Reasons for choosing a school for your child: Fifteen things to ask when visiting a school open day or a taster day.
Choosing a new school for your son or daughter can be quite daunting whether you choose an independent or a state school. One of the key meetings is the school open day or the taster day, as this will give you a flavour of what the school is like. I had four boys who I sent to independent schools and these are the key questions I needed answered before I chose the correct school for them. After all this is a huge investment and I wanted value for money.
1. How long has the Head been in place? I know this may seem a strange question. However, I did not want a school that chopped and changed its head every couple of years. However, I also did not want a Head who has been there fifteen-twenty years, as complacency can creep in and things can become stagnant.
2. Are there trips, events and clubs to develop and widen their interest and knowledge outside the classroom curriculum? This for me was an important question, as I did not want a school that was simply an exam factory. I wanted a holistic approach where they looked at developing their all-round character.
3. For parents who both work away from home, are there any activities or childcare facilities offered before and after school? This was quite an important one, because both my wife and I worked and we wanted to choose a school that offered key activities after school, in case we could not pick them up after school. It is reassuring to know that this is an option. Ask what options are available and how much they cost; they may be included in the fees. However, as the children grew up and become more independent this became less of a concern.
4. What is the school’s success record in the 11+, 13+, GCSE and A ‘Level exams? Are they able to show they have developed the potential for gifted and talented pupils through their Scholarship results? Although I disapprove of league tables and teaching students to an exam, it is very important that the school has a reputation for excellent results and a track record of success.
5. What is the school’s success record when it comes to value added teaching? Indeed, in many ways, I place higher value in this than the actual results. At the end of the day, it is what the school has added to the students’ progress that is the most important thing eg. If a student is predicted a grade 4 and achieves a grade 6 – this is a real reason to celebrate. If the student was predicted a grade 7 and got a grade 7, then he/she has met his/her potential, but not overachieved like the first student.
6. Is the school strong in sports, music, drama or art? Again, I believe the school should have a wide curriculum and that a student should be involved in all of the above. It is so crucial to their well-being.
7. Does the school offer continuous progression from age 5 through to age 11 or 13 and 11/13 to 18? Again, I felt this was important as I could clearly monitor and keep on track with my child’s progress. I did not want to chop and change schools after his GCSEs, as this can be rather disruptive to a child’s education. It is also good to have built a relationship with the teachers over time.
8. What is the average size of class? Whilst this is the not the number one reason for a child’s progress, it is still important. In classes of 25-35 I felt that my child would not get much individual attention. Equally, I did not want the class size to be too small. Having taught classes of 5-10 students, things can get a bit stifled and classroom conversations/debates can dry up. My favourite class size is about 14 – where you can have meaningful dialogue and give precise feedback.
9. Are the pupils grouped by ability? I used to think this was important, but research shows that quality of feedback from the teacher is much more important. However, in my experience, I do feel that in subjects such as mathematics students to tend to progress more quickly if they are grouped.
10. How is the pastoral welfare of the pupils monitored and how are parents kept informed? Again, this is crucial. The relationship between the teacher, your child and the parents are crucial. As a parent, you want to feel there is someone to talk to if you have any concerns about your child’s progress or wellbeing. I was the type of parent who wanted to be informed within 24 hours if there was any type of incident my sons were involved in. However, please remember that when you hear your son’s/daughter’s side of the story, it is important to register that this will probably be biased. Make a meeting with the form teacher to view the other side. Face-to-face meetings are so much more productive than phone calls or e-mails.
“While you are at the open event or on a private visit, remember to ask any questions you might have about the admissions process and check deadlines application forms need to be completed by.”
11. Do the pupils appear well-mannered; standing aside for visitors at a doorway, for example? My parents used to tell me that “manners do not cost anything.” Having a child with good manners is crucial and speaks volume for what type of school this is. Having respect for people and property is so important in life.
12. Ask the pupils what they think. Most heads and marketing departments are there to sell the school to you. I always thought that if you really wanted to know about the school, ask its pupils. It is amazing how candid they are.
12. Are there trips, events and clubs to develop and widen their interest and knowledge outside the classroom curriculum? This for me was an important question, as I did not want a school that was simply an exam factory. I wanted a holistic approach where they looked at developing their all-round character.
13. How does the school support high achievers and those who require extra help? It is important that schools understand any specific requirement and will support your child in reaching their potential.
14. Does the school offer any transport? Anything that makes your life easier is something that needs consideration. If the school offers transport to somewhere near you, this could be a great weight off your mind. Think about the countless hours you will save not ferrying your children to and from the school.
15. Lastly, download the latest inspection report. Although this is a snapshot of the school, it does offer information on what the inspections thought the school does well and, more importantly, areas that they could improve upon/need developing.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the best judge of which school to choose is most likely to be your child. Ask whether a taster session is included as part of the admissions process and at which stage it is offered. If your child has been on a taster day ask him/her what he/she felt about the school. Is it one he/she can imagine attending? What did he/she like about it? What were the facilities like? Most importantly, was he/she happy there? Did the school make him/her feel welcome?
If you have questions regarding the UK education system , tuition or wish to have guidance on the admissions process for schools, please do reach out to our Education Team at Sophia.