Today I have just finished the last of 20 group tours I have conducted in 2008 for prospective parents. It’s interesting to reflect on their value – do they answer parents questions? – do they present the school in the best way? – are tours one of the main ways for parents to learn about a school?
Over 200 families have been on a tour this year, some more than once and some for enrolments for 2010 or beyond. Some tours are large with 35 parents and some are small with 4 parents.
We have 90 prep students enrolled to start at Elsternwick in 2009. We do not advertise in local or state newspapers, we don’t have huge banners located across the site or in local shopping centres and we do not offer scholarships.
We do have some printed material which parents collect fom the school either before or after a school tour, we advertise the tour dates in local kindergatens and publish, as expected, our annual report and 4 year strategic plan on the school website.
So what topics do parents on tours usually ask about: academic standards, bullying and how the school deals with it, class sizes and are they straight age based or multi aged, what specialist programs do we offer [e.g. music, art, pe], how much does education cost, is there before and after school care, do we have camps and sports, what’s the computer ratio, what’s the ratio of boys and girls, how old are the teachers, how long is my contract, how many male teachers do you have, do we have a school nurse, is there a school uniform, why aren’t the school fences higher and do parents get involved in the school are some of the more common questions parents raise. There are lots of questions individual parents might ask because of their situation e.g. is there support or extension programs offered or how do you deal with student health conditions like analyphylaxis?
The school tours are conducted on a walk and talk basis for approximately 60 minutes with questions encouraged, we visit classes and see specialist programs in operation. Feedback is encouraging from those parents who attend.
I believe in public education and always suggest that parents visit more than one public school before making a decision on what school best suits their child. I believe in the saying “that it takes a village to raise a child”[replace village with community] and suggest to parents that they ought to select where ever possible their local school as that’s the community they live in – the further away people live the harder the small things can become to remain engaged with the community [e.g. school friends sharing pick or drop off duties or friends playing at one another’s dwelling]. As a parent myself I always liked tour leaders [in this case myself] to play with a straight bat as they say and answer down the line – not promising anything I cannot deliver or are not committed to working on.
I pose ethical questions when I see advertising of public schools some of which is designed to attract students from outside their natural catchment areas in the hope of attracting additional resources. The public sector of schools needs to work together in collaboration with each other for the benefit of all students living in the same area.
All this brings me back to the original point about group tours being able to answer parent questions in authentic ways that will encourage parent to enrol in their local public school. I wonder what happens in other school communities?