Choosing a School
Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make as a parent. Whilst much has been written and discussed about the need for parents to research widely, parents seem keen to select a school that will recognise their child as an individual.
As learning is generally easier when a child is happy and comfortable in his/her environment, it is important for the fit between the child and the school to be right and that programs offered suit the needs of the child. In this way, the number of playing fields, swimming pools and tennis courts in no way can compensate for a quality and mutually respectful interaction between teachers and students.
What are independent schools?
Independent schools are non-government schools and, as not-for-profit institutions, they serve a range of different communities. Independent schools include small and large day schools, boarding schools, co-educational, and single sex schools.
Why do parents choose independent schools?
Parents choose to send their children to independent schools because they feel a particular independent school will best serve their child and their child's education. Other considerations may include:
- provision of an education that would prepare the child to fulfil their maximum potential
- good discipline
- the school encourages a responsible attitude to school work
- they want their child to have a values-based or religious education
- they value the different teaching and educational philosophies available at independent schools
- the availability of boarding facilities.
Single sex or co-education?
There are leading examples of both single sex and co-educational schools within our education system and, for many years, students have survived schooling in one or the other type of educational institution (1)
School characteristics, such as the quality of its leadership, the excellence of its teaching and administrative staff and the supportive quality of the school culture, are more important issues to consider than gender status.
Research has identified some strengths and weaknesses associated with both models; but these are generalised comments and should only be seen as generalisations. More important questions to consider would include:
- How does the school cater for the individual needs of your child?
- Does the school offer a wide selection of curricular and extra-curricular programs to cater for individual differences?
- As the calibre of teaching staff is considered to be a critical feature, what staff development programmes are there in place and how do they recruit and retain the best staff?
There is a general trend towards co-education as parents want their children to understand the shared attributes of boys and girls, rather than seeing them as two segregated and different tribal groups.
Schooling should be about preparing our young people for life; by being confident, caring and tolerant individuals they will be prepared to take their place within an inclusive community which has equal footing for both males and females.
Tips for parents
- Ask for a copy of the school prospectus and study the school's website for detail about the school's ethos and nature and extent of curriculum and extra-curriculum programs
- Talk to teachers, students and other parents to gain a feel about a school's community, culture and the calibre of the school's leader.
- Make yourself familiar with the latest research about finding the best fit for your child - see Gill J (2004) Beyond the great divide; single sex or co-education? Sydney UNSW Press
- Identify whether the school is able to cater for the full education needs of your family; that is does it provide K to Year 12 educational programs?
- Compare tuition and/or boarding fees, scholarships and school resources (including both teaching specialists and standard of facilities).
- Compare academic programs to identify whether a school has depth and diversity of academic offering.
- Note that while some schools on paper display a wider range of subject choice, in reality a large student population is necessary for that choice to be offered and supported.
- Does the school offer the International Baccalaureate? Which languages? Are the visual, performing and balletic arts well represented? Are there programs for gifted and talented students as well as those who require individualised attention?
- Compare sporting/outdoor education and other extra-curricular programs which cater for individual needs. Does the school have a rural campus?
- Do boarding schools offer day and weekly boarding?
- Does the school want to establish a partnership with you in the education of your child, or is it just contractual?
- When meeting school leaders, ask them about the school's policy on ICT; ask them about staff professional development programmes and their views on the generational needs of children today.
When visiting a school, find out about a school's culture which is revealed by:
- How you are greeted by the reception and enrolments staff.
- How the students relate to each other; whether the students wear a uniform or not and how it is worn. Are the students happy and comfortable in their environment?
- Whether the Registrar receives greeting from the students as they show you around.
- Which parts of the school were not shown.
- What a Registrar says or doesn't say about a competitor.
- How the staff relate to the students .
Australian Council for Education Research (VCE Data Project 1999)
Gill J (2004) Beyond the great divide; single sex or co-education? Sydney UNSW Press
Toppin B (2004) Getting the best fit. More on the boy-girl thing? Professional Educator Vol 3, No 3