WORDS: Madhavi Nawana Parker
Choosing a school for your child is a personal decision and it’s no wonder parents often worry about it. Which school is best for your child? That’s the Golden question. If I could know for certain which school is best for your family, I would tell you in a heartbeat.
I’ve visited hundreds of schools and have thoroughly enjoyed and marvelled at them all, for their own unique reasons. From regional to suburban and city schools, from single sex to co-ed. From public to private, I’ve visited and worked in all these variations. I have my own experiences as a parent, raising three children too.
What a privilege if you get to choose in the first place. Choice is a luxury, that’s for sure.
Here are some approaches you might like to consider to help make that big decision.
Make a list of what you want and need.
Start with a list of wants and needs. Wants are not necessities, they are wish list items. You can live without wants and having them is a bonus. A needs list is more important. This relates to values you want nurtured, affordability if you’re going private, convenience so you know you can get them there day in day out for a very long time (without burning out), the size of the school and the school’s ability to meet children’s diverse social and learning needs.
Make a list of what you don’t want or need.
Knowing what you don’t want is as important as what you do. This will likely relate back to your personal and family values. Are there aspects to a school you couldn’t tolerate?
Work out your child’s strengths, needs, interests and personality style.
Identify schools that are most likely to support and extend these (or at least not squash them).
Most schools have a values statement or prospectus. Listen to your gut as you read and compare them. What gives you a good enough feeling to take a visit? If your child could choose, which school do you think they would pick? When it comes to high school, if choice is an option, try and let them tour the options you’re comfortable with and allow their input in the decision making process (if they have the psychological maturity to do that).
Look at how the school is teaching wellbeing and social skills.
Schools do this in their own way to match the values and programs that suit their philosophies. Take time to find out how they teach wellbeing, life skills, social skills and citizenship skills. Does what they’re providing match your values?
Would you and your family feel welcome?
Again, there is no way to know this for sure because you’re not at the school yet. All schools have diverse personalities and backgrounds (and that’s a good thing). How did you feel on the tour? Did it feel warm? Did staff and student warmth seem to match your family’s level of warmth? Would your child be comfortable in the uniform and with the culture?
How is pro social behaviour supported and antisocial behaviour managed?
Read the behaviour and bullying policies. Does the school’s approach match your personal beliefs around how to best support students to be their best?
Ask childcare, preschool and school teachers and educators for their opinion on what might be a best fit.
They spend all day with your child and have a good understanding of your child’s personality and learning style in context of an education.
Which school cultures, academic intentions and extracurricular offerings matter most to you?
Schools have unique cultures and teaching philosophies. Some schools prioritise religion and faith, others promote creativity and the arts, some are all about academics. Most schools aim for a balance and you will find those too.
Are study pathways your child might follow available? (SACE, International Baccalaureate (IB), Vocational and Educational Training (VET). How about languages, elective subjects and the number of subjects available in the senior years? Do they suit your child’s interests? Does the school offer extension, acceleration or extra learning support?
Single-sex or co-educational?
There’s not enough conclusive evidence about one being better (or worse) than the other, so this comes down to personal choice. What research shows matters most is the school’s values, leadership, teaching philosophies and willingness to connect with students and their individual needs. Be sure to tour and get a feel for both options and choose what feels best for you and your child.
Public or Private?
Both have strengths. Some children are more suited to public schools while others are more suited to private. I don’t believe either are superior or inferior – but do believe some children suit one more than the other in order to thrive and bring out the best in them. Tune into your gut feeling (as long as it’s not anxiety based on what the Jones’s are doing).
Take a few tours.
Now bear in mind, it’s hard to tell a huge amount about how your child will be at a school based on the tour, because your child won’t have gone there as an actual real-life student yet. Use tours as an opportunity to gather information, ask questions, see whether what’s reflected on the website is mirrored in real life. Students often lead these tours with staff, so ask them what they like about their school. Try not to get swept away by the architecture and interior design. You’re choosing a school, not buying a house.
Be confident in your ability to make this decision.
You are your child’s parent. You know them best. While this feels like a stressful decision (and it can be) remember, schools are run by trained professionals who want to teach and guide your child. They will do it in their own unique way. Once you decide what school suits your family best, show your child you have confidence in your decision. Throughout their schooling listen, observe and stay connected. If you need a re-route along the way, that’s okay too. It happens.