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A preparatory school (or, shortened: prep school) in the United Kingdom is a fee-charging private primary school that caters for children up to approximately the age of 13. The term "preparatory school" is used as it prepares the children for the Common Entrance Examination in order to secure a place at an independent secondary school, typically one of the English public schools. They are also preferred by some parents in the hope of getting their child into a state selective grammar school. Most prep schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, which is overseen by Ofsted on behalf of the Department for Education.
Boys' prep schools are generally for 8-13 year-olds, who are prepared for the Common Entrance Examination, the key to entry into many secondary independent schools. Before the age of 7 or 8, the term "pre-prep school" is used. Girls' independent schools in England tend to follow the age ranges of state schools more closely than those of boys. Girls' preparatory schools usually admit girls from the age of 4, who will then continue to another independent school at 11, or at 13 if the school is co-educational (as most secondary schools now are). However, as more girls now go on to formerly single-sex boys' schools that have become co-educational, the separation is less clear.
There are 130,000 pupils in over 500 prep schools of all types and sizes. Prep schools may be for boys or girls only, or may be co-educational. They may be day schools, boarding schools, weekly boarding, flexi-boarding, or a combination. They fall into the following general categories:
- Wholly independent prep schools, both charitable and proprietary
- Junior schools linked to senior schools (i.e. primary to secondary)
- Choir schools, which educate child choristers of cathedrals, university colleges, and some other large religious institutions; they all accept non-chorister pupils except for Westminster Abbey Choir School; these schools are usually affiliated to Anglican churches, but may occasionally be associated with the Catholic church such as Westminster Cathedral
- Schools offering special educational provision or facilities
- Schools with particular religious affiliations
Pre-prep schools are generally associated with prep schools, and take children from reception, i.e. five years of age. Provision for younger children is generally called a nursery school or kindergarten.
Prep schools were originally developed in England and Wales in the early 19th century as boarding schools to prepare boys for leading public schools, such as Eton College, Radley College, Harrow School, Charterhouse School, Oundle School, Rugby School, St Paul's School, Westminster School and Winchester College. The numbers attending such schools increased as many parents were overseas in the service of the British Empire. Prep schools are now found in all parts of the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.
In popular culture
- Anthony Buckeridge's Jennings series set at 'Linbury Court'.
- Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle's series with the protagonist Nigel Molesworth, set at "St. Custard's".
- "'The Making of Them' (1994)". www.imdb.com. BBC 40 minutes production.
- "'Leaving Home at 8' (2010)". www.imdb.com. Channel 4 Cutting Edge.
- "What is a Preparatory School?". Gettherightschool.co.uk. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
- Abbotts, Sompting. "What exactly is a prep school". www.somptingabbotts.com. Sompting Abbbotts Preparatory School. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
- The Independent Association of Prep Schools. "About Us". Iaps.uk. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
- Chapel Studios - www.chapel-studios.co.uk. "IAPS | The Independent Association of Prep Schools". Iaps.uk. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
- Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools
- Independent Schools Council
- THE MAKING OF THEM – The British Attitude to Children and the Boarding School System (archived 19 August 2013)