Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will take as a parent. The person your child will grow to be will be significantly influenced by the school she or he attends as the years where they learn the fundamental knowledge, skills and attitudes represents the foundation of their senior school education. There is a tried and trusted way to select a school; search the internet, ask friends and neighbours with school age children, draw up a short list, arrange some visits, take some tours, meet the heads, decide.
Family & Parenting Magazine, caught up with headmaster Sean Skehan, from Barrow Hills School in Surrey, to ask for his advice:
But before you embark on this process there is a more important consideration than the ‘how’ of choosing a school and that is the ‘what’: What is important to you when choosing a school?
The most important part of your answer to this question will relate to ethos and values. Your child’s education is the foundation for a happy and successful adult life. Reflecting on what that it means to be happy and how you measure success will help you to identify the ethos and values you want from your child’s school. Educationalists now recognise the importance of well-being, especially in an increasingly complex and competitive world . Their research underlines that a happy life is built on doing what you enjoy and what excites you, in your career and in your interests – and from living a meaningful life, one where you contribute to something greater than yourself.
A great school will recognise this and give your daughter or son the space and opportunity to discover what they love. From the earliest years it will provide practical ways to build your child’s understanding of his or her responsibility to others and to the communities to which she or he belongs; from their class to their school to the local community. This is all about the school’s ethos and you will only be able to understand this by meeting the people who form the school’s community; teachers, support staff, pupils and, of course, the head teacher. You should be able to see, hear and feel the school’s ethos, its concern for each individual and its determination to enable each of them to grow, to contribute and to succeed.
For many parents the characteristic at the top of their list is academics. If you are seeking an academic school for your child it is worth taking a moment to reflect on what academic means when choosing a school. In the current educational and economic climate, academic has come to mean examination results, a school’s position in the league tables. This is completely understandable when entry to top universities and to professional careers is so competitive. Top examination results open doors to opportunity.
But there is a much deeper sense of being academic. It is about the value of learning for its own sake, about intellectual inquisitiveness and developing the skills and knowledge to satisfy that curiosity. A school can be ‘academic’ by achieving top examination results, but without developing a truly academic ethos. It is in the earliest years of schooling that knowledge for its own sake and intellectual curiosity need to be nurtured and developed if children are to carry a sense of inquisitiveness and enquiry into the next stage of their education.
Spend some time reflecting on your values and what you think ‘education’ is or perhaps what it should be. Of course you want your child to have the best start academically and to develop the central skills of reading, writing and mathematics, essential to progress in all other subjects. You will want your daughter or son to have opportunities to develop their emerging talents and interests. How important is sport and what it teaches about perseverance, competitiveness, team work, winning and losing? Do you want your child to have the chance to build her or his confidence through performance? How important is creativity and the arts in the education you want for your child? There is potential for all of this in the best schools and no door will be closed to your child as she or he discovers who they are and what inspires them.
What makes all this possible is great pastoral care. Teachers who know what makes your child tick, who are there to celebrate achievements, offer support and pick them up when things are challenging and who with you help them to grow into increasingly independent young people. They will provide the required assistance to make good friends and offer guidance on how to be a good friend.
So my check list for choosing a school is a values based education, a truly academic education with excellent extra-curricular opportunities, great pastoral care; above all an education which allows your daughter or son to enjoy their childhood and lays the foundations for a happy and fulfilled life.
Article by headmaster Sean Skehan, Barrow Hills School in Surrey.