We recently wrote about how parents can best compare schools according to their academic merit. Of course, most parents will want to choose schools according to a broader range of merits than the purely academic. What should they do?
A family conversation
We would recommend that parents start by sitting down and contemplating a few fundamental questions. Little real progress can be made without doing so, and such conversations help families to avoid choosing schools on their ‘brand value’ alone.
Such questions would include:
- What is the most important thing about your child’s education? How important is character education vs. the more narrow demands of university and career preparation? What sort of person do you hope your child will be after 2 or 5 or even 7 years at the school?
- What are your ‘red-lines’? Must it be a boarding school? Single-sex or co-educational? A levels or IB?
- How important will the location of the school be to the family? Are there other children at further-flung schools? Does the path to the school gates intersect a hideous commuter artery?
- What are your more specific generic preferences? Do you want a campus? Chapel or a thought-for-the-day? The old school tie? Do you mind if the school has few international students?
- Outside of academic pursuits, what is your child most keen on getting involved in whilst at school? Does the school cater for it?
Which resources are most useful?
Getting to know the very reality of daily life within a school is nigh-on impossible. Whose reality? The academiz whizz will often have a different perspective on school life than the brawny 1st XV titan. Discussion about individual schools is bedevilled by prejudice, anecdote and the threat of litigation. With this caveat fully understood, the eager parent should nonetheless find the below of some use:
- Start by asking friends, relatives and of course their children who attend the schools you are interested in. Remember that many teenagers may not be forthcoming about the positives of their school days, though their insights might nonetheless be illustrative.
- Interrogate the schools’ websites in detail. The less prominent pages (e.g. News sections, extracurricular clubs etc.) can reveal the life of a school more than a platitudinous homepage. Have a read of the school’s ISI / OFSTED reports if you have the stomach.
- We think Anke’s blog on London schools is the best: honest and balanced testimony driven by a mother’s genuine desire to investigate school options for her children.
- The great authority is the Good Schools Guide, which has been written for almost 30 years and has a full roster of experts.
- Pithier, more irreverent – but perhaps occasionally a little too trivialising – is the Tatler Schools Guide.
- Mumsnet provides the internet equivalent of listening to two parents letting loose over a cup of coffee. Caution advised (think: what could be motivating this parent to go online and talk about a school?) but can be illustrative. In a similar vein, we shall no doubt see more user-generated advisory sites in years to come, as well as other websites such as this one: http://www.schoolreviewer.co.uk/
- Parents may also want to go a bit more macro and read reflections by luminary heads like Tony Little, or histories of individual schools such as Christopher Tyerman’s of Harrow.
As will be obvious from a look at their websites, many of the above offer their own independent advisory services. Keystone, likewise, offers its own advisory service – and can also make recommendations about other educational consultants. We wrote this press release on some of the dangers involved in using some consultants who charge schools commission.
As ever, get in touch with Keystone for more information.