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Questions to ask when chosing a school… December 7, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education.
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One of our main aims at John Catt Educational is to help schools promote themselves effectively; to provide the platforms to enable independent and international schools to highlight their facilities and values.

Of course, a pleasant by-product of providing these guidebooks and websites for schools to show off what makes them great is the huge amount of information and support we are able to offer those parents looking for a suitable independent school or college for their child.

We use our guidebooks to further provide advice for parents researching independent education. The below is taken out of the front editorial section of the recently published Which School? 2011.

However much a school may appeal on first sight, you still need sound information to form your judgement.

Schools attract pupils by their reputations, so most go to considerable lengths to ensure that parents are presented with an attractive image.

Modern marketing techniques try to promote good points and play down (without totally obscuring) bad ones. But every Head knows that, however good the school prospectus is, it only serves to attract parents through the school gates. Thereafter the decision depends on what they see and hear.

When you choose a school for your son or daughter, the key factor is that it will suit them. Many children and their parents are instinctively attracted (or otherwise) to a school on first sight. But even if it passes this test, and ‘conforms’ to what you are looking for in terms of location and academic, pastoral and extracurricular aspects, you will need to satisfy yourself that the school does measure up to what your instincts tell you.

Research suggests that in many cases the most important factor in choosing a school is the impression given by the Head. As well as finding out what goes on in a school, parents need to be reassured by the aura of confidence which they expect from a Head. How they discover the former may help them form their opinion of the latter.

So how a Head answers your questions is important. Based on our research, we have drawn up a list of 24 points on which you may need to be satisfied. The order in which they appear below does not necessarily reflect their degree of importance to each parent, but how the Head answers them may help you draw your own conclusions:

•How accessible is the Head, whose personality is seen by most parents as setting the ‘tone’ of
the school?
•Will the child fit in? What is the overall atmosphere?
• To which organisations does the school belong? How has it been accredited?
•What is the ratio of teachers to pupils?
•What are the qualifications of the teaching staff?
•How often does the school communicate with parents through reports, parent/teacher meetings or other visits?
•What is the school’s retention rate? Do larger lower classes and smaller upper classes reflect a school’s inability to hang on to pupils?
•What are the school’s exam results? What are the criteria for presenting them? Are they consistent over the years?
•How does the school cope with pupils’ problems?
•What sort of academic and pastoral advice is available?
•What is the school’s attitude to discipline?
•Have there been problems with drugs or sex? How have they been dealt with?
•What positive steps are taken to encourage good manners, behaviour and sportsmanship?
• Is progress accelerated for the academically bright?
•How does the school cope with pupils who do not work?
•What is the attitude to religion?
•What is the attitude to physical fitness and games?
•What sports are offered and what are the facilities?
•What are the extracurricular activities? What cultural or other visits are arranged away from the school?
•What steps are taken to encourage specific talent in music, the arts or sport?
•Where do pupils go when they leave – are they channelled to a few selected destinations?
•What is the uniform? What steps are taken to ensure that pupils take pride in their personal appearance?
•What are the timetable and term dates?
• Is it possible to have the names and addresses of parents with children at the school to approach them for an opinion?

offers advice to parents looking for a suitable independent school or college for their child
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