Finalising School Choices
In our most recent blog, we looked at the first steps parents need to take when considering their choice of next school for their child. We also discussed academic assessments, the importance of being realistic in the schools you aspire to and finding out what you can about potential schools in relation to your requirements.
With academic assessment results and your desk research – and perhaps some expert advice – you should have been able to identify a longlist of potential destination schools that would be a great academic fit for your child. Now what?
Ideally, you don’t want your child to sit too many school entrance exams, especially if that number includes some schools you aren’t sure about. The precise number of schools you apply to is a personal choice, but bear in mind that your child will be the one sitting all the exams! It’s best to reduce your list of potential schools down to a strong shortlist of schools you know would be good for your child – not just academically, but socially, emotionally and physically too. And you can’t tell all this from statistics, reports and glossy brochures alone.
Make sure you have a clear set of key criteria for your child’s next school that you all agree upon, and keep referring to it while you find out more about the schools on your list and visit their premises. Your list of criteria will help you decide which schools are not close enough to your ideal for it to be worth your child sitting their exams.
Open Day events have now resumed at most schools, following the pandemic restrictions, and they will give you a much better impression of schools than looking at a website or a prospectus. You will be able to get a good overall feeling for the school, based on who you meet, what the school looks like and what you feel about its general atmosphere.
However, Open Days can only showcase an overview of the facilities and how a school rises to an important occasion, so if possible you should book school tours on typical working days. With less to distract you, you will be able to pay attention to the details that matter, and you will have more opportunities to ask in-depth questions.
Always take your child with you on school visits, so you can see how they respond to the school as you move around it. Try to establish whether they seem relaxed, engaged and ideally excited about what they are seeing. The style and atmosphere of a school is just as important as its facilities, as they determine whether your child will feel comfortable, motivated and at home there.
Pay attention to class sizes and pastoral care, and whether students seem focused and well-behaved. Ask questions about extra-curricular activities on offer and whether the school has special resources that might fit your child’s interests, such as their theatre rehearsal and performance facilities. Remind yourself of the basic criteria you identified as important in your child’s next school and be methodical. If it helps, you could even take along a checklist of things you should look out for and the specific questions you would like to ask at each school, based on your research.
You might have a current student as your tour guide. Hopefully they will be articulate, helpful and enthusiastic, and give you a real flavour of what it’s like to study there. It’s important to speak to teachers and the Headteacher, so you can ask them about any specific issues you’ve read about or heard from other parents. Ask questions about discipline, anti-bullying measures, staff turnover and school trips, to help you get a feel for the boundaries and the opportunities.
Make sure you take notes, so you don’t confuse one school with another when you come to decide on your shortlist. You might rule out one or two schools on the day, but it’s likely you will need to spend time weighing up the pros and cons of most schools on your list to make your decisions.
It’s easy to get dazzled by a school’s architecture, sports facilities or leavers’ destinations. But remember that your chosen school is also where your child will spend many of their waking hours for years to come. Take time to weigh up all the different aspects of your school options before making your shortlist decisions. As we always say, the ‘best’ local school is not necessarily the ideal school for your individual child, because each child is different. You need to stay focused on what is important for your own child and their needs, to decide upon a shortlist of schools where your child would thrive, feeling both comfortable and motivated to succeed.
School visits completed, it’s time to look again at your longlist of academically suitable schools and weigh them up against your family’s key criteria. These might include location, provision for sports and the arts, facilities and extra-curricular activities, culture and discipline, pastoral care, and how your child reacted to the school when you visited it. Those schools that match your needs the closest will become your shortlist of chosen schools – the ones for which your child will study and sit the entrance exams – and you will be ready to apply to them.
If you need help with finalising your shortlist, or the application process, JK Educate can help. We can help you target your school applications carefully so that your child only sits examinations for the schools that would suit them best, drawing upon on our extensive knowledge of the schools and our students who have successful applied to them. We can advise on local school moves, or on relocations from within or outside the UK, and we have a long-established track record of getting children into the right school for them. If we have identified that some expert tutoring would give them the best chance to pass any entrance exams that might be required, we can match your child to the right tutor for their learning style and personality. Whatever you need to support you in this important process, we are here to help.