Choosing a School
For many families, enrolment of their child/children is quite simple. They 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 they were, 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, care features, 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 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 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 needs and abilities. These may include :
- 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 be aware of how such a placement may affect 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 will end up wasting a lot of valuable time.
Begin collecting information to help make a decision.
Information comes from many sources.
The points below are not ranked in order of importance. They are merely options to be considered. You may use some, all or none of them. You may also find others.
- At present, most schools will have some form 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.
- My School
‘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 across the country’.
- Having said that, [their description], it is collected data which you have to interpret. It will not give you the 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]; 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 what is learned at a school. It is a narrow spotlight, and like spotlights used in the 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 let it become 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 - 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 resulted from this ?.
Children Attending 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 some degree of caution.
- The same can be said about using social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Buzz or Twitter. 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 try 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 locked in. There is always the option to change to another school if necessary.
The following links provide input to the above information. Be aware, they may be directed to certain types of schools, or even school systems in other countries. Many have additional points you may find useful.
- Choosing a Catholic School
Advice from Catholic Education, Adelaide Archdiocese.
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’.
- Choosing a School [Essential Kids]
Logical presentation, while suggesting you start considering a possible school choice well before they go. Australian.
a School [Queensland]
An example of a State Department’s advice regarding choosing a school.
- Choosing a School [QAGTC]
While done by this association, the ideas are applicable to all potential students.
- Choosing a School for Your
Victorian Parents’ Council.
- Choosing a School for your Gifted Child
‘A guide to finding the right school for your gifted child’. New Zealand.
- 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. Australia.
- Choosing a Secondary
‘To make your child’s transition from primary to secondary school a happy and positive experience, it is important to choose a school that will best benefit your child’s learning and development’. Education and Training, Victoria.
- Choosing a
Secondary School Without Losing Your Cool
‘7 Practical Tips For Parents’.
- Choosing your Child’s
Raising Children Network [Australia]. A straightforward, sensible approach. Also has links to related topics including Practical Steps to School Selection.
- Great Schools Check
The shorter version of a list that helps you decide whether a school is “great” or not. The Longer Great Schools Checklist is found here [link at bottom of page].
- Independent Schools
“Choosing the Right School for Your Child”. Article from Independent Schools of Victoria.
Best School For Your Child
‘Interview With Erin Shale. There’s no one best school in the world obviously but you can maximise the chance of your child being as happy as possible by selecting the right school’. Australia.
- The School
“What to look for, What to Ask”. Most sections still apply in Australia. GreatSchools, USA.
- What to Look For When Choosing a School
NCLD/Understood. ‘Here are important things to consider when looking at schools’. It includes checklists for various types of schools as well as a video about the primary level. Of interest might be a short presentation entitled 5 Mistakes Parents Make When Picking a School. USA.
1. What Makes a Good School ?, Bonnor, Chris, and Jane Caro. Sydney : NewSouth Publishing, 2012. Print. page 59.