how to choose a school

How to choose a school


Education expert Sue Laidlaw on how to select a school where your child will thrive, plus all you need to know about Open Days…

Choosing a school for your child is, somewhat bizarrely, rather like buying a house! On paper, you may have a few choices that all look good and “tick the boxes” but somehow you are drawn to one rather than the others.

At Laidlaw Education, we have been advising parents for decades on the best options for their child and most of them, myself included, will look at the factual information and try to decide by comparing schools accordingly. But, like buying houses, don’t be afraid of your gut instinct. Embrace that part of your decision making, along with your quantitative evaluation. If you, as parents, feel comfortable and at home in a school, it almost always follows that your child will be too.

Where to start?

So where do you start? When you begin to think about a prospective school for your child, try to ignore the advice and opinions of your friends. What is right for one child is not necessarily right for another. Many parents prefer to have all their children in one school but, certainly at Senior level, different schools may suit different siblings far better. The most important fact to bear in mind is to find the right place for each individual child to be happy and to be the best that they can be and, importantly, not better than their own personal best. This may mean putting aside your own aspirations for a child to be at a highly prestigious school if that is not where they are best suited to thrive. The journey through education is a marathon, not a sprint, the teenage years can be demanding and a suitable environment is vital.

Do consider factors such as whether you are looking for a mixed or single-sex school, is outside space important, how academic is your child – will they thrive in a fast-paced academic environment or will they achieve more if the pace is a little slower and more supportive? The list goes on.


Open Days

Websites will give you information about staff qualifications, facilities, community programmes as well as SEN support and a sense of their pastoral care. You will read about extra-curricular opportunities and events which the school provide. Every school will have a Safeguarding Policy for you to read. The round of Open Day events for visiting prospective schools for entry in September 2022 is now being advertised. Happily, and at present, these are now being held in person rather than online. Your visits will either enable you to see the school during a normal working day or after hours.

These visits will not only give you a taste of the school but an opportunity to speak to current students and also members of staff. Do be aware that your guide is quite likely to have been handpicked and, indeed, many parents are influenced both positively and negatively by the pupil who showed them round! Whilst this can be a very helpful indication of the type of children who attend, try not to be too influenced by one individual. Look beyond and gather a general view. Do ask questions but also look at the less obvious pointers – the displays on the walls, the classrooms that you are not shown as well as those that you are encouraged to view. How do the pupils respond to the staff? Be objective and observe wisely.

Eventually, you will form a shortlist (although sometimes this can be rather long!). We advise thinking in three tranches – realistic, aspirational and safety net. As a mum and professionally, I have seen many thousands of children and families through this process. As long as you are honest with yourself, truly consider what is best for your child in terms of their academic and personality needs, everything else will fall into place.