Choosing the right school: avoiding common mistakes – Alan Whelpdale, Headmaster at Leicester High School for Girls, outlines a simple plan for this difficult decision.
22 Apr 2015
I remember a parent with an angst-ridden face once saying to me: ‘Unless I believe it to be the best school in the world I will feel I have failed my daughter’. No pressure on her or me then, in that instance! But, this does show that choosing a school is an emotional decision for many parents. At my school, it is also a financial decision, because with fees starting at £2740 per term, parents are making a significant investment in their child’s education. In addition, education has changed. When parents look round schools now, they no longer resemble what they remember. Key stages: what are they? PHSCE: what’s that? It is all so confusing, and it can be difficult to gather information, let alone compare it and then make such an important and far-reaching decision.
I have a simple 10 point plan which can help parents through this difficult time, make the process less stressful, and the decision making more successful:
- Start researching schools at least a couple of years before your child’s start date, particularly if you are considering independent schools or schools out of catchment. They get full. All schools have open days in October of the year before your child is due to start and entrance exams for independent schools are usually in the January after that. Deadlines for state school applications are usually a little later, in March.
- Think about your child. What are they like? What do they enjoy doing? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- Think about how your child’s personality, strengths and weaknesses might reflect their school needs. Artistic? Look for a school where art is clearly a strength. Shy? Look for a school that is not too big, has smaller classes or a good pastoral care system in place. Bright? Look for a school that streams pupils, has strong GCSE and A level results and can show you how they stretch academic children.
- Make a list of school you are interested in. Ten is too many. One is not enough.
- Look at the websites in detail. Request a prospectus.
- Visit the schools on open days, or on a private visit, with or without your child. I recommend that, if you have the time, go once on your own, shortlist, then go with your child.
- When you visit, talk to the Head. If you do not instinctively like him or her, or agree with what they say, it’s probably not the school for your child.
- Where possible, look at the English and maths books of the children in the school who are your child’s age. Have they been marked? Do you recognise the work from your own child’s current school? Is the work neat?
- If you get the chance, talk to the current pupils. What do they say about the school? Ask them what they like and don’t like about the school. Are there common themes?
- Go with your instinct. Does it feel a happy, thriving and positive place? If so, it’s probably the one to choose.
We all know that education changes lives; I wish you every success in choosing the right school for your child.