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Choosing a school for your child: How to make the decision

Choosing a school begins with evaluating your child's educational needs. If your child already attends school, are they happy and doing well academically? If so, you'll probably want to look for a similar school. But if your child seems restless, bored or inattentive, try to work out why. Would a more disciplined or flexible atmosphere - or a school with special programmes - suit your child's needs better? Here are some ways to evaluate your child's educational needs:

  • Look at what kind of learner your child is. Children who like to explore independently may flourish at a school that encourages self-directed learning. Students who need more supervision and guidance may do better in a more traditional setting.
  • Ask your child what he likes most and least about his current school. Does he feel there is anything that would make it easier for him to learn?
  • Talk to your child's teachers. Is your child having trouble in any areas? Ask teachers what kind of setting would bring out the best in your child.

When you are ready to begin the selection process, you can gather information in the following ways:

  • Make a list of what schools interest you and ask them for a copy of their prospectus. This will provide basic details about the school.
  • If the school has had a recent Ofsted Inspection (Office for Standards in Education) you may like to see their report. Copies of reports can be found in your local library, the school itself, on www.ofsted.gov.uk or are available from LifeWorks.
  • Talk to estate agents. If you plan to move area, estate agents may be able to advise you on which schools are popular.

State or private school

Whether to send your child to state or private school is a very personal choice. Cost may play a big role in your decision. Public schools generally provide the most convenient option. Although their quality varies, all public school teachers must meet very specific certification requirements. Remember to begin your research early because private schools may accept applications during only a few months of the year.

Visiting a school

One of the best ways to get a true picture of a school is to visit it yourself. If possible, go while children are having lessons and try to sit in on some. (You can usually arrange this by calling the school secretary and saying you'd like to observe in a classroom.) If your child is older, it's a good idea to take him along too. Don't be afraid to take this opportunity to ask any questions you may have, including those of particular interest to you or your child. If you need extra guidance, LifeWorks can provide lists of questions to ask Headteachers as well as other parents.

What to look for at the school

There are certain things to look out for within the school itself:

  • The library. Do the materials match the ages of the pupils? Are they up-to-date?
  • The building. Are the school building and the outside areas clean and neat? Does the school feel comfortable and safe?
  • Outdoor play and athletic space. Does the outdoor play and athletic space have separate areas for younger and older children? Are the play surfaces and equipment safe?
  • Indoor activity space. Are there appropriate places for activities such as music, physical education, art and school performance?
  • Classrooms. Are the textbooks and other learning materials current? Are the rooms cheerful and clean? Are displays at a child's level? Is there up-to-date equipment, such as computers?
  • Students. Do the pupils seem interested and enthusiastic about what they are doing? Are students of different backgrounds and abilities working well together in the classroom?
  • Teachers. How do the teachers deal with pupils? Do they seem enthusiastic? Do they praise and encourage students? How do they handle disruptions?

Most of these questions don't have a 'right' answer, but asking them may help you get the information you need to make the right decision about a school. There is no such thing as the 'best' school. Look for a school that comes closest to meeting the particular needs of your child and family.

LifeWorks can be extremely helpful in the process of school selection - we can search for schools in a local area, send out copies of Ofsted reports, advise on the selection process and assist with any complaints to schools.

Contact Ceridian for more information on our Employee Assistance Programme, LifeWorks, and the variety of services it offers.

  • 1st December 2006
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