The Prep Advantage

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Simon Ridley, the new head of Bryanston Prep, says a prep school education opens new doors for children, whatever their interests

Bryanston Prep

We all know every child is different. They don’t look the same, they don’t have the same skills and interests or family backgrounds, they have their own way of looking at the world and their minds and bodies will develop and mature in their own unique way. All children, though, have curiosity, uncertainties and excitement. As parents and teachers, I believe it is our responsibility to provide the inspiration, reassurance, encouragement and support that will help a child to develop their self-esteem, explore their passions and become the very best person they can be. That is certainly my approach to education.
Of course, ticking all of those boxes is often easier said than done and there will always be challenges along the way. It’s also very important that the learning environment provides comfort, safety, happiness and social interaction, as well as the flexibility to reflect the different abilities and rates of development of each child.
Dorset is blessed with many great state and independent schools with deeply dedicated teaching staff. What’s more, the county provides a myriad of opportunities on the doorstep to help children enjoy a varied and fulfilling childhood. Supportive educational partnerships between schools, through groups like the Blandford Schools Network, are also hugely beneficial for all involved.

Simon Ridley is the new head of Bryanston Prep

An evolving experience
But it’s not just a case of choosing the ‘right’ nursery, primary, prep or senior school for your child. It’s just as important to consider how their learning experiences and opportunities will evolve as they progress through their childhood and develop the skills for a purposeful life.
Some children will be ahead of the curve and ready for new challenges. Others will need a little extra help and encouragement. This is particularly evident in the formative years from five to 13, as children begin to discover their own talents and new areas of interest.
Whether its sport, the arts, the environment, science and technology or an interest in just about everything, a child should have the scope to explore and extend their own learning experiences and to use the knowledge to fire their own imagination. This is where I believe the fee-based structure of prep schools comes into its own for local day pupils and boarders alike.
Pre-prep and prep schools are fortunate – they are in a position to offer a more flexible and tailored approach to many areas of their curriculum, with an array of extra-curricular activities and real scope to explore a vast range of artistic, sporting and academic pursuits. They also have access to excellent facilities, subject-specific teaching and coaching and far smaller class sizes, where pupils can benefit from more personalised support.
Significantly, many prep schools are themselves champions for many activities that will resonate with enthusiastic young minds but are the areas in which mainstream schools face considerable and well-publicised challenges and constraints. Whether it’s sport, music, dance, fine art, classics, modern languages, outdoor learning or cutting-edge technologies, a well-resourced prep school offers every child the opportunities to be inspired and to develop their skills as well as important personal qualities such as determination, empathy and selflessness.

‘It is obvious just how much children enjoy and benefit from creative and imaginative outdoor play and education

Feeding enthusiasm and curiosity
Not surprisingly, many prep schools in the west country engage in a wide range of outdoor activities – Bryanston is certainly not alone in providing a dedicated forest school within its own grounds. In my professional capacity, it is very obvious just how much the children enjoy and benefit from creative and imaginative outdoor play and education. This is such an important part of childhood, rather than pushing them to grow up too quickly. Outside, they are getting up close to nature, making things and building dens while also learning those soft skills that will stand them in good stead as they progress through their school years and move towards adulthood. It is also a place where we can feed the enthusiasm, curiosity and interest in the environment that is so much in evidence in today’s younger generation.
The same is true when we look at sport, technology and the arts. Providing every opportunity for a child to excel and to develop their skills and talents is the guiding principle of practically every parent and teacher. The real hope for all is to provide the right learning experience, with the resources to allow personal development uncompromised by curricular or budgetary restrictions.
It is equally important that any school doesn’t inadvertently hold back the development and wellbeing of children.
If a child outgrows their learning environment, they will soon become demoralised and frustrated and their development will be stifled. This is true for all children, but especially those with exceptional talent and ability. That’s why partnerships with neighbouring schools and sports and arts venues, as well as close community engagement, are so important. And it’s why the flexibility and opportunity provided by through-schools are so valued. After all, early exposure to the next level of learning is not only good preparation, but also helps to maintain interest and motivation through all stages of a child’s education.

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