The time of year when we choose schools for our children is approaching.
Hasn’t it come around quickly? Every year, they begin the new school year – perhaps for the first time – and we think we have months before we have to think again. But if your child is going to be finishing at their existing school in May, all too soon, you have to put your research brain into gear.
Finding the right school for your kids can be a tricky path to walk. There are so many things you have to consider, from previous grade achievements to extra-curricular activities to watch out for. Before you get consumed in studying results tables, there are a few less obvious signs of whether a school is worth choosing.
1. Talk to the teachers – and really listen to them
If you get an opportunity to talk to prospective teachers beforehand, grab it. While you may have a bunch of questions about the curriculum, the most revealing answers are usually non-vocal.
Body language is the most important thing to observe; not the pre-programmed, always positive answers they have rehearsed. Teachers are under an enormous amount of strain and little tells – such as folding their arms defensively or avoiding eye contact – are what to watch out for. If a teacher is stressed, then their performance as an educator is going to be limited. If someone rushes a conversation or is evasive with answers, these are also red flags.
2. Look at facilities outside of the classroom
Most classrooms are decorated for days when prospective parents are coming to visit; you’ll be seeing them at their best. Rather than letting this make your decision about equipment, look for other areas as indicative of general maintenance. A cafeteria should be light and spacious, and even in a computer age, a good library is something to cherish. Whether it’s a bespoke library design or something more standard, it should be full of books as well as technology. Referencing textbooks is a huge part of learning (especially at university level), so don’t automatically see a plethora of computers as a good thing.
Ideally, your child will be able to walk to and from school – but there are instances where this just isn’t practical. Look at the roads outside of a school and then imagine them with fifty cars. Small, narrow roads can be a nightmare to navigate, turning the school run into the school game of dodgems. Try and make the time to take a drive by the school at a time when it’s going to be busy. How well does it cope with the volume of traffic? Do you think you could handle it?
4. Ask about the disciplinary procedure
Although you will hopefully never have reason to encounter it, a disciplinary procedure is a good sign of how prepared a school is. It should have a gradual increase in the severity of potential punishments for misbehaviour. It should also involve plenty of parent feedback on any issues. If the answer is, “what disciplinary procedure?”, then you might want to look elsewhere. Schools doing things on the fly without prior planning can be confusing for all involved.