Preparing pupils for the transition to senior schools


by Simone Mitchell, Deputy Head, Director of Teaching and Learning at Swanbourne House School

The crucial process of transitioning from prep school to senior school has seen significant changes over recent years, with a more bespoke, nurturing and tailored approach sought by families.


At Swanbourne House, we know it’s an evolving and creative process, with no ‘catch all’ approach. A personal approach is rightly expected by families, and creating a robust, specific path for the child to their chosen senior school can be a challenging process, but one that reaps significant rewards. 

If I could point to one significant change in the transition process over recent years, it’s seeing the whole process start earlier. It used to start about 18 months before a pupil left us, now the preparation starts four years before they will set foot in a senior school. This is a very positive development for families and schools. Indeed, when I’m asked what can be the biggest pitfall in the process, I often say timing. 

All senior schools publish details of their registration process on their website well in advance – my advice to families would always be to check the dates and don’t assume all schools will have the same timings and process. In years gone by, there was a tense wait for Common Entrance results taken in June for September entry, with the anxiety of waiting for a place to be confirmed. Now, it is very rare for a senior school not to give an unconditional offer. This development benefits pupils, allowing prep schools time to create a tailored approach to their learning, preparing pupils so they can thrive in their senior school. Starting the process early gives schools and parents an opportunity to plan accordingly for the child. 

Personal tutor

Having the academic and pastoral contact of a personal tutor, who can work with the child on a daily basis and across a number of years, will help them shape their progress and get them ready for their next step. This close relationship is vital to making sure we know what we need to do for each child to ensure they are ready for the next part of their school journey. An important part of this is preparing them for the tests and assessments they will take for their senior school entry. In Year 6 pupils start taking senior school tests, so through the whole of Year 5 we offer them assistance in verbal and non-verbal reasoning testing, and prepare them for maths and English assessments. This preparation also includes practice interviews with members of the Senior Leadership Team.

At Swanbourne we have also created a programme of enriching co-curricular activities to help develop confidence, foster self-management skills and build resilience. From an early age, pupils are taken on fun and challenging outdoor trips that help them develop that important ‘can-do’ attitude while also learning to work as an individual, thrive as part of a team, reflect on their successes and failures and nurture self-belief. A varied Saturday Enrichment Programme brings out new skills and abilities through engaging and challenging activities such as performance car design, fashion and merchandising, clay pigeon shooting, bushcraft and language learning. These experiences encourage a desire to take on new challenges, helping children to develop the self-belief and the character traits and skills they need to thrive in their senior school.   


Most pupils board at their senior school, so giving exposure to boarding at their prep school is important. At Swanbourne, we encourage families to take advantage of our flexi-boarding option if the pupil isn’t already boarding. Flexi-boarding gives pupils the opportunity to stay a few nights a week at our boarding house, building up their experience, learning the routines and nuances of boarding, and helping them to have a smoother transition into senior school. 

One of the most important pieces of advice I’d give to parents is to start communicating with your prep school early and keep the conversation going. This  is vital in choosing the right senior school for each child and ensuring a smooth and successful transition. You may want a day or a boarding place, co-ed or single-sex, or a school in particular part of the country or that’s important to your family. Your prep school will know your child well and be able to offer tailored advice, with a knowledge of the character of the different senior schools. They will also know children similar to your son or daughter and at which schools they have thrived. 

Finally, visit the senior schools you have in mind to soak up the ambience and atmosphere (perhaps without your child on the first visit). I liken choosing a school to buying a house. Different houses may have the right facilities, be in the right place and have all you need on paper, however until you see it you can’t get a sense of all those things you can’t put into words, the feeling it gives you that this is the right place. Good luck!

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