Tom Quilter, Headmaster of Bickley Park School, on how a modern-day prep school can best prepare our children for a rapidly changing world

When considering the role of a prep school, something that I continually return to is ‘What exactly should we be preparing our children for in society today?’ Thankfully, the rather old fashioned and clichéd view of prep schools is largely outdated. Stuffy classrooms, flip-top desks and rote learning are a thing of the past, as is the curriculum focused purely on ‘preparation for exams’. The modern-day prep school must consider how best to prepare children for a rapidly changing and ever-developing world whilst, at the same time, retaining established and relevant core values. 

Here at Bickley Park, this has been a core focus for some time. It has long been our aim to ensure our leavers are confident and articulate, ready to take their place in increasingly complex and interconnected world. We have a long history of excellent exam results at both 11+ and 13+, but our ‘preparation’ goes well beyond that. By providing a truly broad and balanced curriculum that embraces innovation, we seek to prepare our boys for whatever future challenges lie ahead – we prepare them for life!

This is the basis for what we call the Four Quadrants of Learning – the pillars of our curriculum in Academics, Arts, Sport and Outdoors and Community. It was this approach that we were so proud to have commended as ‘coherent and holistic’ when we won our Independent Prep School of the Year award in 2021. Some of the most recent and innovative developments within the Four Quadrants include ‘Adventure school’ – our exciting outdoor education programme for all our pupils in Years 3 to 8 and, at the start of this school year, we implemented our Innovation, Computing & Engineering (I.C.E) curriculum.

“By providing a broad and balanced curriculum, we prepare our boys for whatever challenges lie ahead – we prepare them for life”

Adventure school aims to foster teamwork and leadership skills, alongside independence and the ability to manage risk. The scheme sees all boys in Years 3 to 8 taking part in residential trips which focus on progressively demanding survival skills and challenges. From camping in the Peak District and the South Downs to a kayaking adventure along the Cornish coast, the trips are fun, exciting and motivational. This neatly builds on regular forest school sessions that our boys take part in from Reception to Year 2.

However, our ‘preparation’ shouldn’t stop there. In addition to developing resilient, curious and confident children, a good prep school should also aim to foster kindness, inclusion and respect. We pride ourselves in being a kind school that celebrates and embraces diversity, so we were thrilled to have this highlighted as a key strength in our recent ‘ISI report.

So how do we best prepare the children in our care for the challenges they are likely to face? At Bickley Park we hope that, by keeping this question at the forefront of our minds, we continue to mould and develop our preparation to ensure that all our boys are primed and ready to pursue happy and successful lives, however they unfold.

Bickley Park School

Further reading: Nature boost – why schools take learning outside