Starting early and knowing what to ask are key, says Fiona McKenzie
The school you choose for your child can be life-changing. So it’s no surprise that many parents, faced with such a significant, emotional decision, seek professional guidance and advice from independent experts, such as Carfax Education. But what advice and guidance do we provide?
A personal approach
First, it’s important to establish that every child is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ perfect school. We take time to get to know the family and the child, to understand their aspirations and the child’s personality. We recommend academic assessments to build a clear picture of the child’s aptitudes and help us gauge the right learning environment, or whether they need more support to achieve a place at their target schools. We’ll ask whether anything is non-negotiable. For example, should we consider only day or boarding schools? Single sex or co-ed? Rigorously academic, traditional schools, or those with a more all-round, progressive approach? Is the child arty, sporty or musical? How important is the location?
An early search
It’s crucial to start planning early. Too often our advisers meet parents who have identified the perfect school for their child but then discover that they have missed registration and assessment deadlines. Highly selective schools want to meet prospective pupils when they are aged eight or nine, even though they won’t take up their place until they are 13. The curriculum is another key decision. Two of the most respected and most commonly chosen are British A-levels and the International Baccalaureate programme (IB). Both are rigorously academic, but there are differences. A-levels offer the opportunity to specialise in three or four subjects, while IB is broader.
We draw up a list of schools to visit. We encourage parents to visit in person during term time, to feel the atmosphere, see the facilities, see pupils’ work and speak to teachers. We also provide a list of questions to ask about pastoral care, how schools deal with certain situations, what life is like for boarders, and what schools are doing to prepare their charges for life. This can be a daunting and confusing time, but with the right assistance it can be negotiated hugely successfully.
As our latest Schools Index shows, a research project we undertook with Spear’s, all corners of the globe are filled with top-class schools. We can make sure you find the right one for you as a parent and, most importantly, for your unique child.
Fiona McKenzie is head of education at the Carfax Education Group