Your child’s first steps into education can be daunting. These local independent schools share advice to get things started on the right foot

Pre-School – Spring Grove School 

Why choose an independent pre-school?
The choice of pre-school is a very personal one. We invite all prospective parents to come and look round our Nursery, and to get a feel for what we do at Spring Grove. Our Nursery is on the same site as the Prep School, and while it is a safe and separate space, the pre-school children benefit from sharing staff and facilities with the older children in the school.

What are the benefits of attending a pre-school? Does it have a beneficial effect on later school life?
We would definitely encourage children to attend our Giraffes Pre-School Class as an excellent way to prepare them for their Reception year. Children are allowed to develop their skills and interests at their own pace with an emphasis on personal skills, numeracy and early phonic skills. Many of our children gradually increase the number of sessions they do as the year progresses in preparation for the move into Reception.

What should parents be looking for when they choose a pre-school?
Nothing can beat going to visit on a normal working day, and seeing what the children are doing and how the staff are interacting with them. Outdoor space is also an important factor for many parents – we are very lucky at Spring Grove to have a large walled garden where our Nursery children play every day, come rain or shine! 

What are the benefits of keeping your child at the same school for the transition from pre-school to prep?
At Spring Grove the Giraffes Pre-School Class is situated next door to the Reception class, so the children are already familiar with their surroundings. They know the teachers too – our Giraffes children have French, PE, PSHE and music sessions with staff who teach throughout the whole school. 

Is there any funding available for places?
Yes, we offer the 15 hours Early Years funding from the term after the child turns three years of age.

Spring Grove School, Wye, Ashford, Kent

01233 812337  springgroveschool.co.uk

Pre-School – The New Beacon

Why choose an independent pre-school?
The bigger question is, ‘Why choose independent?’ as the same thinking applies to both school and pre-school. Firstly, independent schools can opt out of the EYFS and what some would see as its rather narrow restrictions allowing freedom to introduce more structure and learning – when the child is ready for it, of course! The second reason is a smaller class size and generous staff pupil ratio.

What are the benefits of attending a pre-school? Does it have a beneficial effect on later school life?
For me, learning to mix with other children, socialisation, is the biggest benefit. Going straight from home to Reception without day care or pre-school would be an enormous change; gentle introduction and preparation will be of value in the child’s personal and social development. The difference between day care and pre-school is that the latter will likely have more structure, which will be of benefit when the child enters Reception.

What should parents be looking for when they choose a pre-school?
The biggest influences are probably friends with children of similar age and geographical location which will quickly narrow down options. When visiting you would expect to meet the leader or deputy – ask plenty of questions! Try to spend a little time just observing and feeling the atmosphere. With such young children you would hope to feel warmth and calm care. 

Is there any funding available for places?
Funding is a tricky question with staff pupil ratios – quite rightly – being very tight. Some pre-schools offer the government’s free hours – but then they are subject to the EYFS ‘strands’. Some companies give their employees vouchers to help with childcare costs and most pre-schools will accept these. All independent schools will offer financial assistance but this doesn’t normally begin until the child is at least seven years old.  

The New Beacon, Sevenoaks, Kent

01732 452131  newbeacon.org.uk

Pre-School – Nash House  Dulwich Prep Cranbrook

Why choose an independent pre-school?
Story-telling and the freedom to be outside creating a sense of wonder are part of our carefully structured sessions. Smaller classes gives more time to each child, and the staff really get to know their families, which makes for a happy environment. Access to specialist teachers creates a space for young minds to flourish.

What are the benefits of attending a pre-school?
Learning is everything that we do, from being able to put on wellies, plus social and thinking skills, all of which develop alongside our academic talents. We laugh a lot, so we learn a lot.

We hope to inspire a passion for learning through creating a magical environment which drives curiosity, resulting in active, independent learners.

What should parents be looking for when choosing a pre-school?
Happy children and happy staff! Life at Nash House is all about nurturing happy, independent children who love learning and feel confident expressing themselves. Parents are actively encouraged to be involved in their child’s life at school, creating a real community.

What are the benefits of keeping your child at the same school for the transition from pre-school to prep?
Children love to be independent and this supports their confidence when starting school. They are familiar with their surroundings, peers and staff. They are more socially confident and have already made friends, all set for a flying start.

Is there any funding available for places?
Dulwich Prep Cranbrook supports the 30 hours of funding for children in Nursery up until the term the child turns five. 

Dulwich Prep, Cranbrook, Kent

01580 712179  dulwichprepcranbrook.org

Prep School – King’s School Canterbury 

What should parents be looking for when they make their prep school shortlist?
An identifiable ethos with clear school values. Other important aspects are strong pastoral care and learning support, a broad academic curriculum balanced by rich extra-curricular provision, excellent facilities and modern teaching methods. Pupils should be happy, confident and polite, and staff experienced and well supported.

How difficult will it be for a child to get into their prep school of choice?
This depends upon demand and varies across the country. It is always advisable to visit the school and register as early as possible. 

What extra-curricular activities do you offer pupils to help working parents?
We have after-school care every day to 6pm. Also a broad range of activities to keep children engaged after school, including chess, art, DT, computing, table tennis, choir, golf, horse riding, dance, drama, LAMDA, rowing, sailing, orchestra and fencing. This provision gives children the opportunity to discover and develop extra-curricular interests, in addition to helping busy parents.

Which of the school’s facilities are you particularly proud of?
Our 80 acres of beautiful Kent countryside and our distinctive 16th century Tithe Barn, which houses our theatre. We’re also very proud of our recent facility developments, which include a new music school that accommodates 30 peripatetic teachers teaching over 300 individual lessons a week; our Little Barn Nursery; and our freshly refurbished, homely boarding facilities.

Are there any bursaries/scholarships available and in which year?
We offer means-tested support in the form of bursaries at the 11+ level. Priority is given to those likely to gain the most from the provision. We also offer two 11+ academic scholarships and two 11+ academic exhibitions to candidates who show strong academic potential. The maximum award is 5% of full fees for a scholarship and 2.5% for an exhibition.

King’s School Canterbury, Kent
01227 714000  junior-kings.co.uk 

Prep School – Sutton Valence

What should parents be looking for when they make their prep school shortlist?
It’s all about finding the right fit for your child and your own values. Having a one-to-one meeting with the Head and a tour of the school will enable you to understand what differentiates the school and whether or not the school is true to its ethos and mission statement. At Sutton Valence, we are very proud to be a school that lives out its ethos, ‘each cares for all and individuality is cherished’. Our Early Years department (Nursery and Reception) was recently awarded the Early Years Quality Mark recognising the excellent provision we offer our very youngest pupils. Finally, see how straightforward you find the school’s responses and consider the feeling you get when walking around. I would advise parents to trust their instincts.  

How difficult will it be for a child to get into their prep school of choice?
When applying for a place at a prep school, the earlier the better would be my advice. Here at SVPS we have a waiting list for one year group and anticipate having more in due course. Whilst we do, of course, ensure that children are well-supported at whichever point they join us, beginning their prep school career in the Early Years ensures the smoothest and most consistent of educational journeys. Most prep schools will expect children in Year 1 and upwards to have a taster day at the school so both the child and the school can get a feel for each other. There may be some sort of assessment but at SVPS we also ensure our prospective pupils have the opportunity to get to know the children in their new class and experience a normal day at our school.

What extra-curricular activities do you offer pupils to help working parents?
We aim to be as helpful as possible with our club and activity programme. A number of our pupils begin their day at 7.30am with a hearty breakfast. We also provide supervision in the playground from 8am and parents can make use of the drop off zone to ‘kiss and drop’. At the end of the day, pre-prep children can go home at 3.30pm or they can attend a club. We also offer wraparound care where children are looked after and have lots of fun until their parents can collect them. Children can stay at school until 6pm and the last session of our after-school facility, Little Suttons, includes a hot tea. The children in Years 3 to 6 also have an extensive list of clubs to choose from when their school day ends at 4.10pm. They also have the opportunity to stay at school to complete their homework in Prep Club and a number of children also stay for tea. 

Which of the school’s facilities are you particularly proud of?
We are very fortunate at SVPS to have not just our own beautiful school, in a stunning, rural setting but we also have access to the facilities of our Senior School which is located less than a mile away. Our classrooms are purpose built so they are spacious and well-equipped. Our curriculum is enhanced by our wide range of different outdoor learning areas. The sporting facilities are impressive with a full size all-weather pitch, various sports courts, cricket nets and plenty of pitches. We swim all year round making use of the excellent pool at the Senior School and we also enjoy their all-weather athletics track in the summer term.

Are there any bursaries/scholarships available and in which year?
Scholarships are available at our Senior School for art, drama, design technology, music, sport and academic ability. A limited number of bursaries are available via a means-tested assessment.

Sutton Valence School, Maidstone, Kent
01622 842117  svs.org.uk

Prep School – King’s Rochester

What should parents be looking for when they make their prep school shortlist?
A happy child is one that will thrive, progress and succeed. When choosing a Preparatory School, the most important aspect to look for is the school’s ethos. Is it nurturing? Will it support your child through the ups and downs of their early life? All schools trumpet a child-centred approach, but it is important to try, as far as you can, to ascertain if that approach is actually woven into the fabric of the child’s experience itself, rather than just written in policy.

How difficult will it be for a child to get into their prep school of choice?
Some Preparatory Schools have a strict academic bar which needs to be jumped before entry. This can include an interview, written papers or testing at 11+, 10+, 7+ or even (and I can’t believe that this is the case) 4+! However, many Preparatory Schools are non-selective and have a broad intake of pupils. 

What extra-curricular activities do you offer pupils to help workings parents?
At King’s Rochester we have a wide array of clubs both during the day and after school. We also have a breakfast club at 7.30am and supper club which means the children can stay until 6.30pm and are sent home, fed, watered and home worked!

Which of the school’s facilities are you particularly proud of?
Having such close links with Rochester Cathedral is wonderful and our weekly services, including the Advent and Carol Services, really enhance the pupils’ experience. Beyond that, our setting is stunning and we are surrounded by historic wonder.

Are there any bursaries/scholarships available and in which year?
There are Scholarships available into Year 7, 9 and 12. These are available in the disciplines of Academia, Music, Sport, Art (Year 9 and 12) and Drama (Year 9 and 12). We also have the ‘King’s Scholars’ who are the Academic Scholars in the Senior School and they are part of the Cathedral Foundation. There are also means tested bursaries available.

King’s Rochester, Kent

01634 888577  kings-rochester.co.uk

Spring Grove Nursery

Spring Grove Nursery

Spring Grove Nursery Garden

Spring Grove Nursery Garden

New Beacon

New Beacon

Dulwich-Prep

Dulwich-Prep

King’s School Canterbury

King’s School Canterbury

Sutton Valence Garden

Sutton Valence Garden

Sutton Valence

Sutton Valence

King’s Rochester

King’s Rochester

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