Choosing a school for your child is one of the biggest decisions you will make (or it certainly seems that way at the time).
This search is particularly overwhelming when you aren’t sure about the academic calendars, curriculum or entrance criteria. Do you choose an International or Local school. Sadly you may not know anyone well enough yet to ask for a trusted opinion, and you don’t have much time to make a decision.
We all have different priorities and visions of what success should look like at school. To help you make sense of all the choices and decisions you need to make we collected advice from seasoned expats who have visited many schools in a variety of countries. Additionally we have taken advice from a British Independent Schools Inspector as to what we should be looking for and considering when selecting a school.
First and most important, whenever possible always arrange visits to the schools during a pre assignment trip, or when you first arrive. Glossy prospectuses are no substitute for a visit. The following points will help you to prepare for when you are able to visit in person. If you only take one bit of advice from this article, its to keep the following at the forefront of your mind:
“will my child be happy here”
Assessment of Learning
At the heart of an outstanding school the emphasis must be on their approach to learning. How do they view success? Is it very academic, and driven, or do they educate through a specific ethos or set of principles. Ultimately how will you know if your child is learning, and how does the school make this learning visible to the child, parent and teacher.
When we were at school, the curriculum focused on teaching us content and knowledge. Now we have Wikipedia for that. What’s more important is the interpretation of knowledge, debate, negotiating and influencing skills.
A school is only as good as its teachers. If you think back to your schooling, you don’t remember the facilities or the uniform, but those individual relationships with teachers that inspired and encouraged you. In order for teachers to continually motivate and engage with students they themselves need to be stimulated and inspired.
This is how the school operates, the schools mission is their promise to each child of what they can expect to get from attending that school.
Lots of schools have missions to create global citizens, or future leaders. But how do they walk the talk? Do you want a school that is preparing your child for the future, or do you want a school that is engaging and promoting their value right here and now embracing the joy of childhood and creativity?
Does the school reflect the values you subscribe to within your own home and family? If not, think again as you would not want to confuse your child.
School as part of the community
What role does the school play within the wider community? How are parents engaged within the school? Are parents seen as partners in the education process? What other partnerships does the school have? Do they engage experts from specific industries etc to play a role?
- As soon as you arrive - look around you, do you feel welcome and have a good feeling about the place? Don’t judge the school on its looks, it may have wonderful facilities but if the children aren’t taught in a positive way, then they won’t have the confidence to use them.
- How are the children interacting with one another, do they look happy? I once saw a school at break time and it was manic! There were 2 children in tears while the staff sat under a tree having their tea break. This school had the best reputation in the area but was not the one for my child.
- Try to actually see a lesson in progress, how does the teacher interact with the students?
- How is the classroom set up - does it promote independence (materials are accessible for children to go choose from)? Is the classroom well ordered or messy?
- What is on the walls? Are learning materials / art work so high up that the children can’t see their own work? Is the work individualised or have all the children (or teacher) cut out / painted the same thing?
- How does the teacher talk to the children? Is their language positive and encouraging in order to raise the children’s self-esteem or are they barking orders. Is there a “quiet hum” or a scared silence?
- Ask to meet the head teacher. How do they greet you? He/She are the biggest role model for the school. The children, staff and teachers will all be watching and taking their lead from this person. Actions are louder than words, how do they set the scene for the school?
- During your visit does the school spend its time telling you how wonderful it is and how privileged you would be to send your child here or is it more outward focused? How is it moving forward, updating, listening to others in order to improve?
Remember, there is no perfect school. There will always be things you don’t like which may be linked to cultural differences or standards but overall do you feel that the positives outweigh the negatives.
As a parent you are your child’s first and main teacher. Your own family version of success will have much more long term impact on your children than the school they attend.
In the end we all have different priorities, and you may well only be in the country for a short term. So make sure you choose the school that is best suited to each individual child, rather than the most popular.