* Read Country Life’s Autumn 2013 School Life supplement in full

The prep-school years-from age 7 to 11 or 13-are the ‘find out what you’re good at’ years, believes Andrew Browning, head- master of Dumpton School in Dorset. ‘It’s the time when children work out where their gifts lie, what they like, who they’re going to be.’

 Clayesmore School, Dorset

Sid Inglis, new headmaster at Elstree prep, believes these are ‘the years when children learn how to learn. A good prep school sets hem up for a life of learning.’

With senior schools increasingly straitjacketed by public exams, prep schools remain a bastion of self-discovery-and fun. ‘Prep schools teach 90% of the art, drama and design and technology most independently educated children will ever get,’ Andrew Browning points out.

Fees remain relatively low: the first 10 years of independent education could cost the same as the last five.

If you live in an area with grammar schools – or can move to one – then spending at this age may have even more impact. However, be careful if you live in London: over-subscribed prep schools will make little allowance for a child who can’t read and write as fluently as candidates from more results-driven pre-preps.

Janette Wallis is a senior editor of The Good Schools Guide

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How to decide which five years of school fees to invest in

* Why you should spend most on fees for pre-prep schools

* Why you should spend most on schools for your 11-16 year old

* Why you should spend most on schools for your 16-18 year old