This newspaper article attracted my attention over the weekend as it resonated with my experience as both a parent and school leader.
In my last school as principal I conducted at least 150 sixty minute group tours for parents interested in enrolling their children. Groups ranged in size from 2 to 40 parents with an average size of about 12 parents. This means that at least 2,000 parents spoke to me over the years about choosing schools. This number of parents provides me with some perspective on what they are looking for when choosing a school.
Typically questions asked on school tour included:
- school numbers, average class size and number of composite classes
- best things about the school and what we were trying to improve on
- teachers: retention, quality, number of new graduates (professional learning)
- point of difference between schools
- parent and community involvement
- size of schools grounds and where children played
- child safety (includes bullying)
- curriculum depending upon what was hitting the newspapers at the time: e.g. do we teach phonics, times tables etc…
- what are the extra curricula activities offered
- child readiness to start school
Rarely was I asked about academic standards or school fees (being a public school we didn’t charge much (e.g. books, excursions, camps, sports, computer lease) and depending upon the extra curricula activities (e.g. instrumental music lessons) it rarely exceeded $1,000 per year.
Our tours were conducted during school time and we visited classrooms, specialist teacher areas (Art, Music, Physical Education), library and outdoor areas included the school orchard, playgrounds and the Chinese Gatehouse.
I spoke about a range of topics (that included these sorts of questions) but I think it was the classroom visits where children’s work and thinking was displayed, their interactions viewed, parents seen helping around the school (e.g. in classrooms, in the school uniform shop or the library) and the relationship between students and myself and their teachers that carried the “vibe”. This was the generally unspoken information that parents sought and felt. It was a feeling that their child would be known, cared for and mattered that counted.
I always ended tours talking about the importance of community in which they would be members of and the necessity to look at a few schools before making their choice. No school would offer everything I would say (in our case that included religious education, drama – although there was a senior years musical) but if you chose our school we would see each other a few times before the start of your child’s first day of attendance.
School tours were supplemented with Open Days, Information Evenings and Kindergarten talks.
My hope is that most parents had similar experiences in choosing schools (e.g. a school tour), had their questions answered in a forthright and informative way, felt the school vibe and were empowered to make an informed decision.
If you are going to ask about academic standards ask about “growth rates” being similar to or above state average growth rates – that’s the standard that counts.
What a school displays it values.
Always check out your local school – you’ll generally be happy.