The best London prep schools

Country Life's list of the most-sought-after prep schools in London

** Find out about our exclusive, free, independent, informative events to support parents with researching their future school choices in the UK

** This piece was first published in Country Life’s Autumn Schools Supplement 2014

The best co-educational prep schools in London

Garden House
SW3 Ages 3–11 495 pupils
Girls 020–7730 1652; Boys 6652; www.gardenhouseschool.

Garden House is coeducational, but appears to get the best of both worlds by teaching boys and girls separately much of the time.

The three Heads—Christian Warland (boys), Kate Simon (Upper School girls) and Wendy Challen (Lower School)—work collaboratively. All three value time with the children and make sure they know them, from shaking hands with them and making eye contact first thing in the morning to teaching.

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As you step inside the entrance hall, its rocking horse, pupils’ models and high-quality artworks set the tone. The average class size is 15 for girls and 14 for boys. There is mixed-ability teaching for all, with some streaming only in mathematics.

Every year, the Chamber Choir goes on tour to Normandy and sings in the Chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. A helpful bus service is available. Care, respect and kindness for all is very much the ethos.

Newton Prep
SW8 Ages 3–13 600 pupils
020–7720 4091;

A large, diverse London prep, between Battersea and Nine Elms, ‘Newton is the acceptable face of private education—meritocratic, broad ranging and grounded,’ claims the school. There are four classes of 20 from reception, and streaming in such subjects as maths starts as early as Year 1, with specialist teaching from Year 4. French is taught from nursery and Latin from Year 5. Mandarin is offered after school.

Mother of five Susannah Williams has seen Newton develop: ‘It retains its quirky nature, combining its original ethos and knowledge of families with great facilities in which children are allowed to be themselves. All the teachers have really got the measure of my children, the management
is open to fresh ideas and the school is large enough to accommodate variety.’

Thomas’s Battersea
SW11 Ages 4–13 540 pupils
(020–7978 0900;

There are four Thomas’s London Day Schools —the others are in Fulham, Clapham and Kensington—which form a group originally founded by principal Ben Thomas’s actor parents, David and Joanna. Battersea is the most cosmopolitan of the Thomas’s schools and is popular with international families who value the English education system. Drama is outstanding, involving everyone.

The schools have three distinct three year phases, Lower, Middle and Upper Schools, within a framework of ‘Enjoyment, Learning and Achievement’—pupils leave at 11 or 13. Ben Thomas believes the most important school rule is ‘Be kind’ and there is a definite ethos encouraging altruism.

The  best boys prep schools in London

Westminster Under
SW1 Ages 7–13 285 pupils
020–7821 5788;

Church of England

In the south-west corner of leafy Vincent Square is this much sought-after small prep, which has access to wonderful playing fields as well as grass and all-weather pitches, so boys can rush around letting off steam, unlike many of their counterparts in central London preps.

Mother of five and in her fourth year as the Master is the energetic Elizabeth Hill. She says she’s looking for boys who are ‘individual, intellectual and independent’ in keeping with the sense of enquiry and love of learning that exemplify this non-crammer top prep. Generous bursaries mean that, at 11, half the intake is bright boys from State schools.

A power house, with 80% moving on to Westminster Great and the remainder mostly to Eton, Winchester, Highgate, Harrow and City of London, high achievement is standard in all areas, with formidable cricket and football successes, gold medallists in Primary Maths Challenge and plenty of drama, music and art.

Wetherby Prep
W1H Ages 7–13 305 pupils
020–7535 3520;

A relative newcomer, Wetherby Prep opened in 2004 in Notting Hill Gate and subsequently moved to larger, well-equipped, elegant Georgian premises in central London. The broad curriculum sees boys well taught and prepared for CE with impressive results and less pressure than in alternative preps.

From Year 4, rather than being numbered, classes are given names such as Dickens, Woolf and Conan Doyle. Head Nick Baker states: ‘We offer academic rigour and senior-school transition and try to do as much sport as possible. Wetherby boys are confident, enthusiastic and we offer a “hands up” culture. The boys feel comfortable being themselves in the school environment and know they will always be listened to by their teachers and peers. There’s an identity that goes with being a Wetherby parent—they’re all VIPS as far as we’re concerned.’

Sussex House
SW1 Ages 8–13 185 pupils
(020–7584 1741;

Church of England

Located in the heart of Chelsea in a seven-storey Norman Shaw Arts-and-Crafts town house. Where else would you find classrooms lined with pristine William Morris wallpaper and be welcomed daily by the gowned School Marshal, a former Gurkha officer? Sussex House is unashamedly academic, with many boys moving on to Eton and Winchester. Headmaster Nicholas Kaye ‘sets the tone’ say parents, sharing his passions, leading the architecture club or enthusiastically teaching the top year English in sessions that ‘are challenging, quite adult, like an Oxford tutorial’.

Classes have 18 pupils, reducing to 12 in the top year, and individual timetables are meticulously arranged so that every opportunity can be seized—‘boys can attend Greek and orchestra before the school day even starts,’ comments Mr Kaye. Sixth-formers are prefects and wear gowns, unless they fall from grace—a great incentive.

Music is one of the school’s strengths and creativity abounds, as a look at The Cadogan magazine will attest, recording all aspects of school life from fencing triumphs to poetry prizes. No wonder Old Cadogans hold the school in such affection.

Colet Court
SW13 Ages 7–13 440 pupils
(020–8748 3461;

Colet Court is in the enviable position of allowing boys to move on, apparently effortlessly, to the Senior School, St Paul’s, where they achieve many of its desirable scholarships. The school’s 45-acre site by the River Thames includes playing fields that must seem like heaven to the sporty boy.

Head Tim Meunier remarks: ‘Every day, Coletines are full of questions and answers and their routines are full of activity and reflection, enterprise and enquiry.’ If you sign up, you agree to the school’s culture of achievement and the boys themselves show initiative and resilience in a competitive environment. For the right boy, it’s a ‘superlative school’, to quote a recent inspection report.

The best girls prep schools in London

Bute House
W6 Ages 4–11 310 pupils
020–7603 7381;

Helen Lowe is Head of this top-heavy school off Brook Green, the largest feeder to nearby St Paul’s Girls’ School. Entry is by ballot at four, then there is a further Year 3 intake following assessment and interviews—having a sibling at the school helps. There is a noncompetitive ethos with remarks rather than marks and no prize-givings or speech days.

It’s an inclusive school, with girls given every opportunity to participate in sports, music, drama and art to the highest level with special provision for enrichment. The classrooms and corridors are packed with vibrant displays. There is a pool next door, with an attractive playground adjoining SPGS sports fields.

Mrs Lowe explains: ‘What’s distinctive about Bute is that it’s a place where everyone is valued for being themselves—no one is singled out as better. No matter what a girl’s talent is, we find it and celebrate it.’ Appreciative parent Nicole O’Neil, agrees: ‘Bute offers a multi-faceted education, which nurtures everyone to do her best. My own girls—one is academic, one creative—greet every school day with a spring in their step.’

SW7 Ages 4–11 220 pupils
(020–7370 1927;

Equidistant from Gloucester Road and South Kensington Tube stations, Glendower is very popular with Kensington’s French and American community, with its distinctive purple uniforms—the colour can be seen on berets, blazers, striped dresses and even the scooters and the website.

Headmistress Sarah Knollys comments: ‘Our girls are confident, articulate, well-rounded, enthusiastic and curious. We are healthily competitive and keen to do our best at all times.’ Not surprisingly, Glendower girls regularly compete at national level in many sporting events and are formidable London Schools Swimming Association champions.

Parent Sonia Crapanzano comments: ‘The teachers have helped my daughter to fly. They treat the girls as students not as “girls”, so they’re encouraged to do as much and as well as they can.’ Pupils happily move on to a wide range of day and boarding schools, some with scholarships.

Kensington Prep School
SW6 Ages 4–11 280 pupils
(020–7731 9300;

Founded in 1873, Kensington Prep was the first school to open in the Girls’ Day School Trust and remains at the forefront of education.

In 1997, it relocated to a spacious former convent near Parsons Green, with a large playground, netball and tennis courts and a pond for environmental studies.

Head Prudence Lynch explains that ‘our aim is to equip girls for a changing world’, so it’s not surprising that the school has been awarded its ICT Mark for the second time for its use of information and communications technology. ‘We use ICT in every aspect of learning, giving children wide-ranging skills and confidence.’

One current parent says: ‘I particularly like the philosophy and “thinking skills” activities that the school offers. It does very well academically, but could never be accused of just being an exam factory.’

** Find out about our exclusive, free, independent, informative events to support parents with researching their future school choices in the UK

** This article was first published in Country Life Schools Supplement in Autumn 2014