherine’s and the excellent schools which educate your sons are not present. The list, and others like them, is compiled using national Key Stage tests at 11 – SATS. Such tests enable a school to measure themselves against national norms which can, of course, be useful. However, the tests themselves are limiting. In order to achieve an excellent rank order, SATs have to remain the focus of the staff and pupils until the end of the summer term in Year 6. I believe passionately in a broad education at this age and stage and would not be prepared to forfeit that to follow the SATS programme.

Girls here broadly follow the National Curriculum; they are also introduced to Common Entrance and Scholarship papers in LIII which are very different in focus and stretch. We aim to have completed the Year 6 (LIII) curriculum by January and then use the last six months of the girls’ time in the Prep School to enrich their learning and ensure that they leave us very well-prepared for their senior school. This means an introduction to Year 7 materials, the chance to oversee and assist younger pupils, taking part in LIII production, sports day and opportunities to reflect and mark the end of the first stage of their education in a fitting way. There would be a very different focus were SATS tests taking place during the summer term.

Since half term we have seen girls commemorate the anniversary of the First World War with: author visits, drama lessons and music as well as English being used to help the girls understand the relevance of the occasion and to enable them to express themselves. The school has produced an anthology of poems, prayers and creative pieces to mark the occasion. We have hosted the IAPS national gymnastics competition; we sat and watched fifty eight routines including every child aged 7-11 at the House Gym and St Catherine’s Day meant a day off timetable to pause and reflect on the ethos and values we share as a school. Budding scientists represented the school at a national science quiz; chess players took on opponents and built their ability to strategise; LIII charity monitors helped load on Christmas boxes destined for children in need via Operation Christmas Child; the iPioneers presented a memo app to the Senior Management Team; School Council members debated traffic and road safety issues. The Pre-Prep have learnt ….songs, lines and movement around a stage which is of professional standard ahead of their Nativity. This has all happened amidst challenging lessons, timed assignments for girls in LIII and preparations for the Christmas service. This is what a great Prep School should be striving to achieve. It enables each pupil to be challenged and to have their efforts recognised. It is truly difficult to ‘measure’ and yet its worth is so tangible and significant.

Naomi Bartholomew