How to Choose the Right School for Your Child

moving to joburg johannesburg expat life

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.  

School Ethos.

moving to Joburg, Expat in Johannesburg

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? 

School Visit: 

  •  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.  

Download our handy Crib Sheet suggesting questions you may wish to ask when visiting a school.   

Creating your own first class seat when flying economy

kids travel

When we first moved abroad, my husbands company kindly supplied us with a number of business class flights. We were then luckily enough to be upgraded to first a couple of times. 

Sadly those days are gone, we are now the parents boarding straight to the back of the plane bashing those seats as we go past with our 101 bits of hand luggage. Thankfully the kids are now a bit older making it much easier to watch a film and enjoy the flight once again. 

So if you dont have the miles or business privileges to fly First, here are our top tips on creating a similar experience for yourself down the back of the plane. 

Tip 1: Eat before you board the plane 

Aircraft food is never going to be good and you are often left with your tray for hours before they come back round to collect it. So do yourself a favour and eat dinner at the airport beforehand. 

Tip 2: Pack your own blanket / Wrap

I usually wear one of our kikoys as a scarf which I can then use as a blankets. You can keep yourself nice and cosy and because you wear it when leaving it doesn't take up much space. 

Tip 3: The Ostrich Pillow 

Stop that crank in your neck, and make yourself comfortable with this multi task - Head / Neck or Eye pillow - The Ostrich Light.   


Tip 4: Hydrate

After security buy yourself a bottle of water which you can then refill on the plane. It saves you asking for another glass in the night, or finishing the smaller bottle they often provide. One study recommends drinking a litre of water per 5 hours on board. 

Don't forget your skin either - moisturise. Nothing better than Aesop


Tip 5: Refresh

I loved the facial spray in the first class wash bag so much that I now take my own onboard. Its the small things that can make such a difference to your mood after a long flight. Currently I have the Dermalogica Ultra Calming Mist in small 50ml bottle. 

What are your favourite products you like to take onboard with you? Do you have any travel tips - share them in the comments below. 

Creating a Children's Birthday Party

Our little Girl turned five this week.   She was very excited having learnt over her short life to treasure her birthdays and of course all those Presents!!   

There is a bit of a movement in the UK to tone down Children birthday parties and I get this as some birthdays parties are just too big, too expensive and sometimes too competitive.    I don’t really think the child enjoys it more or less anyway, certainly not before they are aware of social judgment. But I love birthdays and parties and I have a compulsion to make everyone special.    Over the past four years I have tackled this problem by trying to trying to make, bake and create my way to birthday perfection.   This has been very stressful and too often I haven’t enjoyed the day, although thankfully my daughter always has.  

This year I sat down and asked myself what will matter in 10 years time? What do we want from the day and this is what I came up with: 

  • For Florence to have the time of her life
  • To engage Florence in the decision making and creative process
  • To de-stress the day and use the birthday party as an excuse to catch up with friends.
  • To not break the bank

So what did we do? 

We switched the focus to Florence.  For example each night for the three weeks before her party she went to bed with an old birthday cake book (that was once my mother’s) to get inspiration for the cake.  Florence wanted to be involved in all the decisions, who to invite, where to hold it, what to eat and she created the party bags (we made CDs of Florence's favourite songs - she had sign off on each song and learnt how songs got from mummy’s computer onto a CD and then into her friends cars).  

I asked my husband to help me make decorate the cake on a Friday night. When he opened a bottle of champagne the baking process became much more fun and a little bit more competitive! 

What was the result? 

What struck me most was the sense of consideration and dedication Florence had in the creation of the party.  She took her responsibilities very seriously, helping me with the party bags, receiving people at the party and thanking them for their presents (without my husband or I helping) and at her solemnity around the ritual of the cake and the school celebration. I don’t think I have engaged her actively in taking such responsibility but there she was doing just that.    It was an event in her life and she was going to take it seriously, including having serious amounts of fun.   I have never been more proud.  

As for me I was seriously less stressed and had a great time.