Picking a school for your children can be tricky. After all, most of us walked out of the school gates a fair few years ago, and education has changed a lot since then. But once you’ve marvelled over how small the chairs and tables are and imagined your child’s art hanging on the walls or their name on a gleaming trophy, it’s time to get down to the business of why one establishment is better positioned to shape your child’s future than another. So arm yourself with Connector’s list of questions and educate yourself about the educators…
1. What are the core principles of the school?
A school’s core principles are a strong reflection of those of the head teacher. After all, it is up to them to set the tone for the school; a tone you will decide whether or not it fits in with your own core principles. The school’s ‘mission statement’, should cover all bases of modern education, including academic achievement to the best of pupils’ ability, focusing on the needs of the students, creating a supportive environment, valuing staff, students and parents alike and encouraging strong relationships in communities beyond the school gates.
2. What is the average class size?
Size matters when it comes to class size and its effect on academic achievement. Smaller class sizes mean more individual attention for students from the teacher and teaching assistant. In the US, research carried out by the Center for Public Education found “A class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits.”
3. What is the school’s approach to dealing with bullying?
An important question to ask the head at any prospective school as bullying can occur at any age and take many forms. Schools should have an anti-bullying policy in place, outlining clear guidelines on how they will deal with any incidents. A good policy will include information on how the child can go about reporting incidents in a safe environment, as well as using a ‘whole school’ approach to tackling bullying, which involves students, teachers, parents and governors. You should also check if their policy extends to dealing with bullying outside of school - for example on social media.
4. How is technology used to support teaching and learning?
It’s a fact of life that children are toting around iPads and phones in the same way their parents carried textbooks and pens, which makes enquiring about tech integration in the classroom an important question to pose. While schools may talk about the technology available to their students, dig a little deeper by asking: Will using this technology help my child learn more deeply? As well as: Is this the best technology to prepare my child for the modern world? Technology moves fast, so be sure to ask how the school aims to keep up with that, as well as the all-important question about keeping kids safe online.
5. What are some of the school’s greatest achievements?
You’ll get a good sense of what the school holds dear when asking about the establishment’s greatest accomplishments. Sports-focused schools may cite championship cups, while highly academic schools may discuss the number of pupils who go on to top universities or distinguished careers. Keep an ear out for answers that are pupil-focused and which prize the nurturing and support of its pupils as individuals.
6. What is the school’s approach to discipline and student safety?
A school should have a clear policy on disciplinary procedures, and you should ask to see the policy to ensure you are happy with the steps that will be available to you should the situation arise. Ask yourself if the approach is too limited, or goes too far for your personal tastes. When it comes to student safety, look beyond the height of the school gates to enquire about the school’s everyday approach to safety, and in particular if there is a ‘go-to’ staff member dedicated to setting safety procedures and ensuring they are followed. Also be sure to ask if students themselves are taught about ensuring their personal safety and whether there is a genuine, palpable concerted effort towards ensuring a safe environment.
7. What extracurricular activities are available at the school?
If you’re happy with the academic opportunities the school presents, don’t forget to enquire about what they provide on an after-school basis. Do they run sports or homework clubs? If your child is keen to join a sports team, do they train outside of school hours and how will they get to and from games and matches? What onus does the school put on activities once the final bell has rung?
8. What makes this school different to the rest?
A good way to approach this question is to ask the head how the school defines itself, as this will help you decide how different it is to the other schools you have looked at. Take a look at the school’s website and literature and weigh up the pros and cons against other establishments - but remember that what you’ll be reading are the ‘highlights reel’. Ask the head what they like about this school compared to previous schools they have worked at. And if you have a certain area of education that is important to you and your child (such as sports or music), enquire specifically about the school’s individual approach to those areas of academia.
9. What values do you instil in your pupils?
It’s important that the school’s core values align with your own and those you wish to instil in your child. Speak to the head about their personal values and what their academic and teaching career has taught them about the deeper education of children. Discuss how the school nurtures the individual and how the school’s values are presented to pupils and also how they are weaved into the everyday fabric of leaning and socialising. Consider that the concept of ‘values’ at a school will be far broader than your own at home and ask about the extent to which children are guided in forming their values and also left to develop their own.
10. How do you cater for varying degrees of abilities?
With a class full of students comes a class full of different abilities, skills, pace and willingness to learn, enjoyment… all the things which make kids kids. And whether your child is a quick learner avid to get stuck into the next project, or a slower studier who sometimes struggles with lessons. It’s important that all students are given the opportunity to achieve their personal best. Ask about how the school handles this, whether by splitting or streaming classes, offering additional tuition, putting study plans in place, etc…