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Is there a best time to move schools?

Thinking about changing your child's school before Year 7? Could combining a state and independent education in early years be the way forward?

Has there ever been a trickier time to be a parent of a school age child? In a word, NO! Homeschooling, online learning and being stuck at home 24/7 – it’s not exactly been an easy ride for kids or us poor frazzled parents and I doubt any of us would choose to repeat the experience.

In this strange new educational landscape you might be rethinking what to do about your child’s schooling. Perhaps their current school hasn’t exactly delivered the goods when it comes to virtual learning or you’re worried they’ve fallen behind with all that screen time and need a more personalised teaching approach? Maybe you always intended on a mixed state and independent education, but waiting until your little darling is senior school age doesn’t make as much sense anymore.

The good news is, while there might be traditional entry points to apply for independent schools (we’re talking Reception, Year 3 and Year 7) there’s actually no right or wrong time to move your child from state to independent school and, as it turns out, mid way through the prep years could be one of the best times to do so. We spoke to Amanda Childs, Head of Ipswich Prep School about why age 9 (Year 5) might just be the golden age to make that move.

So just why is Year 5 a good entry point to an independent school?

There’s no pressure at 11+

Parenting can often feel like a competitive sport these days, but if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that kids’ wellbeing comes first and pushing little ones to be mini Einsteins and to ace exams at an early age can cause huge amounts of stress. So anything a parent can do to alleviate this has to be a good thing, surely…

“For a lot of parents it’s all about finding a prep school that feeds into an outstanding senior school. Ipswich Prep feeds into Ipswich School, the top independent school in Suffolk and in the top 150 schools nationwide. You might imagine that the assessment for Ipswich School creates pressure for Year 6 pupils. Absolutely not. One of the first things that I introduced when I joined was an early offer system in Year 5 designed to take away this pressure,” says Amanda.

“It makes such a difference in terms of keeping the joy in learning for its own sake rather than for tests and allows us to focus on building self-esteem and overall wellbeing. We actively discourage any sense of exam pressure or having to focus on entrance test preparation. Education for young children should always have value in itself above test scores and exam practice. This is an attitude to learning that our children will benefit from through GCSEs, A Levels, degrees and into the workplace.”

It’s the perfect age to enjoy a broad curriculum

Anyone who has tried to homeschool both early years kids and junior age kids will vouch for the fact that there’s a big difference in the level of understanding and attention span between the two. From Year 5 upwards it’s a brilliant chance to open up young and inquisitive minds to all sorts of subjects and ideas that’ll spark passions for when they get to senior school.

“In Years 5 and 6 the children’s learning and understanding of concepts reaches new heights. The educational stepping stones from the early years create a solid learning foundation that sees them grasp the essentials and enjoy the challenge and pace of a stretching curriculum. Independence allows prep schools to offer a truly broad range of subjects. At Ipswich Prep, by the time the children reach Year 5, most subjects are taught by a specialist teacher, as well as the children having a significant amount of time with their form teacher each week. The languages carousel of German, Russian, Spanish and French continues, and the children are introduced more to the idea of moving from room to room; we can really start to expand their learning by further using specifically equipped facilities such as the science lab, art studio, DT workshop and music room” says Amanda. 

“Independence also frees up schools to develop in children the 21st century skills that they will increasingly rely upon as adults – the softer skills of collaboration, cross-disciplinary working and creative thinking. Ipswich Prep teachers and pupils alike really value and appreciate the expansive, exploratory and exciting curriculum.”

It’s the first chance to really embrace co-curricular opportunities

While kids as young as Nursery age can, and do, get involved in extra curricular activities, around the age of 8 or 9 is when they have the energy and ability to really make the most of what’s on offer from independent schools, at a time when there’s no exam pressure.

“Lockdown has made families appreciate the benefits of their connections and of learning new things. We believe that the best time to expand horizons and try new things is in childhood. That is why co-curricular forms an integral part of our timetable and why we have such a diverse range of activities available. Butterfly club – check; bushcraft club- check. If there is interest in an activity we will make it happen,” says Amanda.

It’s a good time to future proof your child’s education

No-one wants to even consider this possibility… but, just say another lockdown was to happen (take a deep breath, we said ‘if’) then wouldn’t you feel much better knowing your child was in a school that was ready at the touch of a button to deliver an education that is just as good as what your child gets in the classroom. After all, can our kids afford to miss any more teaching time? There’s no denying that in general independent schools have been able to segue from in-person to remote learning easier than a lot of state schools thanks to the access to brilliant digital resources and smaller class sizes. In fact a 2020 study by researchers at the Institute of Education at University College London found that 31% of private schools were providing four or more online classes a day compared to just 6% of state schools during lockdown, with 71% of state school pupils receiving less than an hour’s teaching a day.

“The difference between schools’ ability to migrate to online learning has seen many families opt to go private,” says Amanda. “At Ipswich Prep the teachers moved immediately to live lessons for Years 3 upwards and a mixture of live and recorded lessons for Nursery to Year 2 – designed to provide flexibility around family working patterns.”

Ipswich Prep School admits pupils in every year of the Prep including Year 5. For more information about tours and admissions click here. For our review of the 11-18 offering click here. Open days sessions will take place on 24 Apr 2021 via live webinars.

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