How to strike a match
The admissions process for September 2015 entry is now in full swing. We are getting ready for the Upper open day on Saturday 27th, and the Prep and Pelican open days on the following weekends. The whirlwind of tours and tasters that characterise the Michaelmas term can make it a testing time for parents, keenly aware of the importance of their impending decision and eager to make the right one.
If you have browsed the website and read the prospectus then attending the school’s open day is the next logical step in getting to know a school. It is a good way to see facilities and get an overall feel for the institution, its staff and pupils, as well as being great fun. Here are my tips to help you get the most out of your visit.
- I am often asked at this time of year which is the best school. In fact there is no one ‘best’ school on all measures and for all students; what parents really seek is the school that is the right match for their child. It is a good idea to list the criteria that are important to you and your child, and to use your open day visit to check the school against them.
- Listen carefully to what the Head, staff and pupils have to say. In a good school they should all be singing from the same hymn sheet (if not quite the same notes!). Be wary of schools where the head is saying one thing and pupils or staff something different.
- Pupil tour guides are an excellent source of information. They tend to be very candid, and both in what they say and how they say it give you a good insight into the pupil experience of the school.
- There is more to a school then its league table position. League tables don’t record the quality of pastoral care or the range of extra-curricular activities – both of which are central to a child’s enjoyment of school and the development of essential life skills such as emotional intelligence, resilience, teamwork and leadership. Ask about extra-curricular provision to ensure that your child’s interests will be met by the school’s clubs and societies, sport, music and drama programmes.
- Beware of schools where everything appears perfect – if it appears too good to be true it probably is! Quiz the school on how it deals with problems. Good schools are open about their weaknesses and are committed to continuous improvement.
- In choosing a secondary school you are making a five or seven year commitment. You therefore need to ask about the school’s future plans. You should also ask questions of the school’s finances as a number of smaller independent schools have been hit hard by the recession and some have closed.
- Excellent teachers are central to a good education, but in some subjects such as maths and the sciences they are in short supply. Ask about teacher recruitment and retention, and check that teachers in shortage subjects are appropriately qualified and have not just been drafted in from another subject to fill gaps in the timetable.
- Ask the probing questions that allow you to make your own judgements about the quality of the education. For example, some schools will sell small class sizes as a big plus, arguing that this allows for lots of individual pupil support. Ask about the ability range: a form of 24 pupils of similar ability will progress more quickly than 16 with a wide range of pupil abilities, where the bright children get bored or others struggle to keep up. Interrogate the costs: smaller class sizes cost more to provide. Be sure that they have not been paid for at the expense of facilities, resources or the extra-curricular programme.
- If you like what you see you should always follow up with a visit on a more typical school day. We arrange tours with current pupils during the week followed by a small group Q+A session for this purpose.
- Above all involve your child in the open day and school choice process – your son or daughter has an important role to play in determining where he or she will thrive.