School open day season has begun. Every February/March street pole advertising around the country is taken over by schools offering preschool, primary and high school education. They are vying for the attention of prospective parents who are looking to make a decision about which school to enroll their child in next. With so much on offer, high school fees and their child’s future at stake, choosing a school today is no small decision.
Parenting tips: Things to consider before making a shortlist of schools
This is not a definitive list but is a starting point:
- What can you afford?
- How well do you know your own child? This is probably the most important consideration of all if you have the freedom of choice to choose a school for your child.
- Do you want your child to go to a monastic/single sex school or a co-educational school?
- What type of approach are you looking for? Mainstream, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emelia, faith-based etc.
- Is your child more sporty or cultural?
- What is most important to you: the academic, the sport, cultural activities or a mixture of all of these?
- Do you want a more traditional school that is more about chalk and talk, or one that is technology-focused, integrating concepts such as blended learning, the flipped classroom?
- What are your child’s subject strengths?
- How far away is the school from your home and office and how long will it take in rush hour traffic to get there?
Questions to ask when visiting the school
Whether you pop into a school to drop off an application form in the middle of the day, when it is in session, or attend an official marketing Open Day, go prepared with your list of questions that you would like answered. Here is a list of topics to guide you:
- Aftercare facilities
- Sports facilities
- Cultural & sporting activities
- Technology – how is is incorporated into the curriculum?
- School transport – is there a bus?
- Tuck shop, hot lunch facilities
- Safety and security of children
- Sick bay, first aid training, concussion testing
- Uniform shop
- Sun safety
- Discipline, bullying and cyberbullying
- Technology policy regarding use of devices and abuse
- School communication: newsletters, D6 Communicator, website, social media
- Academic record, matric distinctions
- Academic programme, eg. does a preschool have both a creative craft and a creative art programme?
- Teacher qualifications and experience
- Teachers aids/assistants in the classroom
- Child:teacher ratio
- Size of classes
- How many grades
- Monitoring, assessments, report, parent-teacher feedback meetings
- Boarding facilities
- Is the school a member of any associations eg. ISASA, ACSI, SAPA etc?
- Who owns the school?
Don’t forget the traffic logistics when choosing a school
In large and over-populated urban areas, traffic is a serious consideration when choosing a school. Make sure you do a drive in rush hour to and from the school. As much as you want to choose a school that is the best fit for your child, time spent in the car can kill quality family time. Think about your support structure. Do you have friends going to the same school you could create lift clubs with? Is there a school bus? Could you use a children’s shuttle service? Do you have extended family who could help with lifts if necessary? Are there boarding facilities available?
Get a ‘feel’ for a school
Choosing a school is a major decision for a parent. Take the time to do your investigations. Talk to other parents who’s children are already at the school (knowing that they will probably defend their choice of school so it is likely to be a bit subjective), observe children who go to the school when they are on the property or out in public. On this point, attending official Open Days provides you with the freedom to explore the facilities and ask questions of officials on hand, but it doesn’t necessarily give you a feel for the school and the happiness of its learners.
If possible, pop into the school during school hours to collect or drop off your application form. Listen to how the teachers speak to the children, observe the general feeling within the schools. On another occasion, particularly if you are looking at high schools, you may want to attend a sporting fixture or cultural event to give you greater insight.
Commandments for choosing a school
In my book, Future-proof Your Child, co-authored with Dr Graeme Codrington, we dedicated a section to how to choose a school for your child, ending with the following commandments for choosing a school:
- Know your values
- Know your lifestyle
- Know your budget
- Follow your instinct
- Know this is a journey
Beware of ‘shopping distractions’ such as where your friends are sending their children or where previous generations of family went. Your child’s needs, your family values and various practical considerations should drive your selection process when it comes to choosing a school. You need to find the best balance possible. Your child’s education is part of future-proofing them.