For many parents I deal with, choosing a school for their children is one of the most significant emotional and financial decisions they will make. This decision is often based on the basis of the experiences of others, gut feel, local gossip, casual observation or their own experiences of school. In reality, all of these have limitations in helping you make your decision.

The most important thing is to get the best-matched school for you and your children’s needs. What is a good school for your friends or what was good for you 20 years ago, may not be very suitable for your children. Most people assume they know the market but often only have anecdotal information and in some cases, are about to spend a large amount of money based on limited information.

Why is it important to get the decision right? The effects a child who is unhappy at school or in an environment that they are not suited and don’t thrive can pose significant problems. The effects can include:

  1. withdrawal,
  2. underachieving,
  3. anti-social behaviour,
  4. loss of friendships,
  5. failure to reach potential,
  6. feeling of dislocation
  7. increased anxiety for parents and the children,
  8. loss of self-esteem.
  9. It can also cause significant issues at home with potential emotional and behavioural problems.

So what can you do to ensure you make a good decision? There are a number of steps you can take to help you make a more informed decision. It is not a matter of what is a good school but rather what is the right school for your children. Firstly, the most important step you can take is to do an assessment of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Take notice of any assessments you may have ( eg school reports, professional assessments etc) that highlight areas where your child is weak or strong and obviously you can use your own judgement about their personality etc. You hopefully will be able to gain an accurate snapshot of your child.

So what are the key factors that need to be considered?

There are a number of key criteria that are relevant when choosing a school ( not in any particular order) and they can include

  1. Price,
  2. location,
  3. Coeducational vs single-sex,
  4. Culture,
  5. School size,
  6. Class sizes,
  7. Academic performance,
  8. Alumni
  9. “reputation”,
  10. Level of discipline,
  11. Particular programmes( eg separate campus, cultural or sports).

This list is by no means exhaustive but are some of the most common criteria.

Once you have ascertained an accurate and detailed picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, then a matching process needs to be undertaken. It involves investigating your options which can be made difficult by the fact that schools are trying to sell you something and can stage-manage open days etc. It is important to try and gain an accurate snapshot of a school, so try and visit it when it is operating normally, rather than on a weekend open day. Ask lots of questions about their programs, their beliefs and their systems. It is also important to ask about any future plans that could affect your child e.g the school might be planning to go co-educational in the future( which has happened recently at a few schools!) or might be relocating a campus etc.

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A number of parents often only have eyes for one school. I strongly recommend that you investigate a number of schools, even if it is only for comparative purposes and it can save some heartbreak if you have more than one option. I have seen many distraught parents who had banked on getting into a particular school only to be disappointed when it falls through. Listening to others that have their children at the school can be useful but it is very important to judge whether their child is similar to yours, as what works for them might not be suitable for you.

Generational education is very common, especially amongst males and it can have its dangers. Your child’s needs could be very different to yours and the school may also have changed significantly since you left. Many parents choose schools for the perceived prestige or because they are an expensive school. This is far more common a reason than you might think and there are far more effective ways to go about making the choice.

All parents want to do what is best for their children and this decision can have a long term impact on them, so it is vital to make as informed a decision as possible. With so much marketing material and people so willing to share their experiences, it can at times become overwhelming. Ensure you do as thorough a matching process as possible, understand your children’s needs and try to remember one size doesn’t fit all. It is not about what is a good school but rather what is a good fit.