Choosing a school for your child feels huge, especially if this will be your little one’s first taste of independence. Your child will attend school for years to come, so it’s important to find one that’s a good fit. To help, we’ve compiled this informative guide, full of tips to assist you in finding the perfect school for your child.
How to choose a school for your child
Each child and each family is unique, so it’s up to you to determine the important factors when choosing a school. Mainstream schooling is the most popular option, with most parents choosing to send their kids to a good local school. However, other options are also available to you, so it’s crucial to do your research before applying for your child’s school place.
Different types of schools
There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a school that best fits your child.
For example, you might consider one of the following:
State or public schools
Paid for by the state, these schools are free to attend and often adhere to a national curriculum. The benefits of state schools usually include their location, as they are usually based close to home. This means your children won’t have far to commute and their future school friends will probably live locally, which is great for socialising.
Public schools come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to do your research before applying to your local public school. Although one public school can be fantastic, the one down the street might be very different.
Make sure to ask plenty of questions to teachers, pupils and other parents.
Private schools are fee-paying schools that provide a traditional or alternative education. Fee-paying schools can charge thousands of dollars per term, so you must make sure you can afford the fees before applying.
Private schools sometimes offer scholarships or reduced fees for those on lower incomes, so it’s worth inquiring about any affordability schemes that might help reduce costs.
Private schools usually offer good quality education, smaller class sizes and plenty of extracurricular activities. These schools are often selective in that most places go to wealthy families. If you want your child to mix with people from all walks of life, private school might not be the best option.
However, many families are drawn to the extracurricular activities offered by fee-paying schools. Pupils often spend more time on physical education and the arts at these schools, which usually boast state-of-the-art facilities.
For religious families, Church schools offer a traditional education taught through the lens of religion. Some religious schools tend to receive money from the church or from bequests, allowing them a bigger budget than public schools.
One of the benefits of a religious school is the focus on religious and cultural practices associated with your child’s religion. Some parents send their children to a religious school to socialise with children from families that hold similar values.
If you’re not religious, however, you should carefully consider how religious schools teach certain subjects and check that their approach aligns with your beliefs. Some religious schools, for example, have limited sex education.
The Montessori method is a child-led educational practice that encourages children to take charge of their learning. With the help of teachers, classrooms are set up to give children control of the available resources; for example, classrooms have low shelving so younger children can reach items independently.
Classroom teachers are there to facilitate learning, not just to teach; they will observe and encourage the children in their self-directed learning activities.
You can learn more about Montessori schools in our article Montessori School: What Is A Montessori Education?
Steiner schools are often discussed alongside Montessori schools, although their approaches are quite different. Steiner schools believe education should benefit the whole child, not just the child’s intellect.
Children in Steiner schools spend a lot of time exploring their creativity. This hands-on approach to learning allows children to take control of their own knowledge and explore areas of interest.
Some parents are attracted to the focus on the outdoors, the arts and self-directed learning in Steiner schools.
You can learn more in BellyBelly’s article Steiner Schools: What Is A Steiner School?
Home education or unschooling
You don’t have to send your children to school at all. In fact, you can choose to educate them at home. This will be different for each family. While some favour a strict curriculum, other parents prefer ‘unschooling’, trusting their children to learn when they’re ready.
The benefits of homeschooling include: encouragement of a child’s natural curiosity, inspiring a love of learning, and allowing deep diving into children’s individual interests.
The legal requirements vary between countries and states, so it’s important to be aware of the rules where you live.
Although home learning is well established in remote areas where schools are few and far between, it has been traditionally less common in urban areas. That is changing, slowly, with many families choosing to educate their children at home.
Find out more in our article Homeschooling And Unschooling On The Rise.
Factors to consider when choosing a school for your child
There are many things to consider when choosing a school, and your list of requirements will be unique to your family’s situation. There is no such thing as the perfect school; all schools come with compromises.
You might want to consider the following factors:
Don’t underestimate the benefits of convenience. A local school cuts your child’s commute – and yours. If your child is going to a school further afield, look for convenient transport options to make the commute easier. Consider where other pupils will live; your child might benefit from local friends, which allows for easier socialising.
It’s worth paying attention to the size of the school. How many students are in a class, for example? A small school might feel more nurturing, and smaller class sizes could mean your child will have more of the teacher’s attention. However, bigger schools have their benefits too. A bigger school gives your child a larger pool of kids in which to find their groups of friends. A bigger school might also be able to offer more in terms of opportunities and extracurricular activities.
Make an appointment to visit the school and pay close attention to the facilities. Do they use up-to-date technology in the IT lab? Is the sports field well maintained? Look around the classrooms and ask questions about the facilities. Do the teachers have what they need to teach their subject effectively? Do the pupils have what they need to learn?
Schools can vary drastically in terms of how and what they teach. Although mainstream schools will usually teach the national curriculum, fee-paying schools might have a little more control over what subjects they teach. They might simply offer additional subjects or a sharper focus on creativity or sports. If you value the arts or have a sports-loving child, make sure you ask how much time will be devoted to these subjects.
Whether it is a public or private school, it will offer extracurricular activity for your child to get involved in. You might find fee-paying schools offer a wider selection of after-school programs, but your local public school could be punching above its weight when it comes to extracurricular offerings. Does the school have good facilities for sports and games? Are there plenty of musical instruments children can use? Find out how the school makes use of the facilities for extracurricular involvement.
Try to speak to current students and parents to find out the reality of extracurricular activity. Are places limited or can students participate in whatever they’d like to do? Are there additional costs for some activities?
Discipline and behaviour
It’s important to understand how the school handles behaviour. Does the school handle bad behaviour in such a way that the learning environment is protected and disruptiveness is kept to a minimum?
Are behavioural problems communicated to parents, allowing them to work with the school to bring about improvements? How are bullying and antisocial behaviour dealt with? Again, speak to current parents to find out whether or not they’re happy with the way the school handles problems and rewards effort. How does the school discourage bad behaviour and how does it encourage good behaviour?
Attend open days to meet the teachers. If possible, visit the school during teaching hours to see the staff in action. Are the staff the role models you want for your child? Do the pupils seem comfortable around the school staff? Are there high expectations in place for the staff as well as for the students? Are teachers able to create a positive learning environment for pupils? What is the staff turnover rate like?
Private school fees can soon add up, especially when you add in the cost of excursions, trips abroad and expensive uniforms. Ask the school for detailed costs upfront so you have a realistic idea of how much it costs to give your child a private education. Don’t forget to factor in the fees if you have more than one child in the school at the same time. Think, too, about the cost of your child travelling to and from school and how much the school canteen charges. Make sure you’re covering all the bases when thinking about school costs.
Choosing a school – finding the right fit
How you prioritise the factors listed above will depend on your family situation. Budget restraints might determine whether you look at both public and private schools. If your child is a gifted athlete, the school’s approach to sports could be a determining factor.
To choose the best school for your child, you should start looking at schools early. Don’t leave the decision until the last minute; instead, pay close attention to your local schools a few years before your child is due to enroll. Listen to the way the local community discusses the schools and, in particular, what parents have to say about their children’s experiences.
Speak to your partner and determine what the important factors are when it comes to choosing a school. Think about your expectations, your family values and which schools would be a good fit. Look at the wider school community and how the family might participate. Are there lots of family events and fundraisers you can get involved in?
You will also need to think about practicalities such as the length of the school day and whether the school offers wraparound care for working parents. Don’t underestimate the importance of convenience and practicality when you have a young family.
Make sure you also involve your child in the decision-making process. Their opinion matters when it comes to elementary school or middle school but it’s especially important when choosing a high school. Your children might be keen to attend the same school as their friends or to go to the local school they are already familiar with. Make sure you listen to their concerns and take them with you to any school visits so they can get a feel for the school.
If your child doesn’t get into your first choice of school
If your child isn’t offered a place at your first choice of school, there might be an appeal process in place. These processes vary between school districts, so you’ll need to contact your local school board to find out more.
If your child’s school place is dictated by the school district and your local school leaves a lot to be desired, try not to lose hope. Remember, home also plays an important role in your child’s education. Even if your children are in below-average school, you can help them get a good education by promoting and encouraging learning at home.