Choosing a school for your daughter
Choosing a school for your daughter is one of the most important decisions you will have to make, and can seem daunting! There are many factors to consider and multiple sources of information, so make sure you allow enough time to get a balanced view of what’s available to you, and bear in mind the following tips from our Heads of Juniors…
Talk to other parents with children already settled in a school you are considering. Ask them why they chose that particular school, how the experience is for their child. What do they see as the strengths of the school? Is there anything they would have liked to be different?
Find out about the strengths of the schools you are considering and what additional opportunities they provide. If your child is very young you may not know whether she will be ‘sporty’, musical’, academic’ and so on. Does the school cater for a range of strengths and abilities? Does it offer an all round holistic education or is it more of an academic environment, in which case how would your daughter be tested in preparation for this?
What does the school do beyond the classroom? Are older girls given responsibilities and opportunities for leadership, for example helping with playtimes, the library and so on. Is there a house system to enable a family spirit within a school?
Do parents have access to staff in the mornings or after school to chat about any anxieties or issues? Is there strong communication between Parents and staff overall?
Visit several schools so you can decide where you feel your daughter would be most at home and happy.
During a school tour, talk to the staff and see if the children are actively involved in lessons and happy. Could you imagine your child at that school?
Questions to ask on your visit – what is the turnover of staff, what is included in the fees, parking/transport arrangements, events for parents, subjects covered, assessment and exams, entry procedures?
Ask about the different transition stages through the school and how they are prepared for those; for example the transition between EYFS and Key Stage 1, between Key Stage 1 and 2 and perhaps most significantly between Key Stage 2 and 3. Ensure that you are clear on any entry requirements at each of the different stages.
Remember that on Open Days everything is on show – it is important to see the school on a normal working day in order to get a fuller picture of what the school is all about – so you can observe the pupil rapport with staff, how the uniform looks, the presentation of the work and the pride the pupils take in their work, the manners of the pupils, displays around school.
When on a tour try to talk to pupils as well as the head/staff. The pupils are often the best representatives of a school and visiting on a regular school day will give you an insight into a broader group of pupils, not just those who may have been chosen to act as hosts on open day.
Look beyond the superficial façade of the school and talk to the staff too. These are the people who will be dealing with the girls most directly. It’s the people that make places.
Buying into a school is not unlike buying a house. As soon as you get through the front door you know whether you feel comfortable or not. Don’t be swayed by league tables, swimming pools and glossy pamphlets – If you feel at home then the likelihood is your daughter will feel comfortable too and so she will thrive.
Consider your checklist of priorities so you can compare your options in terms of ethos, fee structure, academic results etc, but also use your intuition. If the school feels right for you and you can imagine your child being happy and enjoying life there, it probably will be the best choice for you. If your daughter is happy she will flourish and learn.
Read the school’s most recent inspection report on either the Independent Schools Inspectorate or OFSTED websites.
If you are lucky enough to find two schools you are really happy with then make sure your daughter experiences both schools’ taster days and then let her rank them in order of choice….then respect her choice!
With thanks to the Heads of Juniors at the following schools:
Alderley Edge School for Girls, Derby High School, Shrewsbury High School, Talbot Heath Junior School, The Maynard School, The Prep School of St Albans High School for Girls, The Red Maids’ Junior School