Industry expert Denise Vincent shares her top ten tips for choosing the perfect school for your children.
‘Schools today are laying much more emphasis on marketing and branding, often creating an image that’s not quite the full picture, says Denise. ‘Savvy mums are aware that they need to delve beneath the polished prospectus and carefully crafted open day in order to choose the right school for their child.
‘After talking to mums with school-aged children, here are my ten top tips on how to avoid the marketing trap,’ says Denise.
- Open days are great for seeing the facilities a school has to offer but take into account that this is the school at its best. You can guarantee they’ve chosen their best teachers, smartest and most articulate pupils and will put on a prize winning performance to help sell their school. View open days with caution and if possible visit the school on a working day.
- First impressions count. Don’t dismiss the reception staff and other employees around the school? Are they efficient and polite? Do they look happy in their job? Happy staff are the backbone of a happy school.
- Do you like the head teacher? What are their values, beliefs and passions? What is their vision? Are they showing an interest in your child and how do staff and children respond to them?
- What are your general impressions of the buildings and grounds? Is there a sense of pride in the surroundings and most importantly, do you and your child feel at home?
- How are the children behaving? If you can see them during break time this will give you a good insight into behaviour. Try to speak to pupils around the school. Are they confident, friendly and outgoing and perhaps more significantly – are they smiling. Ask them what happens to badly behaved children or bullies – their answer will tell you a lot about behaviour in the school.
- Ask the head teacher or the other teachers whether they would send their child to this school. They are hardly likely to say no but watch their body language when they answer.
- Try before you buy – ask whether the school offers a taster day.
- Do some spying. Other parents are an obvious source of information but ask in local shops and use the internet to see if there are any articles or blogs, official or unofficial, about the school.
- Avoid choosing a school purely on academic achievement. Often high performing schools are high pressure environments – is this where your child will perform best?
- View Ofsted reports with caution. They may be some years out of date and a lot can change between reports. People will flock to a school with an outstanding Ofsted report and the increase in numbers can often be the schools undoing.
Denise adds: ‘Don’t forget your child is unique with individual needs. Trust your judgement as you know your child best and armed with the right information and a keen eye you will find a school where your child can be happy and thrive. So, do your homework, make a shortlist and go out and visit schools with an access all areas style tour. ,Choosing a school is just as important as buying a property and most of us wouldn’t buy a house without opening a few cupboards and asking the odd awkward question.’
About the author
Choosing a school for your child is probably one of the most important decisions you will make (and potentially one of the biggest financial investments). The process of choosing the right school can often be daunting. isbi schools is dedicated to helping parents find schools and has been a trusted source of information on independent, special and boarding schools in the UK and international schools worldwide for 25 years. www.isbi.com is FREE to use and probably offers the most comprehensive search facility for schools on the internet today. The website is designed to help you search, select and shortlist schools for further investigation and school visits. It aims to offer parents the information and advice they need to help them make the best choice for their child.