It’s that time of year when up and down the country parents are visiting school Open Days making decisions about the next steps for their child. In my experience, having worked in many different schools, one size doesn’t fit all when making that such an important choice of the best school for a child.
Like choosing a house or a holiday, you do the research, you can assimilate the reviews but ultimately you often make a decision on gut instinct …. you choose what feels right. No one knows their child better than a parent, and schools know about education! A quality education is so important and one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to their child; it prepares their pathway for the future, helps to shape their character and paves the way to adulthood. Undoubtedly therefore the decision of where to go, and when, has huge significance and resonance for families.
Most Heads would agree that parents can be swayed by kudos and league tables, although these can be an unreliable benchmark for a child. There are around 2,500 independent schools in the UK and they vary in terms of fees, facilities, performance, ethos and values. Parents should be guided by instinct and knowledge of their own children, not driven solely by statistics or influenced by others – every child is different, hence ‘one size does not fit all.’
So at this crucial time of researching options, what should parents look for?
Whatever maybe said, it is academic success that parents invariably want, as well as the pastoral, cultural and sporting benefits. ‘Value added’ should be the driver however – how schools raise the relative academic performance of their pupils over the years. In the independent sector, like here at Westholme, we place much emphasis on personal development too. The building of character and positive attributes are as important in life as academic results and these qualities are developed through a range of experiences including sport, drama, music, outdoor adventure and similar activities. Such enrichment opportunities help children learn to work in teams, build resilience, tolerance and respect, as well as discovering new talents.
Word of mouth recommendation and reviews are useful, but parents should be wary that sometimes people only comment with dissatisfaction and many happy parents are simply satisfied and content! Open days are key, but an individual tour, seeing a school in its everyday mode is equally valuable. Following a school or Head on social media and reviewing their online presence and website nowadays are also very illuminating.
No two schools are the same so it’s important to think carefully about the differences and, putting aside your own aspirations for a moment, consider what it is your child would get from each particular school environment.
At Westholme I love the individuality of our students – they are interested and interesting! Life is not easy for young people today, and for this reason it is also hugely important to consider a school’s pastoral care provision. Most schools say they educate the whole child; but check what schools actually offer to support children with friendships, with their mental health and wellbeing, and with navigating the complexities of our times.
So whether families are looking at the traditional school entry points at Reception, Year 7 and Lower Sixth or even considering a change at any stage – there is no substitute for thorough research nor is there a replacement for that instinctive connection, that feeling, where you know your child will thrive and flourish.
Lynne M Horner
7th November 2019
Follow me on Twitter – @LynneMHorner