Once our children start school, it’s a place they spend half their waking hours throughout the school week. As parents, we need to make sure that we are choosing a school that adequately caters to their needs, and provides them with the best chance of being happy and successful young people.
Sadly, choosing a school is one of the decisions parents feel pressured to make very early. Regardless of whether you are a fan of elite private schooling, public schooling, or schooling governed by a religious body, it is paramount that your decision is driven by what your child needs. What is difficult, and I would say sad and unfortunate, is that often parents feel pressured to make this decision before they could possibly know what their child will need in their first year of school.
Before I provide considerations when deciding on a school, I want to make it extremely clear that another decision you have is the decision to choose when your child starts school. In Queensland it is compulsory for a child to complete Prep before they move to Year 1. Children must be 5 by the 30th of June in the year that they enrol. Parents can apply for either early or delayed entry if they choose. Early entry would not be my recommendation, regardless of how ‘ready’ a child may seem. Delaying your child’s entry to school is definitely something I would consider, particularly if you have a son. Much early childhood research suggests that when they start school, boys are known to be six to eighteen months behind girls. With the recent push down of formalised learning, and a reduction in play based learning, it’s no wonder children who do not experience success, form negative mindsets that lead to false perceptions of self, which sadly often become self-fulfilling prophesies. I see this in my almost 14 year old son. He was a June baby and began school at four. Had I been aware of and felt empowered to make the choice to keep him out of school for another year, I would have. I know now that would have been to his advantage as I fight for him to recognise his abilities and self-worth. Please know that this is a choice you have and that the research suggests delaying school can have an overwhelmingly positive effect and is highly unlikely to have a negative impact.
The decision people seem most concerned about is which school. You need to choose a school that suits your child and their needs, but also one that suits your family and its needs. Of course, practicality and convenience need to be considered. Because of all of these things, there isn’t a simple formula to be applied and voila the decision is made. However, the decision may be more streamlined if you follow this decision making process: Practicality; know my child; find a school that suits my child. I am an advocate for this process rather than the process that leaves a child struggling to make themselves fit with a school that’s just not on their page, or parents finding the perfect school and then experiencing the associated guilt when they find their choice is simply not practical. In terms of practicality you’ll need to consider location and travel arrangements, cost and affordability, outside school hours care and so on. Parents don’t seem to find these things difficult to consider. Your first task is to compile a list of schools that fit your practical requirements.
In terms of what’s best for your child, there is a whole host of things to consider and prioritise. It’s always best to begin by thinking about your child, rather than thinking about the school. So, with your child in mind, ask yourself these questions: What is their personality? What kind of environments do they thrive in? What are their strengths? Their interests? Their needs? How do they learn best? What makes them feel safe and comfortable? What makes them happy? How do they like to be challenged and extended? If your child has attended day care or kindergarten or has had a nanny or some other form of pre-schooling education, ask for insight from their other carers to help you answer these questions. From here, write a list of things that would benefit your child. Some things to consider are: Co-educational or single sex; large or small school/class size; friends from pre-school, kindergarten or day care; facilities such as sport, art, music, science, technology, even air-conditioning/heating; extra-curricular opportunities; opportunities for extension or additional support; clear and frequent communication between home and school; and structured and purposeful transition programs. Next, you’ll need prioritise this list. Which things are most important for your child?
Now you have a list of schools that are appropriately practical, and a list of required and desired qualities that you’re looking for in a school for your child. It’s time to play match maker. Research the schools on your practical list and order them according to how well they address your list of required and desired qualities. In the end, at a minimum you’ll have a well research shortlist and you’ll be confident that these schools will provide your child with the best chance of success, and will work in with your family’s practical requirements.
About the Author
Gabrielle left her job as an Assistant Principal in a secondary school to follow her dream of making a difference to future generations by teaching emotional intelligence. To supplement this, she worked as a secondary relief teacher, she tutor school students as well as adults from non-English speaking backgrounds, and she is a freelance writer who intermittently ghost writes blogs for websites other than her own. As a hobby she write books. She have written a children’s book that won 3rd prize in the CYA Conference in 2016 that is currently being illustrated, and she is in the midst of working on a Young Adult novel. She is a parent, but it is not what defines her. She blogs at www.quartsandall.com about her life as a mother of four boys, and the topics she write about are varied.