Choosing a school + attending open days

Here’s an article I wrote for the Kids Voice, published this week. I talked about what you should look out for when choosing a school, since we all know that the questions you’re supposed to ask, you always only remember once you get home!

It’s that time of year again. Maybe your child is growing up and starting Primary School for the first time, or maybe they’re making the big move to Secondary. Either way, chances are you’ll be spending time going to many open days at various schools and colleges – and it can easily get slightly repetitive and daunting. So what are the best things to look out for and ask questions about to help with the big decisions?

Every child is different, so making these decisions based on their individual skill sets and passions is a huge part.

Some questions you might want to ask the teachers and principals include:

  • What kind of learning system do you use here – will the classes be taught by year level (standard), or by interest and knowledge level, like the ILP learning system?

  • Do year 7’s and/or prep students get set up with a buddy/mentor program and if so how often do they meet?

  • How does the school cater for gifted children, or alternatively children with learning difficulties?

  • What range of extra-curricular clubs and activities do you have, and are these an extra expense on top of school fees?

  • How many out of school trips, whether regionally or internationally, are taken every year by students?

Your questions might even lead directly to teachers like ‘Why did you choose to teach here?’. Don’t be embarrassed to ask this – It can be a really vital question, as you’ll often find out a lot about the general atmosphere of the school and also why the teachers remain loyal. These are the people who will be educating your children, so the more enthusiastic they are about the curriculum and school in general, the better!

Other things to take note of when looking at the schools is how much pride they take in their appearance. Is the grass trimmed on the school ovals? Are the hallways filled with pictures and works of the current students? How well maintained are the class rooms, are they clean and tidy?

Depending on whether you’re looking at a state or private school, you might be interested to see how heavily religion takes part in the daily routines. Some Primary Schools will start and end each day with a prayer, and in some high schools taking Religious Education is compulsory all the way through VCE. Make a decision about your child’s education based on your needs and values as a family, as whichever way you choose is going to influence the amount of time they spend learning about different cultures and religious beliefs and if this is important to you, it’s important to find out now.

If it’s Secondary School you’re looking at, it’s always good to look at the ATAR scores of the last few years. Did the school feature in the top in the region, have the dux scores fluctuated, and has there been any turnover with the VCE teachers recently? VCE teachers absolutely make a huge impact on students – In fact a lot of students will remember and even keep in touch after leaving school, so finding out about these teachers and relationships is good to know. If there has been a large turnover in the VCE staff, find out why.

And finally, reputation is key. Whilst the world of social media, and of course peoples general wavering opinions can send conflicting messages, good schools will always have a general good reputation. Speak to past students, and if possible try and speak to past parents. They’ll be the ones who can best advise you how certain situations were resolved, how much their child enjoyed their time at school, and if they felt satisfied to recommend it. Nothing will help you make your decision easier, than a child and parent who have happily had six to seven years at this school and can tell you that hey, you’re making a good choice.

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