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How to make choosing a school into a positive experience

How to make choosing a school into a positive experience

Arabella Davies, who runs a bespoke education consultancy providing schooling solutions for families, gives her top advice on making the process of selecting the right school for your child enjoyable and productive…

Choosing a school for your children should be an incredible journey that parents embrace with energy and enthusiasm. Instead, there appears to be an infectious current of stress and exhaustion tied in with open days, registration deadlines and exam fever.

As a parent myself, and having worked closely with families for almost 20 years, I am only too aware of the anxieties that ultimately parents face when choosing a school and so my advice to anyone starting out on their school search is to follow some simple steps.

Firstly, it is extremely important to consider your child’s needs above your own. Your ambitions for your children can often hinder the final decision and ultimately, you are looking for a school where your child is going to be happy and where, above all, they will receive a rounded and fulfilled education not just academically but also pastorally and socially.

Think carefully about what is important to your child inside and outside of the classroom and ensure that your chosen school will cater for their own personal and co-curricular interests.

Open Up to Open Days 

Accept invitations to open days, however hectic they may sound, as these will give you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with the school as well as meet the head and other academic and pastoral staff who are not always available on private tours.

At your visit, look for a head and teachers who appear passionate about their children. It’s not so much about facilities but how a school utilises their space and incorporates all the necessary sport & co-curricular activities over and above the national curriculum. Ask lots of questions not just to members of staff but also to current families with children at the school.

For those of you considering a boarding option, you will soon discover the multitude of boarding choices open to families including full, weekly & flexi and today’s accommodation bears absolutely no resemblance to those of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s goodbye to drab dormitories and seemingly uncaring matrons and hello to Ikea style clean and contemporary sleeping areas and friendly, cheery and ultimately responsible house parents who genuinely take a vested interest in the future of your child.

For those considering a day option, particularly within a town or city, I encourage you to do a drive-past at drop-off and especially at pick-up to see what the pupils (and the staff) look like coming and going and whether they appear happy and fulfilled.

Location, location, location 

Consider carefully the location of your chosen school. For most families living in the country your own car will become your method of transport (some schools do operate buses). Therefore remaining in close proximity to your children’s school is extremely important. For day schools I advise no more than a 20-minute drive if possible and for full boarding no more than 2 hours and with weekly boarding definitely no more than an hour as you will be surprised how often you will be going backwards and forwards to the school.

Although having all your children at the same school does seem the most sensible option this plan does not always fall into place and so don’t feel pressured to follow the same route for everyone and instead look to see what will be the best fit for your individual child.

Get ahead for school registration 

Be organised and allow plenty of time for registration and admissions deadlines which are getting earlier and earlier. For pre-prep schools in and around London they will encourage you to register your child as soon as they are born with many closing their books when that year’s intake is full. Schools outside of London tend to operate a more flexible process but I would still advise you register your interest at least a year in advance.

Senior schools are also getting earlier and I now advise parents to assume that June of Year 5 is the cut-off point whether you are looking at an 11+ or 13+ entry – this is not the case at every school but it is better to be safe than sorry and schools will happily take your enquiry at any point even if they then encourage you to come back in 3, 6 or 12 months time.

Finally, don’t get too stressed or bogged down by the pre-testing and examinations that are in place. More often than not these are to qualify that your children are the right fit rather than whether they have been tutored to within an inch of their life.

Arabella can be contacted at arabella@theirbestyears.com

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