Kay Goldsworthy looks at some of the considerations when it comes to making your choices
Having worked in both the state and independent sector, I know that finding the right school for your child is one of the most important decisions that you will make as a parent. There are a lot of factors to consider, some are practical, some emotional but all are entirely personal and focused on ensuring that your child receives the best possible education. Here are a few thoughts to help you clarify your priorities and work out what you are looking for.
The school run will be a trip that you will make up to twice a day, five days a week for what seems like forever so it needs to be a journey that works for you. Think about whether you want to walk/bike to school or whether you are happy to drive. If driving is the only option, you’ll need to take into account what the journey will be like and how that will impact on your family schedule. When considering schools that are a bit further away, work out in advance how far you are realistically prepared to travel and find out if there are any school run groups or travel options offered by the school. Finally, don’t forget to enquire about wraparound care options to see if they might fit your schedule better.
Another factor to consider is the teacher-to-pupil ratio and the focus your child needs. Will the staff have the time to get to know you and your child, understand how they learn and work with them in a tailored way? Smaller schools have the time and capacity to focus on the individual pupil but larger schools often have the benefit of additional facilities and a greater social pool that can help with broad social development. Of course, there is a balance to be struck and the right environment will depend heavily on your child, and their age and stage. You will know best what they need in a school.
The quality of your child’s education relies heavily on the skills and performance of the teaching staff. When considering a school, find out whether the teachers are qualified to specialise in their subject – not all teachers are in the independent sector. The benefit of specialist teachers is that they can take learning beyond the curriculum and share their passion for their chosen subject with their class.
Independent schools will inevitably have more freedom than others to tailor their approach to the national curriculum, allowing them to use alternative teaching methods and offer a greater balance of subjects. A well-rounded education has proven to be beneficial to a child’s overall learning and development and gives pupils an advantage when approaching secondary education. To develop each child’s particular talents and skills it is essential to prioritise creative courses such as Art, Music and Drama equally with the core subjects like English and Maths.
A well-rounded education should also heavily feature extra-curricular activities that complement core learning. Sport and additional activities are known to help develop confidence, team work, leadership and social skills that are vital for later life. Ask whether the pupils get the opportunity to participate in sports clubs outside of their PE lessons? What range is on offer, how much of a focus is sport in the school schedule and what facilities are readily available?
Your child’s secondary education may seem like a long way off when they are only just starting their school career. However, you do need to consider what secondary/senior schools your school is preparing the pupils for.
Find out about the range of feeder destinations and their results. Does the school prepare its pupils for scholarships? What success rate does the school have in getting pupils into their first choice of secondary school? When choosing your infant and junior schools it’s key to make sure that you are thinking ahead and considering schools that will open doors for your child rather than close them.
Choosing a school can feel a bit like buying a house, it needs to be a comfortable fit for you and your family, and meet a number of different criteria. As such, it is important to view the school first hand, make sure that you take the time to walk around the school grounds, talk to the teachers and get a real feel for the atmosphere.
You’ll know the right school for your child when you find it. Good luck.
School choice checklist
When you look round prospective schools, use the checklist below as a handy reminder:
• Does the school ethos suit your child? What is the focus of the school i.e. academic results, sporting achievement, a broader, more rounded education? How do the pupils seem to you – happy, enthused, focused?
• What does the atmosphere of the school feel like? Do you like the teachers and the Head and do you think that they will understand your child?
• Is the location suitable for you and your child? Is there a school bus that runs or can you drive or walk easily to the school? Are there other children who live nearby that already attend the school who you could liftshare with?
• Does the school specialise in subjects that your child enjoys? If your child is very creative and artistic, you could consider schools that have a heavier focus on the arts for example.
• What secondary schools does this school feed into? Are they likely to be the right senior schools for your child? Does the school spend time preparing children for the next stage of their school life?
• Does the school have an attached nursery that you can start your child off in? Familiar surroundings may help ease his or her passage into primary and prep school education.
Kay Goldsworthy is Headmistress at St Ives independent school in Haslemere. The school will be holding an Open Morning on 3rd February 2017. For more information about the school or to arrange a visit please go to: www.stiveshaslemere.com