Independent Schools Victoria: Finding the right fit

Which school? It’s a question many parents agonise over, and it’s one that leads to many other questions too. Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria, Michelle Green, offers her advice on where to start.

One of the key questions – which I suggest is the real starting point – relates to your child. So you might want to ask your child some questions.

Consider what your child is like – their personality, aptitudes, character, strengths and weaknesses, and identify their needs.

And then ask yourself what you want for your child and what sort of school will best meet their needs and your aspirations.

Once you’ve considered these big, broad questions, you can turn your attention to my opening words: “Which school?”

One of the great strengths of the Australian school education system is that for decades it has offered parents choice, and the opportunity to find a school which best meets the needs of unique individual students.

There are three school sectors in Australia – government, independent and Catholic. Not only are their differences between these sectors; the differences within the sectors are sometimes just as great.

There are over 220 member schools of Independent Schools Victoria, educating over 145,000 students in more than 300 schools and campuses in metropolitan and regional areas throughout the state. Across Australia there are more than 1000 independent schools and the numbers are growing, offering increased choice.

These schools are widely diverse in their size, location, traditions, philosophical base (their approach to education) and fees. Victorian independent schools identify themselves with 30 affiliations, religious and non-religious.

Their diversity reflects the fact that parents have differing values and expectations, and that their children have differing needs.

If you’re considering an independent school, more questions follow.

For many parents a key issue is whether the school’s ethos matches their values – either educational, ethical or religious, or a combination of all three – and the values they want to share with their child.

There are practical considerations, too. You’ll need to consider transport options as school location can be a crucial consideration. Do you want a single sex or co-ed school? Is the size of the school a factor? Do you want primary or secondary or combined? What fees does the school charge and what extra-curricular options does it offer? Is your prime consideration academic achievement? Does your child have a strong interest in particular subjects? Do they have special learning needs?

All of these questions can seem daunting, but the challenge can be managed.

Talk to other parents, friends and family members as their recommendations can be influential. Check out school websites which usually provide a lot of essential information. Above all, visit the schools you have in mind – either on open days or by making an appointment.

While such visits can help answer practical questions, they also address more intangible issues. What did the school feel like? What was the atmosphere? What was the demeanour of the children already enrolled there – did they seem happy and engaged? And were the teachers you spoke to welcoming, and open to your questions? What was your child’s impression of the school? Above all, you might ask yourself: can I see my child flourishing here?

After many questions, let me end with a final thought. In considering schools, the question might not be: Will my child fit in this school? Rather: Will this school fit my child?

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