Since I announced the plan for our family to relocate interstate I have received a lot of enquiries and questions regarding where my daughter will be attending school. While people are interested in what happens to Raya I think the question a lot of people are really interested in is “how does a teacher pick a school for their child?” and “can you tell us the best way to choose a school for our child?” It’s a bit like watching a real estate agent buy a house or a make-up artist do their own makeup. We all pay attention when someone in the industry is doing the work.
So today on the blog are some of my thoughts around choosing a school for my child.
When it comes to choosing a school for your child unfortunately I do not have a magic wand or formula to guarantee that you will be thrilled to pieces with your school selection. Crap I lost some of you right then didn’t I. Your going to stop reading. Ok, well for those who are still with me, just like raising kids there is no tried and true method. All children are different and the families they exist within are all different too. No surprises there.
However choosing a school is a big deal. Our children spend so much of their life in the school environment that the place we choose for them has a significant impact on the people they turn out to be. It is our responsibility as those who care for them to make an informed decision.
Right I want to get informed you think – but how on earth do I do that!
Recently on Facebook I asked the question of how some of the blog readers here chose a school for their child. As expected the responses were varied although some themes were consistent. The major reasons nominated were:
The current trend seems to be parents championing the local school and so they should. My daughter has been attending a brilliant, local public school. Being part of the school community and wider local community that surrounds the school can be an important opportunity for students to build bonds. When parents ask me about school selection I would always suggest they begin their search with investigating what the local school has to offer. Having playdates close by and a network of mums and dads for carpooling to sport practice can be a godsend.
Faith or Religion
For other parents the issue of religion being taught in the school is the main reason for enrollment. Comments such as “as long as it is was a Catholic school we were happy” can be heard. Swap out Catholic for Anglican or even Muslim and for parents who want faith intertwined with their educational philosophy the choice is fairly clear cut.
Some parents choose a school based on the reputation it has for academic excellence. I personally find this attitude a little hard to swallow but this absolutely is still the deal breaker for parents. I should know, my parents sent me to a selective highschool. Parents who are focused on the academic results are usually interested in NAPLAN data and extension opportunities for children who are gifted, talented or gifted and talented.
When there are plenty of choices sometimes it can feel simple to follow the pattern of a close family member or friend. Their child is happy there so mine will be too, right? Looking at a lot of different schools, choosing the same school on a personal recommendation can be positive and negative. Make sure you ask about the motivations of your friend of family member and see if they have the same vision of what makes a good school in mind.
Personal Choice/ Other
The fifth major reason could be thought of as Parental Choice. Parents may wish for their children to go out of area to a school that their children’s cousins attend, or they attended as a child. Attending a prestigious private/independent school may be a family tradition. Parents may also want their children educated with the Steiner Philosophy or the Montessori Method. Perhaps the family wishes for their child to attend a school with a bilingual program. All of these options are parental choice. In Australia make no mistake, parents will pay for the privilege of independent choice. I do not believe you are paying for an improved education necessarily. You are paying for the right to make a choice. Beyond the parental choice there are no more guarantees of happiness then the local public school.
Can you identify yourself in one of the above options? I will openly say that for my husband and I were fell into the Personal Choice category. We sought out a highly reputable, independant alternative school for our daughter. Yes it will be expensive and yes we are paying for the privilege of choice. Yes we consider ourselves fortunate to be in a position to do so.
But the choice was made not because they had the most impressive school uniform (in fact there is no school uniform). We weren’t looking for swimming pools, gymnastic centres or cricket pitches.
The way we chose our school, and that I would encourage other parents to do is by looking at the schools’ hidden curriculum.
You might be thinking what on earth is the hidden curriculum. Let me explain
When our children attend school there is a formal curriculum that they follow. The formal curriculum is what is included in the syllabus. The maths, literacy, science and visual arts lessons. The content that is tested and assessed and reported on. Measurable data that can be presented in a graph.
However ask anyone who has been through school and they will answer that you learn more at school then just the formal content. This unspoken social, cultural and emotional content is what makes up the hidden curriculum. And this is where many parents have issues with the school they have selected. When kids are asked if they are happy at school it is usually issues with the hidden curriculum that are causing problems for the child.
Now I should mention that the hidden curriculum can certainly spread the same messages as the formal curriculum but is can also easily teach students something opposite and display the hypocrisy that can occur within educational institutions.
The hidden curriculum is often what shapes policies in independent schools and in government schools while the policies are fairly standard across the schools as they are department policies, the implementation is influenced by the hidden curriculum.
The cultural issues may relate to the expectations put on kids. Do all classrooms have the same expectations? What degree of flexibility is there in assessment and reporting? What kind of achievement gets rewarded? Does the school foster competition or cooperation? Academic achievement and these school culture expectations can be strongly linked to student self worth so are important for parents to examine. Does the school uphold a strict dress code or does it support personal expression? What message does this send the students about the importance of their personal appearance?
Other cultural issues are diversity. Does the school honor the benefits of a diverse community? Do all groups feel welcome in the school? Are publications and signs in various languages? Are varied opportunities presented to students so they are exposed to diversity in more than tokenistic ways.
Does the school encourage or strictly monitor conformity or is creativity and free spirit celebrated. How is bias or predjudical behaviours dealt with in the school? Do children learn that questioning, initiative and self direction are things to be punished or rewarded.
How does the school structure it’s classes. Are classes streamed based on ability? Are students with disabilities welcomed and integrated into the school experience?
As you can see there are plenty of questions that arise when the hidden curriculum is examined. EVERY single school has a hidden curriculum. From the most expensive school in the state to your local school around the corner.
What parents should be looking for, I believe as an educator and parent, is a school which is striving to make their hidden curriculum transparent to parents. A school that is not afraid to address their practices. Often schools can work on “we have always done it this way” method and behaviours become to entrenched that schools do not think to examine them.
Go for a tour of the school with the principal but can I give you a tip – you can sometimes learn more on a tour of the school from a year 2 kid. Yes have an interview but ask to discuss policy implementation and identify those which are common hiccups for families. See how receptive schools are to the questioning? Check out the school motto and read the current newsletters. Does the school talk the talk and walk the walk?
Aligning yourself with a school that supports the same values that you uphold in your family allows for consistency and increases the likelihood of parents and teachers working collaboratively, in partnership, to maximise the success of the students.