CHOOSING A SCHOOL
For many families, enrolment of their child/children is quite straightforward. They simply enrol them in their local school.
Others sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to find what they consider to be the best school for the child and/or their family.
Unsurprisingly, most people make decisions about their child’s education based on their own experiences, how good or bad their schooling was, whether it was at a local, government school, private school, day school, boarding school, . . . . Added to this are existing family circumstances - a need for special factors - convenience, time factors, special care features, out-of-school care, special programs, religious beliefs, financial circumstances and more.
Another major factor is aspirations parents may have for their children.
Parents have never had as many options as they do now. Children can attend :
- Government schools [check for restrictions such as drawing areas];
- Religious schools emphasising different beliefs;
- Schools based on particular educational theories [e.g. Montessori, Steiner];
- Major private schools;
- Day/boarding schools;
- Single sex schools;
- Specialist schools within all systems [e.g. selective classes/schools, special education];
- Local or distant schools;
- Rural or city schools;
- Combinations of many of the above, or;
- Options such as Distance Education and Homeschooling.
Even if you decide to enrol your child at the local government school, remember who this is about - your child, not you.
Your decision will have a major impact on your child’s life, during both their school years and in later life. Note this does not just refer to academic achievement, but overall development and long term prospects as individuals, members of groups, members of the work force, etc.. See below for greater detail.
The following thoughts may help you in reaching such a decision.
Most of these choices are made either when beginning school, moving into primary [Year 3] or going to secondary level.
Choices may occur once or several times during a child’s school career depending on family circumstances. They are more likely now and in the future because of greater mobility among our population.
As a starting point for any decision, you need to be aware of your child’s abilities and needs. These could include any or all of the following items :
- Specific support programs;
- Encouragement to realise their potential;
- To be extended academically;
- Best suited by attending a smaller or larger school;
- Placement in a single-sex school or co-educational one;
- Their response to particular teaching styles;
- Specific talents that need to be catered for [general intellect, sport, the arts, technology, practical skills, languages];
- Ability to handle travel to a school in another area;
- Responds best when surrounded by friends or can handle making new friends easily;
- Their stage of development.
You also need to consider how such a placement might affect others in the family.
- Cost factors [fees, tuition, boarding, travel, …];
- Transport and travel time;
- Out of school hours care;
- Family involvement in school life;
- Links with family beliefs, including areas such as religious beliefs.
Having decided on specific needs, consider potential options. It is recommended to limit this to half a dozen possibilities at most. Choose more to consider and you could end up wasting a lot of valuable time for no real value.
Begin collecting information to help make a decision.
Information comes from a variety of sources.
The points below are purposely not ranked in any order of importance. They are merely options to be considered. You may use all, some or none of them. You may well find other vital information not listed here.
- At present, almost all schools have some level of internet presence. You can find these in several ways - via search engines, or through School Listings from education departments and other systems, to name just two. They will vary considerably, from a minimum to vast amounts of information, but they provide at least a basic starting point.
‘Enables you to search the profiles of almost 10 000 Australian schools. You can quickly locate statistical and contextual information about schools in your community and compare them with statistically similar schools nearby, or across the country’.
- Having said that, [their description], it is collected data which you have to interpret. It will not give you the same feel for a school that a visit and discussions with various groups [staff, students, parent, other community members] will.
- You will be able to compare many things - The ICSEA ranking - Indicator of Community Socio-Educational Advantage [if in doubt go to Guide to understanding what ICSEA means]; NAPLAN results; special groups. But you need to be careful, because sometimes there are special reasons why particular data is there.
- NAPLAN is a case in point. As one book indicates “But that’s about as far as it goes”. NAPLAN scores can’t be used to sum up what is and how it is learned [or not learned] at a school. It is a very specific spotlight and like spotlights used in a theatre it lights up some things and leaves others in the dark. NAPLAN doesn’t test the set curriculum, it doesn’t show up creativity, it says nothing about the ways in which schools engage students in learning - and it is only one of a number of pointers to their future success”. 1
- Use the material available, but don’t be swamped by the range of data and do not have it as the only source you use.
- Annual Reports, brochures, websites, Open Days/nights and more, will provide a range of information relating to strengths, achievements and special emphases;
- National Testing and examination results [but remember - this is only one factor among many !];
- Educational philosophy [Is it practised, not just stated ?];
- Staff, especially the Principal. Do they interact well with parents as well as students ? Do they go the “extra mile” to ensure achievement for every child ? Do they follow up concerns and questions ? Are they open about what happens in the school ? ;
- Scope for involvement if desired by you - within the classroom, other activities, learning, decision making;
- School organisation and physical structure [special programs, class sizes, teachers, buildings, computers, specialist rooms such as the library];
- Involvement in extra curricula activities;
- Access to out of school hours care services if required;
- Access to particular programs and qualifications [e.g. VET, International Baccalaureate];
- Is accelerated progression offered for those who are capable ? ;
- Expenses involved [fees, uniforms, other expenses, travel] ? ;
- Scope of academic options available [these may be limited by student numbers];
- Communication between school and parents [reports, contact, meetings, newsletters, open days];
- Assessment processes used;
- Financial support available if required [scholarships, grants, reduced fees];
- Visiting the school and experiencing the most important aspects for you and your child. Often, incidental things tell you more about a school than formal things. We always did this when our child moved and when we did as well.
- How do you feel once you have visited the school ?
- Why do other parents keep their children at the school ? ;
- What do they see as the outstanding features/programs/activities ? ;
- Do they feel appropriate expectations are placed on the children ? ;
- What do they think of the staff - teaching, support, administrative ? ;
- Is there any negative feedback ? If so, what is it ? Have they talked to the school about their concerns ? What was the reaction ? What did you understand from this ?
STUDENTS AT THE SCHOOL
- Do they appear to be happy with the school and the way they learn ? ;
- Do they interact appropriately with teachers, other staff, parents and especially other students ? ;
- Are they proud of their school, their work and achievements ? .
THE WIDER COMMUNITY
- Nothing travels quicker than bad news ! Word of mouth is an amazing thing. However, be careful that it is not just one person who is extremely happy or unhappy;
- Local media will often have reports and/or interviews which will give you an insight into specific schools;
- Other community members will have views about local schools - especially the best and worst points. Many will be willing to voice their opinions. Treat these with at least a degree of caution.
- The same can be said about using social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Buzz or X. You may get worthwhile information. You may also get statements from people who are either really happy or unhappy. You need to be very careful with any material from these sources unless it is backed up by other reliable material.
Having gathered all the information, you now have to make a decision. It is not an easy task, but you might consider trying the following.
- Create a checklist for the possible schools, showing what you consider to be most important. It will clarify which school has what features;
- Eliminate schools which do not demonstrate the things you see as important;
- Review the remainder, with items you consider most important moved to the top of the list [if not already there]. Cull again;
- If you have more than one school left, look at the differences between them and see if this helps you make a decision. If it doesn’t . . . ;
- Arrange to visit each school again to re-inforce and/or expand on the things that made them a final option;
- If something stands out, this will help you make a final decision. If not, then . . . ;
- You should choose the one you consider is also best for the whole family;
If things don’t work out, you are not always locked in. There is always the option to change to another school if necessary.
The following links provide input to support the above information. Be aware, they may be directed to certain types of schools, or even school systems including in a few other countries [indicated at the end of each entry]. However, all cover points you may find new and/or useful.
Best way to Choose a
‘Without doubt, the best way to start the search is to give some thought to your child’s potential to succeed at different things and in different environments. A reasonably complete picture of your child makes it easier to know what you are looking for in a school and to recognise it when you find it’.
Choosing a Catholic School
‘There are many factors to consider when selecting a school. These include a school’s strengths and curriculum, as well as the needs and learning style of your child’. Advice from Catholic Education, Adelaide Archdiocese.
Choosing a High School
‘The Good Schools Guide provides a good starting place when researching potential schools. You can read about schools in your area by looking at our school profiles, which contain information about a school’s characteristics, academic performance, fees and curriculum’.
Choosing a Primary School
The Good Schools Guide. ‘The following are some of the most common reasons to choose a particular primary school. Each should be considered carefully before making the final decision’
Choosing a school [ACD]
‘Schools vary a great deal and finding the best available school setting for your child can be a challenge. On this page : Video : Choosing a school; Doing your research; Move schools or not ?; Government school options; Other options’. Also available to download in PDF format.
Choosing a school for your child
ACD. ‘This section of Rock regular talks about : How to go about choosing a school, School options, Moving from primary to secondary school, If you’re thinking of changing schools and Key terms are explained’. Also available to download in PDF format.
Choosing a School for your Gifted Child
‘A guide to finding the right school for your gifted child’.
Choosing a School for your kid ? Here’s how other Australian parents do it
Mitchell Institute, Victoria University. An interesting article that has many links to additional information covering a range of topics you might consider important when choosing a school for your child.
Choosing a School for Your Child
Victorian Parents’ Council. You need to register in order to access the detail available. Choose the C listings in the alphabetical option, then see whether it is helpful for you.
Choosing a school for your Special Needs Child
‘When it comes to finding a school for your child with special needs, there are a whole range of options available including government, independent and Catholic schools. In addition, there are schools that specifically cater to special needs or mainstream schools with special needs programs’. Kidspot.
Choosing a School [Queensland]
An example of one State Department’s advice regarding choosing a school. It also incudes links to find contact with both Independent and Catholic schools.
Choosing a Secondary School without
losing Your Cool
7 Practical Tips For Parents. ‘Following this simple seven step process will help you to feel more confident in your decision and put your mind at ease’.
Enrolling in school
Advice and recommendations from the Department of Education in Victoria. ‘Search for schools; Get to know your local school; When to enrol; Submit an application; Confirm your address for your application; Understand how applications are prioritised; Enrolment appeals; Supporting documentation for enrolment; If your child has a disability; Further advice’. You might also check for further information using the menu items on the right side of the above page.
Five things to think about
when choosing a school for your child
Article from The Conversation. Introduction, short video, 5 valuable pieces of information.
Independent Schools [Victoria]
“The Changing Face of Independent Schools”. Infoirmation from the Independent Schools of Victoria. Scroll down the page for sections covering a number of aspects. Short video is included.
‘The My School website helps inform discussions between parents and teachers and supports parents in making informed decisions about their child’s education. My School supports national transparency and accountability of Australia’s schools by publishing nationally consistent school-level data about every school in Australia’.
Primary schools : things to
consider when choosing a school [Raising Children Network]
‘Things to consider when choosing primary schools; Personal values and preferences; Practical considerations; School factors : size, classes, facilities, results; School communication and connections’. They also have a Primary and Secondary Schools practical guide to finding a school and enrolling page which may be of value.
Ready. Set. School !
‘Starting school is an important milestone in any child and family’s life. For families of children with developmental delay or disability, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and as positive as possible. Reimagine Australia has designed a suite of resources to help families, practitioners, educators, schools and community service providers to help a child with additional needs in their transition to school’. Multiple resources including videos.
The Best [Secondary] School For Your Child
Erin Shale. ‘Selecting a Secondary School that Matches your Child’s Needs’. This link is to Amazon but many other book suppliers can also provide this. Fee-based. Australia.
The Finding Your Path Project
‘Supporting the School Transitions. A young and fun series created by Positive Psychology Author, Amba Brown, to tackle the major transitions of youth. Learn more’. Positive Education Books.
The School Visit - what to look for, what
‘Be sure to visit all the schools on your list, if you can. A visit is the best way to determine whether a school is right for your child. Even a short visit will help you identify a school’s strengths and challenges. It’s also the only way to get a feel for a school’s climate - intangible but important factors like the dynamism of the teaching, engagement of the students, quality of communication and respect between students, teachers, administrators, and parents and the overall sense that the school offers a safe and inspiring learning environment.’ Most sections still apply to Australia. GreatSchools.
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing
a School for your Child
School Choice. ‘For many parents, choosing the right school for their child is a daunting and difficult task. Here, we show you how and where to start. When judging schools, you should be persistent, well researched and have a clear understanding of the education system - as well as the choices available - before making your final decision’. Done in relation to NSW but relevant in other states as well.
1. What Makes a Good School ?, Bonnor, Chris and Caro, Jane. Sydney : NewSouth Publishing, 2012. Print. page 59.