“Prep school”, “private school” or “independent school” – what’s it all about?

The English private education system, widely recognised as world-class, is not always straightforward for first-timers. We have put together this jargon-busting guide for those new to London prep school education. But don’t worry if you still feel confused. Our registrar, Thalia, and our headmistress, Mrs Cawthorne, are very happy to talk you through any queries you have.

‘Prep school’ is short for ‘preparatory school’, though not many people talk about preparatory schools nowadays. It means a fee-paying independent school for children under 11. Traditionally prep schools started at age 8, so schools for younger children are sometimes known as ‘pre-prep’. And schools for the very young (3 to 4-year-olds) are generally known as ‘nursery schools’.  Here at Bassett House, we educate children from age 3 to 11, so we call ourselves a ‘prep school’ as an umbrella description, though within that we are also educating our nursery year (which we call the Den) and pre-prep aged children.

“Senior schools”, “secondary schools” or “public schools” are the schools that children go to from age 11 to age 18. In their last year at Bassett House (year 6), our 10- and 11-year-old children sit the 11+ (“Eleven plus”), which are the entrance examinations set by senior schools. Some schools prepare children to sit entrance exams at age 6 (the 7+) or 7 (the 8+) but at Bassett House, we believe strongly in letting children enjoy their childhoods, tackling a broad curriculum that is not geared towards sitting exams at such a young age. By the time our boys and girls sit the 11+ exams, they have the confidence, maturity and broad knowledge base to excel.

A number of schools educate only boys or only girls. These are known as ‘single-sex schools’. At Bassett, we are ‘co-ed’ or ‘co-educational’. In other words, we take both boys and girls, as we believe that promoting learning and teamwork among boys and girls together is the best preparation for life.

Here is a quick guide to some of the terminology you might come across as you look at schools:

Co-ed or co-educational – a school for both boys and girls.

Fee-paying school – the same as an independent school.

Independent school – a school which is independent of local and national government, where parents pay fees.

Non-selective – a school which does not ask children to sit entry exams or assessments before they are offered a place.

Pre-prep school – an independent school for under 8s.

Prep school – a private fee-paying independent school for children under 11 (or sometimes under 13).

Preparatory school – the same as a prep school.

Private school – the same as an independent school.

Public school – despite how it sounds, this is not a state school (see below) but refers to a large private school for children over 11 or over 13.

Registrar – the person who handles new children coming to the school.

Selective school – a school which chooses which children to offer a place to on the basis of entry exams or assessments.

Single-sex school – a school only for boys, or only for girls.

State school – a school paid for by the state, which does not charge fees to parents.

Still feel lost? Contact Thalia, our registrar, on 020 8969 0313 and she will answer all your questions.