Broomwood Hall Upper Head Louisa McCafferty argues there are huge benefits for some girls in staying on at prep school for longer

Childhood is all too short – and seems to be getting shorter by the day – particularly for girls. The pressure to ‘grow up’ can be overwhelming and leads to anxiety and falling self-confidence at a time when the stakes seem to be higher than ever. The accepted wisdom seems to be that because girls mature faster than boys, they won’t benefit from two more years at a prep school. As Head of a prep school that offers both 11+ and 13+ exits, I challenge this view. I think that the starting point should be: what is the best exit for this individual child?

Moving at 11 to become a small fish in a very big pond is daunting for even the most confident pupil – but overwhelming for some – particularly with potentially long commutes, a high-pressured assessment process in Year 6 and (in the world of boarding) an earlier start away from home. While some girls are more than ready for this, there are others who might benefit greatly from an additional two years in a prep-school environment until the end of Year 8. This is not least because being coping with senior school at a younger age may have a longer impact on their overall wellbeing.  

“For some girls, two more years of ‘childhood’ in order to develop the maturity to tackle the next stage may be transformational”

If you have the option of a school that has both an 11+ and a 13 entry, my plea is to ask whether a child (regardless of gender) is ready for the transition. And by that, I mean in all senses, not just academic. Are they ready socially? Have they developed confidence in themselves, and do they have the skills needed to navigate what is often a bigger and busier setting? Also ask yourself if they might benefit from more time to hone their skills in a known environment and develop a great sense of themselves as a learner, as a friend – and as a school leader.

Broomwood Hall Upper on ensuring pupils are better prepared
That extra two years from 11 can be incredibly valuable in ensuring positive attitudes to learning, says Louisa McCafferty

For some children, those additional two years can be incredibly valuable in terms of attitudes to learning, confidence and maturity. From an academic perspective, this extra two years enables us to offer a curriculum that’s less about exam preparation and technique and more about laying the foundation for future success – at senior school and beyond. 

However, it’s the impact on wellbeing and self-confidence that really stands out. By remaining in a known environment, acting as role models to the younger years and holding more demanding leadership positions and responsibilities, we can support girls to reach their potential and we see the noticeable impact on their self-belief, so that when they move on at the end of Year 8, they are more than ready to tackle senior-school life with gusto.

Many of the parents that I speak are questioning the pressure of 11+ on their children, the environment it creates among both pupils and parents and the increasingly selective nature of London day schools. For some, there is also a feeling that this is not what they had envisaged or necessarily wanted for their daughter. However, they often feel there are no other options than to jump on board and hope for the best.

So, my best advice is to pause, take a breath and think about what is best for your own child. For some, two more years of ‘childhood’ in order to develop the maturity to tackle the next stage brimming with confidence may be transformational – that is surely something worth thinking about?

Broomwood Hall Upper

Further reading: Gordon’s School on prep boarding success