A consideration of which high school your child will go to starts early, but by this time of year it is of particular concern to parents of Year 6 students. There will be competing factors in making this decision, which could include where you live, affiliations with your child’s primary school and encouragement from teachers, where siblings or friends attend or will attend high school, consideration of religion or values, what is said about the teaching staff and what subjects and activities are on offer at each school.
Parents now have more information at their fingertips than ever before, with resources such as My School and Facebook chat groups for parents, but often more information equals more confusion. In addition, no two children are the same and as parents know very well, what works for one child will not necessarily be the best choice for another.
How do you narrow down the options and gain clarity on the best fit for your child?
Dr Nicky Dulfer, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Melbourne suggests that there are more important considerations than the type of school (e.g. government, private, religious, international) unless your values are strong around one of these types. She states that the most important thing is that your child feels they belong, and this may simply be a matter of the school being part of the community you live in.
In addition, Dr Dulfer suggests looking at:
- The environment rather than the buildings – what does the environment say about what’s important at this school?
- The size of the school and how this impacts options versus comfort
- What pathways are on offer towards further education/job skills after high school ends?
We also asked My Academy’s Director, Rachel Dreier, for her top tips gained from the insights she hears from the education community, parents and students every day.
Rachel’s top 5 tips
The first thing I must mention is that there is no “perfect” school. With having to cater for such a wide variety of children it would be impossible for any school to achieve the “perfect” status. However, there is very likely a perfect school for your child. Here are 5 of my top tips when looking at which school to choose:
- Attend open days – there is such a vast range of schools in relatively small areas that it is worth going to the open days for all the schools you might be considering. See what facilities they have, and which ones best suit your child. If you have a child that loves sport and this school barely offers any sport, then you need to ask yourself if it is the right school for your child.
- Take your child with you when you do a tour – while being the parent does mean you get the final say in where your child attends school, it is not you that has to go there every day. Your child will have an opinion on schools they look around, some will be positive and some will be negative. These opinions are worth listening to for a smooth transition into high school. This is also a good time to see how the students at the school are interacting with the staff and other students – do their attitudes reflect what you have fostered in your own child?
- Ask as many questions as you can –it might be that you feel you do not want to interrogate the person giving the tour of a school. However, the more you ask, the more informed you will feel about the school and that will always make the decision easier, as well as helping with any anxiety around making the right choice.
- Doing your own research –with the introduction of the My School website there is now endless information about schools on top of what you will find on their own websites. Do remember that great results do not necessarily mean a great school – they might simply have had an amazing cohort coming through the school. Make sure you meet the Principal during your research and see if you feel that what they are saying aligns with the impression you have already perceived about the school.
- Avoid the playground grapevine – every child is very different and what you are looking at for your child might not be what another parent is looking at for their child. It is easy to hear negative or positive opinions about a school and take it as gospel. Again, this could simply be that one parent is looking for purely academic results from a school while you are looking for an amazing arts programme.
Finally, please remember that the decision you make now is not cast in stone. There is nothing educationally wrong with changing high schools should you discover that the school is not suitable for your child, as long as it is not an annual event!
It’s most important to understand that students can excel at any school.Studies show that many factors affect a child’s performance at school besides what is offered there – things like cultural background, parent expectations, home life, level of health and daily physical activity, personality, resiliency skills and confidence, and level of involvement in the child’s learning by family members and community.
More important than facilities, subjects and even teaching styles is how your child feels at school. A big part of this is fostering a feeling of calm and confidence through open communication and acknowledgement of interests and concerns your child may have.