Starting at a new school can be a scary experience for any child, let alone their parents! The slight sinking feeling when thinking of school waiting lists and entry exams is a familiar feeling to any parent who has worried about getting their children into a good school. Having experienced this with our three boys over the past few years, here are three things which helped us navigate the choices:
Have your child in mind.
I know that sounds obvious but keeping your child’s strengths and personality in mind throughout the presentations and school tour can help you focus on what will be helpful for you to know. Make sure that when you visit schools, you take a particular interest in the things that your child excels at. If your child loves sport or science, the arts or maths, or has an aptitude for academia in general, then take the time to visit those departments, chat to the teachers and see what they have to offer. Will your child require additional support? It could be helpful to book in an appointment with the head of year to chat through your child’s specific needs and see if the school can provide the best care possible.
The relationship between staff and students is key!
I think that the relationship between staff and students within a school is very telling as to its character. Looking at how they react to one another as they pass in the corridor – outside of a structured school presentation – can tell you a lot about the true nature of the school and about how much respect and understanding there is between teacher and student. I also recommend talking to current students. Ask what they enjoy and don’t enjoy at school and who their favourite and least favourite teachers are. Schools are more than willing to offer lots of information about their position on the league tables and their latest Ofsted reports, but it’s the snapshot interactions behind the scenes which give you the best representation of the culture of a school.
Does the school have a forward-thinking attitude?
One of the school presentations we went to spent more time complaining about the education system than they did focusing on what’s great about the school! Now, interesting as that was, and even though I could agree with a lot of it, I actually wanted to know what made the school stand out from the others that I was looking at. Most of all, I wanted to be sure that the school my child would be attending to was looking to the future with a positive attitude, not having a good moan at the system. It’s great when you hear about the vision the school leadership has in equipping your children for their future lives. Those were the schools that got my attention, and my boys’ too!
Overall, I really believe that it’s important to look beyond Ofsted reports and the flashy or shabby facilities the school has to offer. Explore behind the scenes to identify the culture and character of the school and get to know the staff in the departments that your child will be spending a lot of time in. Where we could, we took a collaborative approach with our boys, listing out the pros and cons for each school and then taking that leap of faith into the next season together. I pray that as you journey this season with your child that you’ll grow in relationship and find the best fit school for them. Happy hunting!
With twenty years’ experience working with children in both church and school situations, Rachel has pioneered and now heads up TLG’s Early Intervention programme supporting children struggling in mainstream primary and secondary schools. Oh, and she’s got three teenagers of her own at home!