To kickstart your selection process, School Compare has run through the factors to consider and frequently asked questions when choosing a school.
1. Open days and school visits
Most schools hold at least one open day a year where you’ll be able to chat to the principal or headmaster, teachers and students, as well as other parents. Many schools also offer opportunities for parents to visit during regular school hours. Plenty of the information you need to make a decision can be found online or in brochures, but there are some things, such as playground facilities, that you may like to see in person.
2. School management and facilities
Consider the vision that the school has for its future and whether it seems well managed. Are the rules clearly stated, positive and well enforced? Are students encouraged to become involved in leading the school? Are parents encouraged to get involved in developing school policies? What role does the school play in the local community? What unique facilities and resources does the school boast?
Are before or after-school programs available? In what ways is technology used in the classroom? Is the school 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?
3. Curriculum and co-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 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 you to get involved in school excursions? Which languages are offered?
4. Values and teaching
Are the school’s religious and philosophical outlooks and practices the same as your own? How are morals and ethics taught? How do teachers handle bullying? What is the school’s disciplinary policy? Is there a counsellor or nurse on site? Is there genuine warmth and respect between students and teachers? Are the school’s teaching methods aligned to your child’s talents, strengths and interests? What is the school’s homework expectation? How does the school monitor and report back on individual students? How accessible are teachers if you have concerns about your child’s progress? Is there an active Parent Teacher Association?
5. Academic performance
In which subjects does the school record its best results and 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? Is the school intellectually competitive? What proportion of the school’s students go to university?
6. Student life
What are the advantages of the school size? 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? What is the external reputation of the students? Will your child be sufficiently challenged?
7. Cost and transport
Is financial assistance available in the form of scholarships or bursaries and could your child qualify? Besides tuition fees, are there other course-related costs to consider? Does the school facilitate a car-pooling program? Is it accessible by frequent public transport? Are there safe cycling roads on your route to the school?
8. 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.
9. 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 communication platform that enables students, and perhaps their parents, to access lesson plans, progress reports and homework tasks?
10. One size doesn’t fit all
Remember that the ‘best’ school is the one that provides your child with a sound education and an environment in which to become a creative, reflective and critical thinker, make friends, feel safe and thrive. The best school may therefore be a different one for someone else’s child.