Visiting prospective schools can be both an inspiring and intimidating experience, but if you come equipped with the right questions, you will find the right fit for your child, says Bella Audsley of Enjoy Education.
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Every parent is looking for a school where their child can thrive and flourish. The question is not how to choose the right school, but how to choose the right school for your child. While the philosophy may be simple, the process is more complicated. School entry represents the joining of a new community of pupils, parents and teachers. And schools are as unique as the pupils lighting up their classrooms. When making this important and exciting decision, there are a few core questions to consider.
1. What would you like your child to learn?
While children may dream of receiving a letter inviting them to study spells, potions and quidditch at Hogwarts, there is still plenty of magic to look forward to in the secondary school syllabus. Would your child relish the opportunity to learn in an environment with a greater focus on independence or would they thrive in a setting with a more traditional structure? The school’s approach to classwork and homework will reveal an insight into the wider school culture and the overarching style of teaching and learning. Teachers will be able to discuss the content and progression of the curriculum in more detail with you, including the balance of skills-based and knowledge-led learning across the different year groups. Is your child an academic all-rounder or are they showing potential in more specific subjects and skills? It may appear premature to ask after the public examinations on offer (different GCSE boards, A-levels or the International Baccalaureate) but the content and structure of these specifications does filter through into the curriculum and teaching at every level of the school.
2. How does your child learn?
In addition to the content of the classwork, the culture of the classroom is an equally important detail to consider when choosing a school where your child will flourish. Some schools offer ‘taster days’ for children to attend informal lessons and activities, or an overnight stay at boarding schools, which allow prospective pupils to experience what their new school life would be like. The school’s recent examination results will provide informative guidance into the atmosphere where your child will learn. You may want to consider if your child would enjoy learning in a highly competitive academic environment or benefit from a broader and more balanced focus which is less competitive.
3. What are your child’s preferred teaching styles?
Observing the interaction between teachers and pupils is another method to assess whether the style of teaching complements your child’s approach to learning. Across the course of these formative years in your child’s education, the development of communication and social skills will be influenced by their environment both inside and outside of lessons. Would you like your own child to get to know the other prospective children before settling on a final choice? If your child or neighbours know children who already attend the schools you are considering, or you manage to talk to other parents when visiting schools, you may find their insights give you some answers that can’t be found as easily in the school prospectus or website.
4. Which hobbies and interests can be developed?
Extra-curricular activities are a wonderful opportunity for nurturing old and new hobbies, developing long-lasting friendships and memories, and fostering personal growth. Finding out about the school’s facilities, clubs and sports teams is a good ‘litmus test’ to evaluate the mutually beneficial partnership of what the school has on offer and what your child can offer the school. Even though the facilities do play a role in the opportunities for your child to grow, the key lies in the dedication and inspiration provided by the teachers delivering the lunchtime and after school activities. It is worth speaking to the coordinators of the clubs which appeal to your child’s curiosity and enthusiasm. The school will be lucky to have your child contributing to all areas of school life!
5. How will your child be supported?
One of the most important factors of all when choosing a school for your child is to learn about the support systems in place to nurture your child’s personal and academic wellbeing. The transition into a new school can be daunting at first, especially if children are moving into a bigger school or living away from home for the first time. Finding out about the pastoral care network in the school will allow you to feel confident that the appropriate help is at hand. Pupils may be placed in form groups with children the same age or ‘vertical tutor groups’ where pupils across year groups are mixed together. Some schools may have a house system which can help to expand friendship groups, create smaller communities within a large student body and foster team spirit in school competitions. Whatever systems are in place, the ethos and values of the school should shine through and provide a sense of the overall school atmosphere.
Starting a new school is a significant transition for your child and for your whole family. Involving your child in the decision-making process is the first step towards the growing independence of going to ‘big school’. Although your child’s priorities may differ from your own, (‘What cool technology does the school have? Is the uniform stylish? What selection of break time snacks are there? Can you really make your own chocolate moulds in Design and Technology?’), their wonderfully honest opinions and impressions are valuable indicators to help you find the spark in a school that fits your child’s individuality.