Choosing the right school for our children has never been more important. While the life options available to our kids seem increasingly narrow, what with ever shrinking catchment areas and the list of puzzling lexicons in our education system stack up – Academy, Free School, Community, Foundation – it’s understandable that many parents are losing sleep over finding the best option for their pride and joy.
So what can we do to make sure we’re not sailing our kids down the river when it comes to schooling? Here are some top tips and questions to ask yourself when seeking out the right school for your kids.
Pool your resources
Though there’s a lot of information to take in, working your way through the various informative resources can really pay off.
• Have a good read of any literature produced in-house by the school such as brochures and websites. Though it’s essentially propaganda, it’s interesting to see what positive aspects they are singing about and how that chimes with what you’re looking for.
• Think about league tables – how is the school performing? League tables are published on national newspaper websites (such as The Guardian) as well as on localised news and local authority websites.
• Check out the Ofsted reports from previous years and track the progress of the school, is it on the way up, or on the way down? Try to see beyond just the most recent report – it could be a blip as a result of some change in circumstance and let’s face it, schools are in a very fluid environment right now.
• Check if there are hurdles to jump. Are there entrance exams or religious affiliations, you can find these requirements on the school brochures and websites. Can these work to your advantage? Time to start attending Church again or getting a private tutor?
Seeing is believing
Go to the open day. Nothing gives you the sense of a school like being there in person and seeing it action. Ok, I’m aware that these organised visiting days are often sanitised and tailored for purpose, but that’s not all bad – the teachers will be open and have more time for you and you’ll get the chance to have a good old nose round.
• Is the head teacher approachable, and do they appear genuinely interested in the learning outcomes and well-being of the students?
• Are the classrooms bright and happy? Check out the work on display and get a sense for the level of teaching and standard of work.
• Are the teachers enthusiastic and engaging, and how are the students reacting to the teaching style – are they well behaved before, during and after class?
• Are the facilities well maintained? Check that the toilets are clean and well supplied and kick the tires of the entire site – playing fields, sports equipment, computing facilities – give it all the once-over.
• Ask the students what they like or dislike about their school, but not in front of teachers or other staff if you want an honest answer!
Be true to yourself
Ask yourself: What am I looking for in this school? Impressed as you may be by some facility, some gimmick that turns your head, remember you’re choosing the school based on the needs of your child and the criteria is dictated by that, not the other way round.
• Are you happy with the school / class size? Does the school promote a competitive or collaborative approach to teaching and how will that affect your child?
• How much homework will your child be expected to complete?
• Does the school have facilities relevant to the learning needs of your child – i.e sports, IT, religious, Special Ed…
• Are you happy with the culture of the school? Get a sense of the school environment – think of discipline, diversity, parental involvement, communication.
• Are you comfortable with the school’s discipline policy?
• Important: Is the school’s philosophy or mission in tune with the needs of you and your child? Most schools have a mission statement somewhere in the their literature – find out if it appeals to you and see if it is being put into practice behind the school gates.
Best of luck in seeking out the right school and a bright future for your kids, it can be a stressful process and one that’s sometimes out of your hands. I hope these thoughts and prompts are helpful in your quest…