As Hamlet says, ‘the readiness is all.’ Whilst senior school is less deadly than what Hamlet had ahead of him, it’s helpful to bear his advice in mind when it comes to preparing for the move. Ultimately, it is important to make peace with the fact that there is a point beyond which you cannot prepare. The experiences of a prep school education will have laid the groundwork securely. Exercises such as residential trips or boarding will have rehearsed matters directly, but there is a deeper preparation which will also be in place. Your child will have learned their strengths and weaknesses through the rich and varied diet of challenge that is the essence of prep school. Plays, fixtures, concerts and lessons will all have combined to give your son or daughter a good sense of who they are – that is what will navigate them through the uncharted waters ahead most surely.
Further finesse is available through visits, of course, but it is vital that the sense of senior school being a natural progression from prep is not lost amidst the maelstrom of superficial difference. Parents also need to prepare themselves: the accessibility of prep schools is not mirrored at senior level (this is undoubtedly changing, but the difference is ultimately a healthy one). Identifying a key point of contact – a tutor or houseparent – will go a long way to salving any concerns you may have, and prevent them from transferring accidentally to your children.
Nothing can prepare your children for how old the sixth form will look to them when they start, but they will advance towards that themselves without the need for any special effort – always allowing for the fact that openness and engagement will take them furthest. We maintain contact with our pupils when they leave, and it always instructive to discover what they find different. An increase in homework is near the top of most reports. Here prep school need not replicate the amount given, but can help enormously by giving children responsibility for managing their load. If preps are always taken in the next day, the skills of planning and meeting deadlines will not be fully fledged.
One of the most important balancing acts in a prep school is to enable its pupils to be children for as long as possible. Nothing should be squandered in any unnecessary haste to prepare for the next step.