Compare schools: Choosing the right school in NSW

In New South Wales, the independent and Catholic school sectors educate over 30 per cent of students, offering parents a huge choice for their children. This magazine is your comprehensive guide to these schools and the broad range of learning options they provide. To help you make the right choices for your child’s education, we have spoken to some of the state’s top educators and compiled information about a range of leading academic institutions.

With hundreds of private schools in Sydney alone, knowing where to start can be difficult for many parents. It is important to be organised in advance to ensure the selection process is as smooth as can be. Your child’s schooling is vital to their future and selecting the right school is a decision that shouldn’t be rushed.

To help with your decision making process, we have compiled a list of factors to consider.

Talk to Your Child

Before you go out to ask questions and obtain information on various schools, you first need to study your own child.

When you consider the personality traits, strengths and weaknesses of your child, you will clearly see that there are specific things that a school must provide for your child to learn most effectively and happily.

Open Days and School Visits

Most schools hold at least one open day per year where you will be able to chat with the principal or headmaster, teachers, students, as well as other parents and prospective parents. Many schools also offer opportunities for parents to visit during regular school hours.

Although much of the information you need in order to make a decision can be found online or in brochures, there are some things, such as playground facilities for example, that you may like to see in person.

School Management and Facilities

Do you get a sense that the school focuses on the future? Consider the vision that the school has for its future and whether it seems well managed.

See what the principal or headmaster is like. Are they respected by the school community? Do they have good people management skills?

Also look at the school’s rules. Are they clearly stated, positive and well enforced? Are students encouraged to become involved in leading the school? Are parents encouraged to get involved in helping to develop school policies? What role does the school play in the local community? What unique facilities and resources does the school possess? Are before or after-school programs available? In what ways is technology used within the classroom? Is the school currently investing in new facilities that will be in use during your child’s education? Does the school offer external campuses or a sister school? What is the school’s computer policy?

Teachers and Teaching

Does the staff comprise of committed and effective teachers? Examine teacher-student relationships. Is there genuine warmth and respect between teachers and students?

Look at the school’s teaching methods and determine whether these are aligned to your child’s talents, strengths and interests. Do the teachers use different types of learning strategies (e.g. auditory, visual and tactile/kinaesthetic) in order to allow the children to maximise their areas of learning-style strengths?

If your child has special learning needs, do you need a school with a remedial education program? Does the school provide integration aides and other allied specialists (e.g. speech pathologists, language and literacy experts)?

Academic Performance and Student Life

Look at the admission and selection criteria of the school, and whether there are particular subjects where it records its best results.

How does it rank against other schools in the area?

Does the school tend to channel children into academic or vocational streams? What are the school’s policies regarding gifted or special needs children? What are the advantages of the school’s size? What are the class sizes? Is there a maximum number of students allowed in each class? Is the school co-ed or single sex? If co-ed, what is the gender balance of classes? How multicultural is the school?

Are there peer-support programs to help new students fit in? How are positive, healthy relationships and friendships among students encouraged? What is the external reputation of the students? Is the school intellectually competitive? Will your child be sufficiently challenged? What proportion of students go on to study at university?

The Curriculum and Extra-Curricular Activities

As Australia’s population becomes increasingly diverse, technologies more sophisticated, and the demands of the workplace more complex, independent schools are supplementing the national curriculum framework in a number of different ways.

Your first step is to consider the finer points of a school’s curriculum and the skills that its graduates are known for, and whether or not these are in line with your own child’s unique strengths and interests.

You may also like to consider whether co- curricular activities will fit easily into your family’s routine. Do you want your child to have access to community initiatives or overseas travel? Will the school encourage parents to get involved in school excursions? What languages are offered by the school?

Costs

Does the school offer financial assistance in the form of scholarships or bursaries and could your child qualify? Besides tuition fees, are there other course-related costs or extra curricular costs that you may need to consider? Does the school facilitate a car-pooling program? Is the school’s location accessible by frequent public transport? Are there safe cycling roads on your route to the school?

School Values

Are the school’s religious and philosophical outlooks and practices the same as your own? How are morals and ethics taught within the school? How do teachers handle bullying? What is the school’s disciplinary policy? Is there a counsellor or nurse on-site?

Two-Way Communication

When it comes to making decisions, how do teachers interact with parents and students to get them involved? How will your child’s progress and assessment be reported to you? Is there a Parent Teacher Association? How many parents are active? Does the school rely on only the teacher for delivering lesson plans and homework or is there also a website or some such communication that enables students, and perhaps their parents, to access lesson plans, progress reports and homework tasks?

Remember 

The ‘best’ school for your child is generally the one that provides them with a sound education and an environment in which to become a creative, reflective and critical thinker, make friends, feel safe and thrive.

The right school is the one that is the right fit for your child. It may not necessarily be the right fit for another child.

It is only when you are armed with knowledge that you can go forth and make an informed and confident choice.

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