Sending children to a new school is always a little nerve wracking – whether your child is moving from kinder to primary school or from primary to high school.
This can lead to us doubting our own ability to choose the right school. But if we trust ourselves and do a little research it needn’t be that scary.
There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ school, but there is a good ‘fit’ with schools. So think about what might help your child feel they ‘belong’.
Keeping a few simple points in mind can help make the process less daunting:
- figure out what is important to your family,
- try to remain objective when listening to everyone’s school stories, and
- go local if possible.
First, start by thinking about your own family values. What does your family actually want from a school? Is a thriving arts programme important? Would you like your child to be able to walk to school? Does your child have special needs that you would like supported? Do you have a particular educational philosophy that is important to your family?
Establishing these ideas before you head off to school open days, or start listening to the other parents in the school yard grapevine, will help you make the right choice for your family.
It’s also important to try not to get too involved with the school yard grapevine. Remember what one family is seeking in a school, another may be trying to avoid. It is always tempting to listen other families’ experiences, but remember they don’t know your child the way you do.
And don’t get too caught up worrying about the type of school (state, catholic, or independent). There is no evidence to suggest that students who attend different types of schools generally do better or worse in their educational outcomes. If you’d like to read more about this, a good place to start is this paper or this one.
So, unless there is a specific reason for choosing a school (like your religious belief), ‘local first’ is a good mantra.
Heading to your local school helps you get more involved in your community, get to know other families in the area, and ultimately means your children can be more independent and physically active as they can travel to each other’s homes or school on foot or bicycle.
So we have our shortlist. Now what?
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of schools, what should you look out for? Here are my top tips, tricks and tools:
- Go to the school. Attend open day, meet the teachers and the principal and watch how they interact with students. While you are there watch how the students move around the school, deal with each other, and greet their teachers. If you live close by and have the time, walk past during lunchtime to see how the students are interacting.
- On your visit look at the environment, not the buildings. Check out the classroom walls – can you see students’ work, or evidence of the school’s ethos? It can also be a good idea to check out the children’s toilets; after all your child needs to feel comfortable to go to the loo each day!
- Consider the size of the school. You might feel like your child will get lost in a large school, but the bigger the school, the more options available in the senior years. Smaller secondary schools can struggle to offer a wide variety of subject choices or other senior certificate options. Larger primary schools can often employ specialist teachers to teach the arts, sports, sciences, languages and keep the library open at lunchtime.
- Have a look at the MySchool website and read the school profile. This is where the school will state its beliefs. They might talk about social responsibility or their curriculum provision. From this you can get a sense of what the school values and offers which may help you to make your decision.
- If you get the chance ask a couple of key questions. One of my favourite questions is: “If my child starts to fall behind academically, or behaviourally, what supports would you put in place?” This gives you a sense of what the school does above and beyond the classroom to make sure every child is valued.
- In secondary schools, ask about senior certificates on offer. If the school only offers the Victorian Certificate of Education this might mean that when your child gets a bit older and shows an interest in vocational training subjects (VET) they may have to move to another school.
Ultimately try not to get overwhelmed by the different options.
And remember, if for some reason your first choice doesn’t work out, you can always change school. Moving school is detrimental if you do it frequently, but if you happen to move a couple of times, it’s not a disaster.
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