STATE secondaries should be reorganised into junior and senior departments to give pre-teenagers the same protection as those in private prep schools.
"Tweenagers", those children between 11 and 13, are being forced to grow up too soon, said George Marsh, headmaster of Dulwich College preparatory school in south London.
They need protecting from the influence of 14 and 15-year-olds and should be educated with "a space of their own and a staff of their own", said Mr Marsh at the annual conference of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools in Bristol.
More than two-thirds of the association's 500 member schools have pupils up to 13.
David Hanson, education officer of the association, said such a change would fit in with current Government moves to concentrate attention on children who appear to have difficulties with the transfer to secondary education.
r Marsh, who previously taught in state-sector middle schools, said:
"Tweenagers need care and support in our schools. They are bombarded with media-led, sometimes parent-led, hysteria to grow up too soon. This group needs an environment which allows them to be sheltered and nurtured towards their teenage years.
"They deserve a childhood. They above all need a prep school or junior school environment away from 14 and 15-year-olds."
Mr Marsh criticised the increasing amount of time spent on preparing for national tests in primaries and said it was of the utmost importance not to allow such "dumbing down of the curriculum" in independent prep schools.
He pointed out that between 92 and 98 per cent of boys and girls in prep schools had reached the expected level 4 in the recent key stage 2 results.
But Mr Marsh said: "I would be amazed if any prep school is so focused on test results that the whole timetable is tossed away for a year to the detriment of true education."