THE AGE Newspaper article of Monday February 25th 2008.
Question: I have heard a lot about the pre-prep programs offered by private schools. What exactly are these and are they worth the thousands of dollars in fees?
IN VICTORIA, children may begin school as long as they turn five by April 30 of the year they start. This is, by international standards, quite young. There are many implications of this young starting age. One is that - given that most children do only one year of four-year-old kindergarten - often children are found to be "not ready" for school. This can be a problem for parents as they may not be able to get back into the preschool for another year or they may wish their child to have a different early childhood year from the one they have just completed. In recent years, one of the options increasingly available is what is referred to as a pre-prep year. The term itself is often confusing. Different schools use different names for this program, which is the year between preschool and prep. Some independent schools have always had some type of pre-prep year and many more have introduced this additional year. Each pre-prep program differs in its curriculum. Some pre preps are full time, five days a week. Some have a uniform that matches the school and others do not. Some pre-preps will offer specialist classes such as library, PE or music. Some will provide a play and project-based curriculum with literacy and numeracy; others are more formal, more like a prep program. Pre-prep programs in independent schools have fees that range from a few thousand dollars to nearly $10,000 a year. Many parents interested in having a child attend such a program find the fees prohibitive. Pre-prep programs are not usually found in state primary schools. If a primary school is offering one, I always advise parents to ensure that it is a genuine additional year of school, not a half year that then transfers the children into prep halfway through. For parents considering such a program, it can be quite confusing and overwhelming. I always suggest that parents first establish why they want their child to have the additional year and gain advice from the preschool teacher. If the reason is because the child truly requires an additional year before school, ensure that the program still emphasises play, hands-on learning and builds on the literacy and numeracy the child has experienced in preschool. The years before school do not require formal, structured programs, but rather a rich curriculum that builds literacy and numeracy around sound teaching and learning strategies best suited to the early childhood years. These strategies have a focus on play based learning. For now, pre-prep programs in independent schools are expensive and this means only some parents are able to place a child there.
Copyright © Kathy Walker 2008
Kathy Walker is an education consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years and a former lecturer at RMIT University.