Is an independent school right for you?
Choosing a school for your child can be one of the most important decisions of your parenting life, but have you considered going private?
Sure, many of us would love to send our precious darlings to the very best of independent schools – just think of those rolling driveways, acres and acres of playing fields, indoor swimming pools and state-of-the-art science labs – but sadly we can’t face the second mortgage we’d have to take out. But it’s not all like that; private schooling doesn’t always have to break the bank. Over to Wishford Schools, a family-run group of independent prep and senior schools who, quite rightly, pride themselves on offering a more affordable education. We thought we’d grab the opportunity to pick the brains of Sam Antrobus, founder of Wishford Schools, to see just how this works. Over to you, Sam…
Might private school be the right choice for your child?
There are few things likely to have as big an impact on your child’s young life as their first school and those early experiences of formal education. But have you considered all the options?
Private schools (also called independent and sometimes, confusingly, public schools) may not be on your radar. There are certainly plenty of parents within our group of schools who tell us that private education never crossed their minds until a chance conversation with a friend, concerns about their child’s progress or a last-minute decision to visit an Open Day led them to explore the idea, and ultimately decide that it was the right choice for them.
More affordable than you may think
A common misconception is that private schools are only for the very wealthy.
It’s true that the Etons and Harrows of this world sit well outside the budget of most of us, but there are plenty of schools that provide an exceptionally good education without charging exorbitant fees. Wishford prices start at around £795 per month, and some schools also offer bursaries and scholarships.
Importantly, when it comes to schools, a low price doesn’t necessarily equate to low quality. It all depends what you are looking for. The most expensive independent private schools have lots of shiny facilities – Olympic-standard sports halls, professionally equipped theatres – costs that are passed on to to parents by way of hefty school fees.
Remove those high-cost items from the offering, and there are still significant benefits that a private school can offer, at a much more affordable price. Smaller class sizes than in the state sector, a reliably strong standard of education with excellent teachers, broad and exciting opportunities within and beyond the curriculum, sport as an integral part of school life with lots of competitive fixtures, and room for the arts; all these are things that smaller private schools provide at a relatively low cost. With excellent outcomes for the pupils, lots of parents look at private schooling as an investment in their children’s futures.
If a private school is within your reach, the first benefit is choice. If your budget can accommodate it, and if space allows, the private school route puts you in control, and allows you to choose a school that you decide is right for your child. Few private prep schools have an entry exam, although they may assess your child to make sure that he or she will get the right level of support.
It is also worth remembering that private schools only do well if they are strong and competitive. The independent nature of schools sets the standard and provides added accountability.
Smaller classes and no combined year groups allow the individual to flourish
Whenever we ask our parents what made them choose one of our schools, the top reason is small class sizes. State schools typically have 30 children in a class, and in the smaller schools, that might also result in children across several year groups being taught by one teacher in one classroom.
The higher teacher-to-child ratio in private schools ensures that every child gets more time and attention. Private school classes are frequently half the size of their state school counterparts, making it far easier to tailor an education to the individual child, identifying strengths and weaknesses and adapting the learning accordingly. In the early years, it might result in something as fundamental as having enough time to hear everyone in the class read three times a week. As the children grow, teachers can provide increased support for those needing it and extra challenges to stretch the more gifted boys and girls.
It’s not just the teacher’s time that is more generously shared. Small classes give children more access to the best resources, such as computers, science equipment or musical instruments, or increased opportunities to play sport for the school or take on positions of responsibility. There is enough flexibility to focus on the children as people and not just pupils, with more room to develop camaraderie, good manners, compassion and resilience.
Even without the big ticket items mentioned above, a private school usually provides lots of outdoor space, and frequently beautiful and inspirational surroundings, to nurture the spirit and fire learning. Private prep schools often have the sort of resources you would only find in a state secondary school, such as proper science laboratories or IT suites stocked with computers, 3D printers and Lego robotics. Along with sports pitches, there will be properly equipped performance spaces where children can build confidence in public speaking and drama, and with an increasing focus on outdoor learning, many schools have a dedicated Forest School area within their grounds.
Of course, private schools don’t have a monopoly on enthusiastic, talented and inspired teachers. However, they do give those same teachers better opportunities to deliver an outstanding education, and much more flexibility in how the curriculum is delivered, unencumbered by budget cuts and limited resources.
You are likely to find more subject experts, so that children will be taught science and modern foreign languages by a dedicated leads and sport by qualified coaches. As children approach the end of their time at prep school, they will be well prepared for any entry exams to independent or grammar senior schools they need to take.
Opportunities to find strengths, interests and passions from broad curricular and extra-curricular offering
Unlike state schools, independent schools are not bound by the National Curriculum. This gives head teachers the opportunity to broaden the offering, expand individualised learning and make education exciting and engaging with the creative curriculum.
Time will be found for all sorts of varied experiences to help prepare the children for the future, including entrepreneurship and leadership opportunities. There are also significantly more opportunities for sport, with high quality coaching, and regular matches with other schools. Swimming lessons are pretty standard fare in private schools, as well as less common sporting activities such as Judo and Fencing.
Beyond the classroom, there are other options that you would be unlikely to find in a primary school, including trips abroad, skiing holidays and sports tours.
This breadth of experience helps children develop a whole raft of qualities that will serve them well all their lives: confidence, resilience, initiative, perseverance, independence, adaptability and decision-making.
When both parents work, which is often the case at schools in the Wishford group, childcare is a huge factor to consider. At most independent schools, the school day is a little longer, with wrap-around care, the option to have three hot meals a day and holiday camps on offer to make life easier for working parents. Because of the smaller numbers, school bus services can be flexible, with routes planned around the pupils.
Value for money!
This may sound counter-intuitive, but a private education should be a really good investment. Choosing a private prep school doesn’t commit you to a private senior school. Within the Wishford Group schools, between a third and half of pupils move to state secondary and grammar schools. The thorough grounding they have received in those crucial early years gives them a real advantage when they arrive at secondary school, full of confidence to put themselves forward and grasp new opportunities, and with an appetite for knowledge and a strong work ethic that make future learning easier, and will have an impact long after they leave school altogether.
Want to find out more? Check out our Open Days round-up for all of the latest Wishford Schools open events or head to our fab School Reviews pages to find out the nitty gritty about the Wishford Schools in your area.
Wishford Schools, www.wishford.co.uk
Cricklade Manor Prep, The Manor House, Calcutt Street, Cricklade, Swindon SN6 6BB, Tel: 01793 750275, www.cricklademanor.com
Hatherop Castle, Cirencester, Glos GL7 3NB. Tel: 01285 750206, hatheropcastle.co.uk
Heywood Prep, The Priory, Priory Street, Corsham, Wiltshire SN13 0AP, Tel: 01249 713379, www.heywoodprep.com
Westonbirt Prep and Senior School, Tetbury GL8 8QG, Tel: 01666 881301, www.westonbirt.org
St David’s Prep, Justin Hall, Beckenham Road, Kent BR4 0QS, Tel: 020 8777 5852, www.stdavidsprep.com
St Edward’s Prep, 64 Tilehurst Road, Reading, Berkshire RG30 2JH, Tel: 0118 957 4342, www.stedwardsprep.com
St Faith’s Prep, 5 The Street, Ash, Kent CT3 2HH, Tel: 01304 813409, www.stfaithsprep.com
The Mead School, 16 Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5SN, Tel: 01892 525837, www.meadschool.info