Back to School: Help from a familiar face

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The Independent Online
THE MOVE from preparatory to senior school can be a traumatic experience for a child, a fact that does not go unrecognised by the better institutions.

Jill Wrath, a senior consultant at the Independent Schools Information Service (Isis), said: 'It is a terrible shock for some children to leave a very cosy, lovely prep school and suddenly find themselves landed in a much bigger environment.'

Pat Hooley, registrar at Malvern College in Malvern, Hereford and Worcester, said: 'It is a particularly big wrench for the pupils who haven't boarded before - and a bigger wrench for their mothers.'

Most senior schools recognise the importance to the children of familiar faces. Heads and their staff now make regular visits to their 'feeder' prep schools, where they meet pupils as well as staff. Preparatory heads and their staff also visit the senior schools. Some of the latter, such as Malvern Girls' College, organise 'subject days' for prep teachers at which the school's requirements are discussed.

Visits by the children to the senior schools have become common practice, with many given the opportunity to stay overnight if they are to board. Vivian Anthony, secretary of the Head Masters' Conference, said: 'Discussing the new school with an older pupil can also be a tremendous help for the child.'

It is just as important for the senior school to know about the child. Many schools that use the Common Entrance ask candidates to complete questionnaires on areas not covered by exams.

Elizabeth Ann Malden, joint head of Wyndlesham House in Pulborough, West Sussex, said: 'The best preps write full individual reports on the children's strengths and weaknesses. They give academic and social profiles detailing children's interests and skills, their family backgrounds, and will mention how much support the parents give.'

Children moving from the state to the independent sector may also have to be prepared for homework, and rules might have to be devised to control, say, television-watching.

Mrs Wrath, at Isis, said: 'Parents should prepare children for entry into a very different world from the one they are accustomed to. They should try to talk to them about such things as drugs, Aids, sex, alcohol, and the fact they will meet children who come from unhappy homes and who might go off the rails in adolescence.'

Parental fears that their child might be entering a brutal world are probably unfounded. Malvern's Mr Hooley said: 'Whereas in days gone by if a senior saw a new boy he tended to kick him, now they ask whether he's lost and if they can help.'