The key to choosing a school is to give yourself a little time to consider a few factors. There are two key questions to consider.
• What are your key family needs, preferences and values?
• What are the key elements to consider when researching a school?
The alignment between the answers to these two key questions will provide good guidance in choosing a school.
Family needs, preferences and values
Glen Gerreyn (The Hopeful institute) in his article on this topic sums up the goal: Data is important, if I were raising a robot, this would be all I would need. However I am parenting a human, whom is complex and profound and multi-dimensional.
I agree and add that this complex human will both change and develop through time and in some other ways retain characteristics that seem to have existed since they were a baby. Raising children is a complex business but certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.
As a parent you will know your own child better than anyone else and thus time to reflect on the type of person they are and your family needs, preferences and expectations is important.
If you had to list four or five core values for your family, what would they be? We adhere to and use many values in our daily lives, but some are more important than others. What are your core family values?
Has (Have) your child(ren) special attributes, interests or needs? All children are special and unique, and some then have very particular needs and interests. If so, you need to keep this in mind. It should not override all other key factors but it needs to be considered. Such particular needs and interest exists; consider will they always be a special factor or could they fade with time?
Imagine your child as an adult in the years to come. What sort of person do you want them to be? How would they act? What would be their attitudes towards major adult issues such as relationships, work, religion, spirituality, money?
Key school elements
The following list is simply a list. The order they are listed is my ranking and another order may be better suited to your preferences.
The list is drawn from a range of references but I would like to make special reference to Glen Gerreyn. His article: Things to consider when choosing your child’s school is one of the best I have come across and the following draws on his material.
•School Values: Do you share the school’s values, or at least align and feel comfortable with them? Children thrive best when the values at home and at school align. Schools publish their school values; they should be easy to find. More importantly, visit the school and check that they endeavour to live out those values. Saying that respect is a core value is much easier than showing all members of the school community respect each and every day. Schools are full of human beings and thus no school will be perfect. We aspire to perfection but rarely do we see it!
• Leadership: People tend to copy what their leaders do, rather than copy what their leaders say they should do. Discerning good leadership is a good judgment of a school. Leadership starts at the top but should be shown all through the school by staff and students in how they conduct themselves.
• Community: Everyone wants to feel they belong. Some schools do this better than others. Children thrive in a safe and supportive community where lots of people (adults and students) know and care for them. Children will not thrive academically if they are not safe and feel they belong.
• Opportunities: There are two journeys through school. The more obvious one is the academic/intellectual journey. Thus a range of subjects and learning experiences is important. But equally important is the second journey through school and that relates to the development of character, personality and values. These are nurtured as much in the co-curricular activities as in the classroom. Opportunities in music, sport, student leadership, drama, clubs and community service are critical.
• Community Service: Empathy is best fostered by walking in the shoes of another. We live in a world of huge discrepancies and we are among the privileged when considered globally, and I acknowledge that some of us are doing it ‘tough’. Children should not grow up self-centred and narcissistic. We need to counter balance some of the narcissistic tendencies of social media through service to, and understanding of others. In doing so, we teach, model and inculcate empathy in the next generation.
• School discipline: Good schools work hard to be consistent regarding discipline, communication around such matters as they arise and the discipline standards align with those of their parent community. A little like school values, you need to feel a comfortable sense of alignment between your expectations and those of the school, always keeping in mind that we are all human and inevitably occasionally events unfold in a manner with which you may not agree.
• Tradition: Knowing our own history and traditions is important. They tell us where we come from and thus assist in framing where we might be headed. Tradition and continuity, innovation and improvement are held successfully in a creative tension in a good school. The best result is a strong acknowledgement of our culture and traditions and careful ongoing adaptation to a complex and fast changing world.
• Travel and family logistics: If a local school or easy to access school cannot be your school of choice, carefully consider travel and family arrangements that will need to support the travel. Children spend around 180-200 days at school each year and thus making the ‘to and fro’ useful and/or entertaining is worthy of consideration.
• Costs: No school is free as our taxes underpin all education to some extent. No school is totally free in dollar terms either as parents spend money on books, stationery, uniform, excursions, co-curricular activities…. All need to be taken into account. Investment in your child’s education, whether through time, focus and/or money is the best investment a parent can make.
• Wellbeing, mindfulness and spirituality: This is my last point and I have kept it to last as it is becoming increasingly important. Our world is full of stimulation, excess, intolerance and those who preach adherence to all kinds of ideologies. We want to raise discerning, open-minded seekers of the truth. They will then find their own positive place in the world as adults and thrive because their mind, heart and soul have all been acknowledged and developed through the activities of their family, their school and the community in which they have grown. The mysteries of life need to be recognised and contemplated. The capacity for stillness and being present with those around you should be developed.
Choosing a school needs some care! You should check the headline results data. The data is useful but a good school can be discerned via a visit or two while it is in operation. During your visit watch, listen and feel the interactions between students and between students and teachers. Are they warm and engaging to each other? Are the students eyes bright? Are they smiling as they walk and talk? Are their conversations animated and engaging but not ‘over the top’? Are the staff interested in the students as people? Is there a gentle, productive ‘buzz’ around the site? Does it look and feel like a place where you or your child would wish to be? If yes to these questions, you have probably found your place. Such schools usually have their students achieving at or near their potential.
In conclusion, raising a child or children is one of the great joys of adult life. Choose their school carefully as the school they attend will be the second most influential component of their life. No matter where they attend school, the home environment and you, their parents are the single most influential aspect of their life and so it should be!