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How to choose a school

Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent. The person your child will grow to be will be significantly influenced by the school she or he attends. These are the years where they learn the fundamental knowledge, skills and attitudes that they will carry through life. There is a tried and trusted way to select a school; search the internet, ask friends and neighbours with school-age children, draw up a shortlist, arrange some visits, take some tours, meet the heads, decide. But before you embark on this process, you need to consider what is important to you when choosing a school?

The most important part of your answer to this question will relate to ethos and values. Your child’s education is the foundation for a happy and successful adult life. Reflecting on what it means to be happy and how you measure success will help you to identify the ethos and values you want from your child’s school.

A great school will give your daughter or son the space and opportunity to discover what they love. From the earliest years it will provide practical ways to build your child’s understanding of his or her responsibility to others and to the communities to which she or he belongs; from their class to their school to the local community. This is all about the school’s ethos and you will only be able to understand this by meeting the people who form the school’s community; teachers, support staff, pupils and, of course, the head teacher. You should be able to see, hear and feel the school’s ethos, its concern for each individual and its determination to enable each of them to grow, to contribute and to succeed.

For many parents the characteristic at the top of their list is academics. If you are seeking an academic school for your child, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on what ‘academics’ means when choosing a school. In the current educational and economic climate, it has come to mean examination results and the school’s position in the league tables. This is completely understandable when entry to top universities and to professional careers is so competitive. Top examination results open doors to opportunity.

However, there is a much deeper sense of being academic. It is about the value of learning, about intellectual inquisitiveness and developing the skills and knowledge to satisfy that curiosity. A school can be ‘academic’ by achieving top examination results, but without developing a truly academic ethos. It is in the earliest years of schooling that knowledge for its own sake and intellectual curiosity need to be nurtured and developed if children are to carry a sense of inquisitiveness and enquiry into the next stage of their education.

Spend some time reflecting on your values and what you think ‘education’ is or perhaps what it should be. Of course you want your child to have the best start academically and to develop the central skills of reading, writing and mathematics, essential to progress in all other subjects. You will want your daughter or son to have opportunities to develop their emerging talents and interests. How important is sport and what it teaches about perseverance, competitiveness, team work, winning and losing? Do you want your child to have the chance to build her or his confidence through performance? How important is creativity and the arts in the education you want for your child? There is potential for all of this in the best schools and no door will be closed to your child as she or he discovers who they are and what inspires them.

So the checklist for choosing a school is a values-based education, a truly academic education with excellent extra-curricular opportunities, great pastoral care; above all an education which allows your daughter or son to enjoy their childhood and lays the foundations for a happy and fulfilled life.

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