The best of the best prep schools in the UK

We proudly present our highly acclaimed guide to the UK’s leading prep and junior schools. Emma Lee-Potter and Janita Clamp profile the schools at the top of their game

1. Best for art and creativity: Port Regis

Port Regis, Dorset

Art and creativity are a crucial part of life at this co-ed boarding and day prep on the outskirts of Shaftesbury in Dorset. Most senior schools would give their eye teeth for Port Regis’s facilities, from a 3D printer and laser cutters to a whole room devoted to ceramics.

The Week Independent Schools Guide, Spring/Summer 2022 How to choose the best school for your child

The 300 pupils are allowed to let their imaginations run free, learning to draw, paint, make prints and work in three dimensions and gaining confidence in a host of creative and media techniques. Good transport links, flexible boarding options and a stunning location make the school increasingly attractive to London families and pupils win an impressive number of scholarships to senior schools each year.

Other contenders:

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  • Carrdus School
  • Gresham’s Prep School

2. Great for innovation: Saint Ronan’s School

The farm at Saint Ronan’s School

The last two years have been tough for everyone but this co-ed day and boarding school in Kent devised a host of imaginative ways to ensure that children, parents and teachers felt engaged, safe and nurtured. Ideas to keep everyone’s spirits up included daily TV and radio programmes presented by the staff, PHEW mindfulness sessions (PHEW stands for psychological health and wellbeing), photography competitions, riddles and stories and even a virtual paper plane tournament. The school, set in 250 acres, with a fishing lake, pupil allotments, a working farm and a classroom in the woods called the Hobbit House, was named as the TES Prep School of the Year in 2021.

Other contenders:

  • Aberdour School
  • Westbourne House School

3. Great for boarding: Handcross Park

Handcross Park

Boarders at Handcross Park in West Sussex think that day pupils are missing out on the fun. They live right at the centre of the school as part of the houseparents’ extended family and enjoy all home comforts. There’s even a boarding house dog called Hudson who wakes them up in the morning and curls up with them to enjoy film nights. It’s all very democratic – boarders have weekly meetings to discuss what they would like for entertainment, outings and meals. Food is in the very capable hands of a catering manager who used to work at the Ritz.

Other contenders:

  • Terra Nova School, Jodrell Bank
  • Lambrook School

4. Best for academic results: Guildford High Junior School

Guildford High Junior School

This all-girls’ school describes itself as “a lively, happy place where girls blossom personally, intellectually and socially” so it’s not surprising that The Sunday Times ranked it as the top independent prep school in the country for the second year in a row (based on average SATs results for 2017 to 2019). Pupils receive a first-class education, sporting opportunities galore and lots of music, drama and art but they also try their hands at more than 70 extra-curricular clubs and activities, from fencing to yoga and from Taekwondo to chess. The junior school is selective and it is hoped and expected that all year 6 girls will move into year 7 of the senior school.

Other contenders:

  • Seaton House School
  • St Martin’s Preparatory School, Grimsby

5. Great city prep: St Peter’s 8-13, York

St Peter’s 8-13, York

Situated beside the River Ouse in the heart of York, St Peter’s 8-13 is the prep school for St Peter’s School. The Good Schools Guide describes pupils as “happy, secure, very busy and enthusiastic about the school” and the school sets great store by its seven values of friendship, trust, wisdom, compassion, endurance, humility and hope. Music and sport are particular strengths – St Peter’s 8-13 is the choir school for York Minster and one of its choristers reached the semi-final of the BBC Radio 2 and Songs of Praise Young Chorister of the Year competition in 2021. Five pupils recently won places in the National Children’s Orchestra and the school regularly competes at regional and national level in sport.

Other contenders:

  • George Heriot’s Junior School
  • Ibstock Place Prep School

6. Most idyllic setting: Cumnor House Sussex

Cumnor House Sussex

Cumnor House Sussex is a co-ed day and boarding prep in the heart of the West Sussex countryside. Pupils enjoy exploring its 60-acre site, which features a boating lake, golf course, outdoor theatre and Woodpeckers, a school in the woods. Facilities include a purpose built STEM centre with three laboratories and a DT workshop, a 300-seat theatre, heated indoor pool, climbing wall and dance studio. Dance is something of a speciality here; there are weekly classes for each year group and workshops run by visiting specialists. In 2021, year 8 leavers secured 20 awards and scholarships for sport, drama and academics.

Other contenders:

  • Orwell Park School
  • Hatherop Castle

7. Great for STEM: St Faith’s, Cambridge

St Faith’s, Cambridge

When it comes to teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects this Cambridge co-ed day school has long been a trailblazer. In 2015 it introduced engineering for pupils aged seven and up. Year 5 children study wind turbines with professional engineers while year 7s build matchstick rockets that can travel over ten metres using the power of a matchstick head. The school also teaches robotics and uses augmented reality technology to enhance the curriculum. St Faith’s is now sharing its expertise with other schools and, in collaboration with the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), has just published the first-ever engineering schemes of work for prep pupils.

Other contenders:

  • Beachborough School
  • Walhampton School

8. Great for pastoral care: The Pilgrims’ School

The Pilgrims’ School

Tucked away in a quiet close overlooking Winchester Cathedral, this boys’ day and boarding school prides itself on its approach to pastoral care and wellbeing. “Kindness and consideration are woven through the school like a stick of rock,” a parent told The Good Schools Guide. All the staff, including tutors, boarding staff, school nurses and the head, are responsible for pupils’ wellbeing and welfare. There’s also a designated director of wellbeing who works closely with the pastoral deputy head, SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) and head nurse. As well as weekly PSHEE lessons, there’s a wide range of pupil wellbeing initiatives, such as workshops on emotional literacy for younger children and sessions that encourage older pupils to speak openly about their feelings.

Other contenders:

  • St Andrew’s School, Pangbourne
  • Streatham & Clapham
  • Prep School GDST

9. Great for community: Brighton College Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep School

Brighton College Prep School

Like Brighton College, their senior counterpart, the nursery, pre-prep and prep have a strong sense of community and kindness. Children visit the nearby care home, support the city’s food bank and local Air Ambulance charity and take part in the college’s annual Make a Difference Day. Known as MAD Day, this involves children of all ages immersing themselves in the heart of the community, doing sponsored runs, gardening, becoming “hedgehog helpers” and carrying out park and beach cleans. Year 8 children recently campaigned for two inspirational women, barrister Helena Normanton and pioneering doctor Sophia Jex-Blake, to be honoured with blue plaques.

Other contenders:

  • Farleigh School
  • Winchester House School

10. Great for sport: Sherborne Preparatory School

Sherborne Preparatory School

Sherborne Prep, a co-ed day and boarding school, won a sporting achievement award last year. The award was in recognition of its innovative physical literacy programme via which each child is assessed and given a personalised set of exercises to develop core movement patterns, balance, stability and the ability to move efficiently. The scheme has been shown to improve not only physical fitness but also pupils’ classroom performance and general wellbeing. Many boys from the prep go on to join Sherborne School (the schools merged in 2021) and girls go to Sherborne Girls. Other leavers head for the likes of Bryanston, Canford and Marlborough.

Other contenders:

  • Woodlands Preparatory School
  • Orchard House School

11. Great for music: Salisbury Cathedral School

Salisbury Cathedral School

(Image credit: Ash Mills)

Music floats out of every window at this remarkable school in Salisbury’s historic cathedral close. More than 85 per cent of pupils learn an instrument and every genre of music is covered, from classical to folk to jazz. There are five school choirs, two cathedral choirs (boys’ and girls’), 13 ensembles and at least 25 music concerts a year. The 32 chorister places are highly prized, with pre-auditions and informal meetings throughout the year, and voice trials in January for girls and in February for boys. Choristers rehearse from 8am to 9am four days a week and weekly services in the cathedral are shared equally between girls and boys. They sing together at Easter, Christmas and other special occasions.

Other contenders:

  • King’s Ely Junior
  • New College School, Oxford

12. Great for outdoor pursuits: The Downs Malvern

The Downs Malvern

Sitting in 55 acres at the foot of the Malvern Hills, this is a school where children are encouraged to make the most of their surroundings – whether that’s geography and science lessons outside or using the landscape for inspiration in art. On Saturday mornings day and boarding pupils take part in the Hobbies programme, which includes options such as gardening, outdoor exploration and railway engineering (the school has its own light railway, built in 1925 and owned and operated by the Downs Light Railway Trust). Lucky pupils can learn to build, operate and maintain its trains, track, tunnels and points.

Other contenders:

  • Ardvreck School
  • Yarm Prep School

13. Great for co-curricular: Beeston Hall School

Beeston Hall School

With the sandy beaches of north Norfolk on its doorstep, it’s no surprise to find activities such as expedition kayaking, fishing, sailing, surfing and roller-skating on Beeston Hall’s extra-curricular programme. Drier options include film society, coding and forest school. Proximity to a coastline that is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty brings many opportunities for outdoor learning – beach trips and rock pooling feature regularly on the timetable. A stunning location and impressive record of scholarships to top senior schools make Beeston popular with local families and attract boarders from London and further afield.

Other contenders:

  • Holmewood House School
  • Dean Close St John’s

14. Great country prep: Repton Prep

Repton Prep

Set in 55 wooded acres, this Derbyshire day and boarding school is the prep for famous Repton School, just a few miles away. The prep is based at Foremarke Hall, a grand Palladian mansion with beautiful gardens. Facilities are superb and include an inspiring art and ceramic studio and a DT centre with four electric racing cars. Pupils have recently taken part in Greenpower’s F24 electric car challenge for schools. The first week of every school year is devoted to adventure; it’s a chance for pupils to get to know each other and develop skills in independence, team building and leadership.

Other contenders:

  • Aysgarth School
  • Beaudesert Park School

15. Great for all-rounders: Edge Grove

Edge Grove

A village location, acres of parkland and wrap-around care from 7.45am to 5.30pm, all just 15 miles from central London. No wonder Edge Grove is a popular choice for busy working parents. Pupils are encouraged to be curious and are helped to discover their interests and talents; to become lifelong learners. This holistic approach also encompasses traditional values such as good manners and self-discipline. The Good Schools Guide describes Edge Grove’s ethos as “aspirational and fun” and it’s certainly a successful formula since pupils gain places at top London and Hertfordshire senior schools.

Other contenders:

  • The Manor Preparatory School
  • Pinewood School

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