CHOOSING A SCHOOL – MAKING THE MOST OF SCHOOL VISITS
It’s important to visit any school you are considering for your child, either on an organised open day or during a normal school day. There are often many open mornings in the autumn term and they are well worth the time, but if you are seriously considering a school, it can also be invaluable to visit during a normal working school day to get a feel for the energy of the classrooms.
Katie Krais is an expert on school choices and making the most of school visits. Here is some of Katie’s key advice:
In choosing a school for your child, there are many factors to take into account: not just their academic ability, but also their individual personality, their interests outside the classroom including their favoured sports, the school location and the commute involved.
There is also a wealth of information sources available to you, including:
- League tables
- GCSE and A level results and university places
- Ofsted or Independent Schools Council (ISC) inspection reports
- ‘Word of mouth’
- The school prospectus and/or website
- The school visit (Open Days and private views)
All of these can be valuable, but this last one – visiting the school in person and speaking to teachers, pupils and the head teacher – can be both the most powerful and the hardest to objectively analyse. Visiting a school can dramatically change opinions formed from other information sources.
First impressions are very important. Just like buying a new house, you will get an immediate feel for a school. You will naturally make judgements about the external architecture, the behaviour of the children and the pastoral care of the staff. Watch your child’s responses to the school as you move around it too: do they seem engaged, relaxed and enthusiastic?
WHAT TO LOOK FOR DURING SCHOOL VISITS
It is best to visit three or four schools to enable you to compare the options and to consider which one would best suit your child. Take time to weigh up all the different aspects of the schools before making important decisions.
To get an accurate reflection of everyday school life, try to visit during a normal school day and not just on a special Open Day. Many of the following points to consider are best evaluated on a visit during a working school day:
- Do the children interact well with their teachers?
- Does the head seem at ease with the children – and know their names?
- Are pupils busy working independently?
- Are the premises well maintained, safe and clean?
- Are pupils’ books marked with constructive comments and suggestions?
- Are children given targets?
- Does the school offer a wide variety of extra-curricular activities?
- Visiting the children’s toilets can tell you a lot about the school! What are they like?
- Do classrooms look bright and cheery? Are the displays recent and representative of all children’s work?
QUESTIONS TO ASK STAFF OR THE HEAD AT SCHOOL VISITS
- How do you deal with bullying?
- How is discipline managed at this school?
- Would you send your child to this school?
- What’s the staff (and pupil) turnover?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the school?
- What are the class sizes and how are they organised?
- What is the cultural/religious mix of the school and how is this reflected in the curriculum?
- Does the school have any special resources, e.g. a photography room?
- Is there an after school or homework club?
- Is there an active PTA?
QUESTIONS TO ASK PUPILS AT SCHOOL VISITS
- Are you happy here?
- What happens if you misbehave?
- What are the best and worst things about this school?
- Have you ever had to deal with bullying?
- How do you travel to and from school?
- How easy was it to transfer here from primary school?
It is easy to be impressed by excellent grounds and facilities but do try to stay focused on what is important for the development of your own child’s needs when choosing a school. Schools have different styles and it is important to choose one where your child feels comfortable and motivated. For example, some children prefer being big fish in small ponds; others prefer being small fish in big ponds.
Remember, the “best school” for your child is not always the one at the top of league tables. It is always the school that best suits your individual child, academically, socially, ethically and geographically!
Katie Krais, JK Educate