Preparatory school (United Kingdom)

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This article is about fee-paying private schools for children between 8 and 13 years old, based on the British model. For North American schools which prepare older students for university entry, see University-preparatory school.
The Perse School, an English prep school in Cambridge

A British preparatory school (or prep school) is a fee-paying school for children of the ages of 8-13, preparing them for entry into British public schools or other secondary independent schools.


Boys' prep schools are generally for 8- to 13-year-olds, who are prepared for the Common Entrance Examination, the key to entry into many secondary independent schools. Before the age of seven or eight, the term "pre-prep school" is used. Girls' private 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 four or five, 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 which have become co-educational, the separation is less clear.

There are 130,000 pupils in over 500 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:[1][2]

  • Wholly independent prep schools, both charitable and proprietary
  • Junior schools linked to senior schools
  • Choir schools, which educate child choristers of cathedrals and some other large religious institutions; they all accept non-chorister pupils with the exception of Westminster Abbey Choir School; these schools are usually affiliated to Anglican churches, but may occasionally be associated with Catholic ones such as Westminster Cathedral
  • Schools offering special educational provision or facilities
  • Schools with particular religious affiliations

The Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS) is a prep schools heads association; one of seven affiliated associations of the Independent Schools Council.[1]


Originally developed in England and Wales in the early 19th century as boarding schools to prepare boys for leading public schools, such as Eton and Winchester, the numbers attending such schools increased due to large numbers of parents being overseas in the service of the British Empire.[citation needed] They are now found in all parts of the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

Psychological effects of boarding[edit]

There is a growing body of knowledge supporting the view that being sent away to boarding school at an early age can result in long-term psychological harm.[3][4][5][6] In 2008 it was announced that a committee of MPs was to investigate and look at the social and emotional impact of separating youngsters from their parents and the "possible dangers" of children being sent to boarding school at a young age.[7]


  1. ^ a b Introduction, Independent Association of Prep Schools.
  2. ^ What is a prep school?, Independent Association of Prep Schools.
  3. ^ "Boarding school syndrome: Broken attachments a hidden trauma". British Journal of Psychotherapy. 
  4. ^ "Boarding is as damaging as being taken into care, says therapist". The Independent. 24 April 2011. 
  5. ^ "Relationship Counselling for Boarding School Survivors". St Pancras relationship counselling. 
  6. ^ "Boarding school at eight years old?". BBC Learning. 23 September 2010. 
  7. ^ "Boarding school 'may harm children'". The Guardian. 11 May 2008. 

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