What To Ask A Head Teacher

Choosing a school can feel like a hard task as parents consider the needs of their children along with the value that they will get for the fees they pay. Asking the right questions to a head teacher, makes this task more informed and much easier and helps reaching the final choice. Connector spoke with industry experts and renowned principals to throw a light on some of the questions parents should ask before deciding.

Does it matter that my child cannot speak fluent English?
Gaynor Dale, Principal at Regent International School said, “I put families at ease by reassuring them that over half of our intake includes children who have English as a second language and in many cases, children have no English at all. We have the support systems and infrastructure in place through our inclusive practices and ‘Individual Needs Department’ to support all learners. We may advise that some intensive English classes are attended prior to the arrival into school so that the child has the best chance of accessing the curriculum on entry to Regent.”

How experienced are the school teachers?
Marco Longmore, Head Master, Brighton College Dubai said, “Recognising that the quality of education can be significantly enhanced by previous experience of teaching staff, it is equally important to understand from schools how their staff are developed and maintained in their teaching capacity while in role. It is too simple to label the geographical origin of staff as an indicator of their qualities but teaching capabilities can be honed by specific training and by quality education and degree, as a basis of subject specialism. It is therefore a legitimate question to ask about the faculty experience within any school.”

Sharon Storrie, Principal of Dubai British Foundation said, “This is to ensure that the staff are suitably qualified to deliver the curriculum and are able to maximise learning opportunities for individual children. Having teachers who are both qualified and committed to life-long learning will help ensure the best outcomes for students in terms of academic progress and attainment.”

How relevant is the school curriculum in 21st century?
Janice Butterworth, Vice Principal & Head of Primary, Hartland International School said, “With today’s rapidly shifting technology and economic landscape, parents need assurance that the curriculum a school has is relevant and up to date. Communication and Mathematic skills are crucial for all students no matter where their education takes them, especially in our information economy. Increasingly parents are looking for schools with strong expertise in specific areas. The option of being taught from a variety of languages is an attractive proposition for many parents. As part of a diverse international community, language proficiency should be a core priority.”

Peter Hill, Principal of Jebel Ali School commented, “Some aspects of learning remain important across the decades and centuries. No one can deny though that a distinctive style of education is more important than ever to navigate the unique characteristics of our developing century. Is there real evidence (not marketing fluff) to show the school is collectively reflecting, re-thinking and moving forward to reflect our changing times?”

Janecke Aarnaes, Head of School, Dwight School said, “How does your school prepare students for life after school, whether that means getting them ready for college/university or for venturing out into a fast changing, tech-driven global society where future jobs need to be created by the young people themselves?”

What is your school’s ranking?
Janice Butterworth of Hartland International School said, “Ranking tables are a quick and easy measure of success and can certainly provide a hasty overview of performance or useful starting point in deciding which school to consider. Inspection findings are created from evidence gathered thoroughly via lesson observations, speaking to staff, students and parents, and surveying school paperwork, which enables the inspection team to reach balanced conclusions about key areas of a school’s performance.”

“The challenge with newly established schools however is that they will have neither the historical examination data nor the inspection judgement to validate their work. This can present a challenge for prospective parents which means the decision making process becomes subjective and they may feel the need to rely on ‘gut instinct’. “

How will your school support a child’s character development?
Marco Longmore, Head Master, Brighton College Dubai said, “In order to develop the child fully, schools need to be able to cater for breadth in the application, interests and engagement of pupils. A single focus on academics, just as a single focus on sport or any other area, fails to reflect the diversity within any school community. The child is an individual amongst a collective whole and parents should hear from schools how they recognise both characteristics.”

What do you as the Head, think is the best thing about working in this school?
Fiona Mckenzie, Director of Gabbitas Middle East said, “This is always an interesting question to ask to see why the Head enjoys working there - is it the children? Is it the staff or perhaps there are other priorities that motivate the Head as a leader of the school community.”

What are the strengths of the school and what areas are you focussed on improving?
Fiona Mckenzie of Gabbitas added, “It is often easy for the Head to identify the strengths of the school and these will have been well advertised on the website and probably highlighted on a tour of the school. As interesting is finding out what the Head would consider to be the current weaknesses in the school and to share how they are working on these areas. “

What sort of child is not right for your school?
Fiona Mckenzie of Gabbitas added, “This question demands a very honest answer because not every school is right for every child and it is important for schools to recognise that and to be clear about the children they serve best and those for whom they would not be a good fit.

What is the school's staff turnover?
Sharon Storrie of Dubai British Foundation said, “While Dubai can be transient, it is still worth finding out how long teachers have been with the school / organisation. Schools who are able to retain a significant proportion of their staff each year are in a strong position to grow and develop and often have a more consistent understanding of where they are going as a school and how to get there. The ability to retain staff is also an indicator of how happy staff are, this in turn impacts on the well-being of students which is recognised as a key indicator of future success.”

Clive Pierrepont, Consultant (Press, PR and Communications) at Taaleem said, “Ask about the curriculum and why the school chose it. It is important also to know about staff turnover, a rate above 15-20% would need an explanation.”

What are the opportunities for parental involvement?
Sharon Storrie of Dubai British Foundation said, “Parents are the most important educators of their children and schools who work hard to support both children and families recoginise this. When the school is a community of mutual respect and strong relationships, parents and staff can work closely together to support students in all aspects of their development and education.”

What does the school see as important?
Peter Hill of Jebel Ali School said, “School priorities will impact on the general feel and atmosphere of the classrooms and wider community. It is this 'feel', the 'it' factor which is so very important - far more so than the promises of the website and prospectus.”

How are you different from other schools?
Marco Longmore of Brighton College Dubai said, “Every school wishes to see itself as offering a distinct and unique experience. Parents should be wary of schools that place a particular emphasis on a publicised USP, as this will often be created as much for marketing purpose as educational.”

Approach existing parents
As well as asking questions to a head teacher, it is also recommended to speak with existing parents. Clive Pierrepont of Taaleem said, “When visiting the school, you will often see existing parents around the school, do not be afraid to approach them and ask for their opinions, they will often be extremely candid. Looking at the school’s Facebook and Twitter feeds will also give parents a flavour of what is happening in the school!”

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