Importance of choosing a school
Choosing the right school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. While there is a lot of information available to help you decide, knowing what to consider when choosing a school is crucial.
The “right” school will impact positively on the child’s academic, social and emotional skills. It will prepare children for the world of work and create a platform for social interaction with a diverse group of classmates and potential friends. It is thus hardly surprising that many parents are ready to go the extra mile to see their children placed in the best school possible.
On the other hand parents quite often also make decisions about education based on their own experiences which might include tradition or family history. Family circumstances like convenience, time factors, care features, religious beliefs and financial circumstances amongst others also play a role.
This widely discussed topic has, over the years, drawn opinions from various educational specialists.
A study done by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (PISA 2104) across 26 countries indicated that the following factors are important to all parents and play a major role when it comes to the choosing of the “right” school:
- School quality: Academic achievement;
- Reputation, pleasant environment and safety;
- Distance from home to school;
- Finances and costs
- Religious philosophy and pedagogical approach.
Personally I believe that the following factors, as identified by educational specialists (McKay 2015) and as experienced personally, should be considered when it comes to finding the “right” school for your child:
- Costs – Public schools vs Private schools. When compared with public schooling, private schools have fees that are quite often not affordable. In both private and public schools, ask about the extra charges involved, such as camps and excursions, uniforms and sports uniforms, sporting equipment and additional academic material.
- School Registration and accreditation. Is the school registered with the Provincial Department of Education? All schools in South Africa must be registered to operate legally. In case of a Private School are they accredited with Umalusi?
- Curriculum followed and subjects offered. Do they offer the subjects needed to qualify for tertiary studies or for the child’s chosen career?
- Individual attention and class sizes. Is there a structured approach and commitment to cater for the individual academic needs of each student? What are the maximum class sizes and does it vary with the subject?
- Code of Conduct. Does the school have a formal Code of Conduct to support the implementation of discipline and appropriate behaviour? Are school rules clearly explained and communicated to children and parents alike?
- Social environment and socio economic background of other students. These make up the community your child will become part of. Do they come from a narrow or broad range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds?
- Physical facilities. Do the classrooms support the achievement of academic goals? What facilities are available for specialised subjects such as Information Technology, Visual Art and Physical Science? How much open space is there and how safe is it?
- School Management and academic staff. Are the teachers the kind of role models you want for your child? Do teacher-student relationships seem appropriate and relaxed? What is the staff turnover rate? Do the teachers spend extra time with students in such activities as mentoring and coaching?
- Extra-curricular activities. What activities are available to students outside the academic curriculum? Is there a program of camps and school trips? Are they compulsory and what costs are involved? Is there an opportunity to develop leadership qualities?
- Frequency and amount of homework. How much and what kind of homework is given to students? Is there a system of Homework Support available?
- Parent participation. In what ways are parents involved in making decisions about school policies? Is there a parent association? What kind of parental involvement does the school expect?
- Admissions policy. On what basis are students selected? Is there a waiting list? If you are planning to enrol your child into a private school, be aware that some schools have strict entry requirements – especially in the senior grades. To guarantee entry into a specific school, your child may need to commence at pre-primary or primary level.
- Uniforms. Is there a school uniform and what is the cost involved?
- Are all policies in writing and available to parents? Are there annual reports, regular newsletters and a school prospectus? How does the school communicate with parents?
Above all – make your child part of the decision making process. Listen to any concerns they might have and acknowledge their feelings. Then, when you have chosen a school and enrolled your child, celebrate together to give a positive start to the adventure you are about to embark on!
Compiled by JC Engelbrecht