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How to choose a prep school

The most important things to look for in a school...and nope, exam results are not one of them! Here's the insider scoop on how to choose the best school for your child from Stonar School's Head of Prep, Rob Cunningham

Choosing the right school for your child can be tricky – and I should know, having done it nine times for three different Mudlets (and one ongoing). Tricky though it may be, 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 Rob Cunningham, the Head of Prep of Stonar School in Atworth.

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Muddy Wilts: How do you work out which school will be the right fit academically?

Rob Cunningham: A school’s job is to ensure a child meets their potential. Children will have strengths and areas of weakness – both need work. Areas of strength need to be nurtured and built upon; challenge is important to ensure a child does not plateau or coast. Where children struggle there has to be support and understanding. Resilience has to be taught and the curriculum personalised to ensure the child meets their goal.

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At Stonar we have very high expectations of children academically and socially. This does not mean all children will achieve the same level but all can make progress given the right environment, time and support.

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Our experienced teachers differentiate within lessons to ensure each child is developed as an individual. This is further supported by both our Able & Talented Programme and our Learning Support Department.

 

Is it important to find a school whose values and ethos chime with your own?

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Values and ethos are incredibly important. You can only really get a feel for this by visiting the school, meeting the children and the staff. Although finding a school that fits your beliefs is important, I believe it is equally, if not more important, that a school is committed to growth and development. In a globalised world it is important to have a core set of values but also be open to the changes and innovations that have the potential to enhance and add to a school.

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Does it matter if it is a single-sex or co-ed environment at prep school level?

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At Stonar children thrive in a co-ed environment. Learning and playing alongside a range of children is crucial in early child development. Children learn to celebrate how we are different and that leads to learning that gender is not a barrier to anyone either socially or academically.

 

Is the size of the school important?

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The size of the school can be important but more important is what the culture is like. I have visited very large schools that have an incredible family feel they work hard to maintain and have been in small schools where classes rarely mix and there is little cohesion. At Stonar we work hard to ensure that the culture is one of cohesiveness and support across the whole school. There are many opportunities for cross-phase relationship building between pupils; this may be our Year 6 pupils having responsibility for reading stories and playing with the Nursery children at lunchtimes, or combined Prep-Senior after school activities and school trips and our Year 9’s development programme includes time spent supporting our Prep pupils in English lessons. The children and staff say proudly “this is how we do it here”. Children are known as individuals; have their successes celebrated and are supported to get better when they struggle.

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How important are class sizes? How large are the classes at Stonar?

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In the Prep School at Stonar our classes have an average of 11 pupils. Having worked in a school with classes three times this size I would say smaller classes make a huge difference in terms of the experience and progress your child can achieve at a school. There are many positives which include; the amount of 1:1 time a teacher gets with a child; a teacher being able to think and plan with each child’s learning journey and needs considered and (when appropriate) the quiet and purposeful learning environment. (I say when appropriate as classrooms need to be buzzy places and we don’t have quiet classrooms all the time!)

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What about the curriculum? Is this something that should be considered by potential parents? Tell us a little about the prep school curriculum at Stonar.

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Curriculum is at the heart of learning in any school and the curriculum is about what you want children to learn. I believe that a curriculum in not there just to be encountered but to be remembered. To do this there needs to be a goal. We think carefully about what we want children to learn and how we will know when they have learnt. Coupled with this are high expectations of both effort and behaviour which ensures learning and progress take place.

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It is easy to plan things that mean children have a good time. More challenging is shaping a progression model that ensures practice of key skills, collaboration, research and challenge. Children have a great time at Stonar but they also learn a lot. We use the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) as the framework for our learning in the Prep school. It focuses on developing knowledge, skills and understanding of subjects set within child-friendly, relevant, cross-curricular thematic units of work that are creative and challenging for children of all abilities. With its flexible framework it is committed to improving learning and developing international mindedness, while allowing the teachers to develop the topics in-line with the children’s emerging interests.

 

What about extra- and co-curricular activities? Are these offered after school? Does this make for a long day for younger pupils?

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We offer a range of after school clubs that include; sports (swimming, rugby, football etc.), craft, cooking, art, ballet and singing. Being able to access all of these co-curricular activities means that when children are picked up there is no need to rush them off to another venue or activity as we can provide it all in one place. Then when they get home they can rest and recharge, ensuring they are ready for the next day’s learning.

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Is wraparound care important? How long can pupils stay at school at Stonar? This must be crucial for working parents.

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We offer wrap around care from 8am to 5:55pm included in our fees. You don’t need to book and children can be collected and dropped off at any time. This provision allows total flexibility for our families as you can make decisions on the day as to what care you require. The wrap around care is staffed by adults known to the children and we pride ourselves on making it a “homely” environment with a range of activities. Indeed, children often don’t want to go home!

 

How important are the facilities?

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The advantage to being an all through school is that Nursery to Year Six have full access to the incredible facilities. We swim, use the sports hall, the food technology room and music department, to name a few.

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The children also benefit from specialist teaching in Spanish, PE and Music. We put out competitive sports teams in a variety of sports and take part in events across the country and the world as part of the Globeducate group. This link to schools across the world hugely benefits Stonar as we engage in a progressive global, inter-cultural and environmental education, ensuring pupils leave us with a belief that they can shape the world.

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Tell us about outdoor learning? How important is it? Is it just a fad?

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Outdoor learning is not a fad. It can be a bit of a “buzz word” but here at Stonar outdoor learning is integral to what we do. How could it not be surrounded by our fabulous grounds! We have a forest school area complete with fire pit and den building area, children in Nursery, Year One and Year Two have a forest school session every week. Children go out to play in all weathers and our teachers regularly look for ways to use the outside in all their subjects.

 

Should you look past academics to ‘soft’ skills – problem solving, empathy, communication? How can you do this?

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Both are important and you cannot have one without the other. A child will not do well academically if they don’t have the “soft skills” and the “soft skills” alone will not enable a child to develop the confidence and self-esteem to be happy and successful. You need both.

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An all-through day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 – 18 based near Bath, Stonar is certainly a school to look at – highly ambitious for their pupils, they also provide a nurturing education which brings out the best in every child. Oh, and there is an absolutely outstanding equestrian centre.

Want to know more? Check it out for yourself at their Prep School Open Morning 9 March, Equestrian Open Morning 11 March and Whole School Open Morning Sat 16 May. Register at www.stonarschool.com/admissions/open-mornings-school-visits. Oh, and read our review.

Stonar School, Cottles Park, Atworth, Wiltshire, SN12 8NT, Tel:01225 701740, www.stonarschool.com

 

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