Principal & Proprietor of Sinclair House School Carlotta T.M O’Sullivan shares her top tips for choosing the right prep school with Absolutely Education readers. 

Choosing a Preparatory School can be an overwhelming experience for many parents. I often speak to families who feel lost wading through glossy prospectuses, websites and lengthy school guides and feel burdened by the weight of the decision.  When finalising this important choice, it can be helpful to isolate specific factors to identify what is most important to you, and select a learning environment that offers the best “fit” for your child. 

Register Early and Check Entrance Requirements

In London’s competitive educational sector, it is critical to confirm interest early, registering your child as soon as possible to secure entrance onto a waiting list and the best chance of a place.  Check the admissions and selection procedure carefully. Even “non-selective” schools tend to have an assessment process of sorts but not all have “formal testing” requirements. Parents and pupils are often concerned about written papers, but remember that many schools also look at emotional development and social interaction. Unless the school is highly academically selective, the assessment process will usually take a variety of factors into account, so test results are not necessarily the be-all-and-end-all.

School Size

This is a key contributory factor to the overall school culture and has a big impact on the “feel” of a school. Large schools are often more established with extensive facilities and a longer history. However, smaller schools may be able to offer capped class sizes and pupil-to-teacher ratios which favour personalised teaching and attention to individual strengths and weaknesses, which may be a better “fit” for your child and their particular character and learning needs. 

While we may class ourselves as ‘small’, at Sinclair House, we’re lucky enough that our premises are vast – with three sites around Fulham, we offer students facilities unusual for a smaller school. Being a member of the ISA also allows our children to compete and socialise with other London-based schools in sports, arts and music events, providing them with the exceptional opportunity to experience competition within a broader sphere.

Look comprehensively at the school offering

For some parents the variety of a school’s extra-curricular activities is an essential part of selection. Others specifically seek an established academic record, or view evidence of a strong pastoral system as non-negotiable.  Identify how different schools encourage academic progress, but also how they support creative, artistic and sporting talents and nurture social and psychological competencies.  The school you select should be the one that will allow your child to flourish educationally, but also develop emotionally.

The importance of Educational Ethos & Values

An ethos can help to gauge the culture and shared values across the school community. When reading through the plethora of school literature, pay close attention to the language used keywords that are highlighted. Often specific words and phrases have particular resonance or are aligned with specific aspirations for a learning environment. Isolate which “speak to you” as a parent, and promote a learning culture you identify with or a classroom context you think would suit your child and inspire them.   

At Sinclair House, our motto is Inspire, Challenge, Achieve. Engaging and empowering our children is of the utmost importance to us, and by providing our students with an inspirational environment they are able to achieve, not just academically, but in all areas of school life. 

Family First? 

If you have several children and having them at the same school is a priority, ensure you check each school’s sibling policy and potential discounts. This has obvious benefits for cost-savings, streamlining family logistics, admin, uniforms and parents evenings – but also has implications for individuality. A particularly athletic child may for example, be best suited to a school with exceptional sporting credentials and facilities, whilst an “all-rounder” sibling may be best matched to a more holistic environment. If your children exhibit very different strengths and weaknesses and educating them together is important, look for a school with a broad and balanced curriculum that is able to nurture individual talents and skills and differentiate across a range of abilities. 

Encapsulated by our ethos, at Sinclair House School we focus on each child’s unique abilities, interests and talents. All children deserve to be supported to help them fulfil their potential and at Sinclair House we educate the whole child, setting them up for success with curiosity, independence and confidence.

Always go and visit in person and don’t be afraid of asking questions

The prospectus and website give a superficial impression and can only convey a feel for the school’s overall educational mission; to truly experience what life is like in the classroom it is imperative that you meet with staff and pupils and sense the atmosphere internally.  Make a shortlist of Open Days, or enquire about booking an individual tour of the school where possible.  I always encourage prospective parents and children to ask as many questions as they feel necessary as well as to observe teaching, and talk to staff and to current pupils to gauge a sense of what we are about. It is important to start with an open and honest dialogue about your expectations from the start, as well as what the school expects from its students.  

While the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, virtual tours can be taken in lieu of physical school visits. Providing prospective parents with an insight into the daily life of the school, virtual tours let parents view facilities, gain a deeper understanding of the school’s ethos and hear from both staff and pupils. Click here to take a virtual tour of Sinclair House.

Trust your Instincts

The predominant question to ask yourself when leaving a tour of a school is whether you can see your child happy there. Trying to find somewhere that will be right throughout the preparatory years journey can be confusing when none of us can predict in which area exactly their talents will develop or how their personality might change from age 4 to 11 or 13.  Ultimately though, happy, confident children learn best (however old they are), so try to find a learning environment in which you can see your child settled, content and secure, and trust your intuition.

Find out more about Sinclair House School.