It is not enough to focus on reputation of the school or just look at league tables when making such a big decision about your child’s future. It also does not help to be that annoying pushy parent that wants to know beyond everything, however it is essential that you are well informed. Here are a few things to consider when you are making the decision on where to send your child to school.
In any sphere of life effective leadership is critical to success, so we must start here. What are the Principal’s plans for the school? In what direction is the school heading? How much authority and power do they have to implement their plans? Your child is going to be directly affected by these plans or lack thereof. What is their education philosophy? Are there examples of where this philosophy has worked well elsewhere? Their practices could be completely new and untested, but they should be well researched and thought out. How long is the Principal’s contract? If it is coming to an end soon who is line to replace them? The same questions will then apply to the new appointee, what is their vision for the school and hence your child? It also pays to look at the leadership team that has been assembled around the leader. The Headmaster or Headmistress will not lead alone, so pay attention to this.
This for me is one of the most significant things that I often see overlooked. School is not just a vehicle to collect grades and skills. A very important time of development will take place during this 5-7 year period of your child’s life, they will be directly impacted by the time spent here, further develop their social skills, probably form lasting relationships and possibly even develop their world view and attitude to many things. Attend all the open days of schools you are interested in (even the virtual ones during the pandemic), make sure your child is also present and include them in the decision-making process. An extra tip I would give, would be to arrange a viewing during the normal school day if possible. This is important especially for schools you are seriously considering. See what the school looks like on a normal mundane day away from the glitz and glamour of an open day. If you can speak to parents and current students and gain first-hand accounts on what it is like to go and study there, this is also very useful. Conduct research away from an open day or official event as most of what you hear there will be overwhelmingly positive for obvious reasons. Be warned however that a few people’s experience of an institution is not always an accurate reflection of what the majority of people experience, therefore it’s important to collect a good sample size of opinions and testimonials. Do they have a high turnover of staff? If so why? What are the criteria they use to hire? Teachers will have the most contact with your children, their importance cannot be stressed enough. If you have an opportunity to speak with teachers, ask questions, (not rude, presumptuous, or condescending questions!) get to know them, begin to cultivate good working relationships. Academic achievement is very important but is the school an education hothouse where students just churn out grades for league tables or is there emphasis on pastoral care and development? What are your values at home? Does the school reflect this?
3. Extra-Curricular activities
What extracurricular options are there and how much provision is there for this? Your child might excel in sport or music or another area, will this be nurtured along with their studies, and if so, to what level? Are there opportunities for school trips? What is their frequency? Some trips that sound very good on paper may only be available in later years.
Many parents don’t mind their children having to travel a bit further to a school they really like, but it’s worth considering, especially as this will be a journey they will have to make for years. Is there a closer option that is just as good for your child? What are the transport links like? Some Schools have a school bus system does your prospective School? Travelling 2 hours in and 2 hours out will add up over the course of the weeks, months and years, so definitely consider this also.
5. Can we afford this?
This mainly applies to private schools, but travel costs incurred through car journeys, train journeys etc for any type of school must also be considered. Many parents are comfortable sacrificing and putting the family in financial hardship so their children can go to the ‘best’ schools, but this is not necessarily the best option for all families. There are parents that instead of spending thousands on a private school will send their children to a high performing academy, grammar or even state school. If they feel they need further help they can use the money saved to invest in private tuition if needed and this can be a much cheaper and effective option. It is also important to note that going to expensive schools is not necessarily a guarantee of future success and financial security, but there is a large body of evidence to suggest that it can certainly help.
Many if not all private schools will have some sort of scholarship and or bursary scheme. A scholarship is money given by the school (or sometimes other organisations) to pay for school fees. Scholarships are mainly awarded at private schools on the basis of academic, sporting or musical potential and can have a separate application process with separate deadlines. Their value can be different depending on the institution some may offer a maximum of 50% others will offer full scholarships for different durations of study, provided acceptable academic, sporting, or musical progress.
Some independent schools may also offer a Bursary, which is an amount of money given by the school for a student to study. The difference here from a scholarship is that they may often be means tested, for example you could be eligible for a bursary if your household income falls beneath a certain amount. Both of these options may be available to you, but do tend to be very competitive, if you are interested in applying to a school it is very important to look into these options to understand what is available for your family.
These are just a few considerations to bear in mind when making such an important decision, there will be others that are specific to each individual household. Parents will ultimately need to ask themselves not just what will my child achieve, but more importantly who will my child become? The answer to this question will help to determine if a particular school is a good fit for your child.
Samuel Adu-Gyamfi is the CEO and founder of Sam Tutoring, a tutoring service and consultancy in London he founded a decade ago.
Sam Tutoring provides private one to one tuition along with group and online tuition for families in Central London and internationally, as well as tailor made services for schools.
Working with students from the ages of 7-18 we provide academic support and mentorship.