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All-through schools: everything you need to know

All-through schools: everything you need to know

By Talk Education 

Pictured: Moreton Hall School

All-through schools – where children can start aged three or four and stay all the way to 18 – are a popular choice for many families. How do they work, and what are the pros and cons of investing in one seamless educational journey for your child? Read on to find out… 

The most obvious benefits of the all-through model are continuity and familiarity. Pupils might stay on the same campus from nursery to sixth form, or they might ‘graduate’ from early years to junior to senior sites (more on the nuances of all-through schools later); but the ethos and philosophy of the school will remain constant. Sometimes junior school children might benefit from specialist teaching from some of the senior school staff, so they get to know your child really well – and children get to stay with the same cohort of friends right the way through their school career, often resulting in long-lasting friendships for the parents too. 

Facilities and space tend to be bigger and better in senior schools, and if your child is at an all-through, the chances are they’ll have access to the senior school’s sports centre, theatre or swimming pool from the get-go. And it’s not just the bricks and mortar – with all ages rubbing along together, older pupils act as valuable mentors to the little ones; helping out backstage at junior plays and playing an all-important big brother or sister role. 

Best of all, choosing an all-through school usually means that your child cruises through those tricky 11+ or 13+ transition points, avoiding the nail-biting months of exams, interviews and decisions. Most all-through schools offer seamless transition through each stage; so once you’re in (which may well have been via an academically rigorous assessment, particularly if the all-through journey starts in Year 3), children aren’t beholden to senior school exam preparation, meaning they can focus on a delightfully broad curriculum while their counterparts at independent prep schools might have their heads down practising exam papers. That said, don’t assume you’ll get automatic transfer: most all-throughs have a traffic light system in place – so if there are any concerns about your child’s ability to keep up with the pace at the next stage (or indeed, whether the school is still the right fit), you’ll be informed well in advance. 

As with everything, there are a handful of downsides too. Change can be a very good thing for some children – and a school perfectly suited to a biddable, shiny-faced six-year-old may not be right for them once the swishy-haired teenage years roll round. Think about your child’s temperament too – if there’s a chance they’ll find it overwhelming being in a large campus with facilities geared up for all ages when they’re only little, they might be better suited to a cosy, dedicated prep school. Remember, too, that independent, standalone prep schools will prepare your son or daughter for the senior school that is right for them at that specific stage of their lives – whereas many all-through schools will expect your child to stay put the whole way through, and are unlikely to prepare pupils for exit exams at 11+ or 13+. 

So – now you know the basics, what are the main types of all-through school? 

1. One site, with the junior and senior schools sharing the same facilities, and one senior head in charge. There’s usually a seamless transition between junior and senior departments – and there’s often an on-site nursery, too.

The GDST prides itself on its all-through model, and pupils at all but one of the group’s 25-strong family of schools are expected to transfer from the junior to senior school (that said, there’s always a few who choose to head off elsewhere – or one or two who are flagged up as being better suited to elsewhere). At Wimbledon High School, the junior department is entirely self-contained, but part of the same senior site – so all girls share the same sports facilities, dining room and grounds. Entrance at 4+ is highly competitive, but last year, everyone at Wimbledon’s junior school sailed through 11+ and into the senior school via automatic entry – while more than 650 girls applied for the just 60 Year 7 external places up for grabs.

Wimbledon High School

Bancroft’s School – at the end of the Central line in Woodford Green – is an under-the-radar gem. There’s hot competition for entry to the junior school (which sits on the same site as the towered and turreted senior school), with three applications for every place, but once your child is in, they get automatic entry to the senior school at 11+.  

Not all all-throughs guarantee your child a place at the next stage, but for the most academically selective all-through schools, getting in early could be the golden ticket. At Magdalen College School in Oxford, the junior department is tucked away in the oldest and prettiest part of the school’s grounds. Younger pupils nip over for lunch in the senior dining hall before going back to the cosiness of their own little world – and for the third year running, all 40 boys in Year 6 have aced the tricky exam and progressed up to the senior school. It’s a similar arrangement at King’s College Wimbledon, where the junior school is part of the same campus but totally autonomous. Here, younger pupils get a gentle, unhurried introduction to the school, so when the time comes to sit the exam and move across to the seniors –they’re more than up to the challenge. 

Magdalen College Junior School

At Queen’s College in London, the junior and senior locations are closely aligned – both physically and metaphorically, but there’s no automatic entry. While many junior pupils do move up to the senior school, they still need to pass the same exam as external applicants. 

There’s a lovely relationship between the older and younger students at Farlington School in West Sussex, making the school very much one cohesive entity rather than two separate schools. One of the biggest advantages to having the senior school on the same site is that children are taught French, sport and music by specialist teachers from an early age. Similarly, at Frensham Heights in Surrey, lessons take place in one of the main school teaching blocks from Year 4 onwards – so there’s absolutely nothing daunting about the transition to the senior department at the end of Year 6. Children sit the same entrance assessments as external candidates, but purely for setting purposes. There’s plenty of cross-collaboration between age groups at Sherfield School in Hampshire, too, with head Nick Brain equally devoted to the littlies in the nursery as he is the sixth-formers preparing for their A-levels.  

Farlington School

Moreton Hall in Shropshire is a shining example of an all-girls senior school with a co-ed prep, which makes life easier for families. Moreton Hall’s junior school takes boys and girls from the ages of three to 13; from here, girls step up to the senior, while the boys are prepared for entrance exams to other top senior schools. 

2. Two different, separate sites, so children feel as though they are ‘graduating’ between schools as they get older.

Merchant Taylors’ is one example of this all-through set-up. The junior school sits prettily in its own 15-acre grounds a five-minute drive from the senior school campus, with the majority of boys whizzing up seamlessly to the heavily oversubscribed and highly selective big school at 13. Another is Fettes Prep in Scotland; affectionately referred to as Fettes College’s little sibling. It’s the best of both worlds: small and family-friendly with access to all the facilities of a world-renowned senior school.

Fettes Prep

It’s a similar model at James Allen’s Girls’ School in London. The pre-prep is set in a cosy Edwardian house, just down the hill from the main campus – everyone here is primed for 7+ in case they want to tackle the London prep school application process, but most choose to stick with their friends and go on to the junior school, which shares its site with the senior school. If you want a guaranteed spot at one of London’s most academically selective seniors, this is a very good way to go about it – around 500 pupils apply for the 120 places available at the 11+ stage, half of which are already bagsied by pupils moving up from the junior school.

Headington Prep School has its own slick four-acre campus a five-minute walk from the larger senior setting; and younger pupils regularly pop over for forest school, or to use the dance studio, swimming pool or theatre. Entrance assessments get more rigorous the older pupils get, but once you’re in, you’re likely to get an unconditional offer that carries through the whole way to 18.

Headington Prep School

Some all-throughs give parents the option to pick from a family of schools. The Wetherby group owns a number of different sites: there’s Wetherby School for boys aged four to eight (anyone with an offer in hand has the option to join Little Wetherby at two) and Wetherby Kensington(also for boys from aged four to eight), which both feed into Wetherby Prep (for boys aged seven to 13) – but also prepare pupils for external exams. The final step is Wetherby Senior, for boys aged 11 to 18 – giving pupils the option to move locations up to three times along their educational journey. The certainty of a smooth transfer between schools only adds to the attraction.  

If the all-through school model sounds like it might suit your child, click ‘all-through’ on the Talk Education school search bar to find lots more schools like the ones mentioned above...