When I became a mother, I thought the decisions I faced in those first months were hard. Co-sleeping, bassinette or cot? Disposable or cloth? Sudocream or Bepanthen? But those seemingly vital choices were nothing compared to the challenge as my child approached five of picking the “right” school. The first decision to face was – what kind of school? Public or private? Religious, independent or state? The zoned school or an out-of-area school? The variables seemed endless.
It’s important to realise that the choice has to be the right one not only for the child going to school, but also for the family. The choice to go private has some benefits for some children, but not if the family as a whole has to survive on breadcrumbs as a result. Living with financial stress in the home might entirely negate the positive experiences your child gains at school. A school that is seemingly perfect but involves long distances of travel might also result in negatives as extracurricular activities become impossible and your child is exhausted. Younger siblings should also be considered as they will probably end up in the chosen school too.
It’s important as a parent making this decision to investigate a variety of sources. Speak to the schools about a tour, read the schools’ websites and published newsletters, attend any information nights they offer, speak to your child’s kindergarten and ask around. Talk to current parents and see what they have to say, remembering to always take personal anecdote with a grain of salt! Make sure that all your questions are answered and you will find that the decision is easier to make.
Key considerations might be:
Does this school provide opportunities for my children to follow their interests?
Look at the curriculum information which is generally published on school’s website. What specialist teachers are on staff? What languages are taught? Is there a strong Maths/Science/Humanities program? Does the school run clubs, choirs, dance programs or sports?
Will this school support my children’s emotional and social development?
Is there a school counsellor on staff? Does the school have a strong policy on bullying? Is there a transition program or a buddy arrangement? Is there a student council? Are the teachers encouraged and trained to listen to and support students having difficulties? These factors are sometimes hard to assess. I felt it important to visit the school for a tour during school hours, so I could ask the questions and also watch interactions between students and staff. Happy children are engaged learners, and it is easy to spot a teacher who has her students’ attention when you walk into a classroom.
What programs does the school offer for extension work and enrichment? What about academic support for students who are struggling?
If your child shows a particular interest or talent, how does the school nurture this? Are there opportunities to extend gifted students? Is there a special education staff who work with struggling students? Do they offer literacy/numeracy support? How does the school support students with diagnosed special needs or students with bilingual backgrounds?
Does this school meet the needs and wants of our family?
Is the school accessible? Will you be able to walk or drive easily? Does the school offer OSHC facilities that will meet the needs of working parents? Does the school have holiday programs? Is there a well equipped library? Does the school have open spaces and playgrounds for an active child?
Are parents welcome?
Some parents want to be highly involved in their child’s experience, while others, due to work or personal preference, are a little more laissez-faire when it comes to school. Does the school encourage active parental involvement? Do they expect it? Are parents encouraged to visit the classroom for presentations, special days and reading support? How does the school organise parent-teacher interviews?
One thing that many of us forget: it’s a decision you would like to get right first time, but you also must remember that it’s not an irreversible decision. Your child is four years old when you make this choice – there is a chance that they will grow and change and things that seemed important will become less so. Try to take the pressure of yourself with this thought : if it turns out that the school is not a good fit, you can always move your child. Your focus should be choosing the best choice – for now – and helping your child transition into primary school in a comfortable, confident and enthusiastic way.