Like all decisions regarding parenting there is no simple answer and choosing the right school for your child is definitely one of those areas where everyone seems to have advice to give.
For some parents, the decision is simple. They are happy for their children to go to the local public school. Other parents choose to look further afield to other government schools (‘out-of area’ schools), specialised schools or where possible, private schools.
Having worked in education for over 30 years as a teacher and now Principal, as well as supporting six children of my own through school life, I can empathise with those parents who struggle with this decision. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution! Schools like children come in different shapes and sizes with different values and different philosophies and what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another.
From my perspective the most successful placements are made when parents choose a school for their child that ‘fits’ both with that child’s needs and their family’s values. This includes all of those characteristics that make each child unique; their personality, strengths, interests and of course their specific learning needs. In terms of finding a school that is a fit for your family it is critical that you assess how a particular school’s culture and values aligns with your own family values and of how the school’s program fits with your family life.
How do you do this? In today’s educational climate the majority of parents start with an online search so that they can compare the different offerings of each school in their immediate area. Most school’s provide comprehensive information about key issues such as curriculum, facilities, out of school hours activities and general teaching philosophy but nothing compares with a school visit where you have the opportunity to get a ‘feel’ of a school’s culture and ethos. The opportunity to observe the interactions between students, between students and staff and between staff and the school leadership team during one of the many school tours that are on offer is good way of assessing the ‘health of any organisation’.
The other key indicator is of course the ‘word of mouth’ from current parents. There is no better advertisement for any school than the level of satisfaction expressed by parents. A positive relationship between a school and its community is a very good indicator of a successful school and a supportive learning environment.
More than any other factor children need to feel well supported if they are to achieve. The relationship students build with their teachers is critical to their sense of well-being and future success. Great facilities and unlimited resources alone will not compensate for a lack of interest or commitment on the part of staff or a limited choice of activities. Few young people have clarity about their future and it is becoming increasingly obvious that specialising too early due to the perceived advantages of choosing particular subjects can limit a child’s opportunities for their future.
How do NAPLAN or HSC results factor into your decision? Sometimes, good test scores can be an indication that a school is doing a very good job of educating its students, but other times it can be an indication that the school is teaching to the test or that it only ‘selects’ students who have already demonstrated excellence in these areas. It is always worth remembering that standardized tests only measure a small part of the curriculum taught in schools.
My tips for finding the right Junior School … look for a school with passionate teachers who can empower your children with strong foundational skills in literacy and numeracy and a curriculum that encourages their sense of wonderment through independent inquiry. For Senior School…look for a school where teachers believe in the capacity of all children to realise their goals with the right support, teachers who imbue students with a sense of purpose and a love of learning. As a society we need to focus on ensuring that young people have access to a broad education with many diverse opportunities and experiences.