Everybody wants to send their children to the best possible school. Education – especially in the early years – makes a huge difference to a child’s prospects in life. Although we tend to think of the brain as complete at birth, it remains flexible for some years, so the quality of education affects not only what children learn but also what they can learn in future years. In effect, it can make them more intelligent. What is a good education, is it the same for every child, and how can you make the right choice for yours?
Factors to consider
Finding the right school isn’t just about looking at league tables that tell you what grades pupils there are getting. There are a number of other important factors to consider, including the following:
- Location – Will your child be able to get to and from school safely without supervision? How much time will be spent on travel? Remember that walking is a great form of exercise.
- Specialisms – Some schools specialise in particular subjects. If your child has an unusual talent or a strong interest in one area, this could help to develop it and to make school fun.
- Support – Can the school provide for any special needs that your child has? If your child is really struggling with a particular subject, will extra help be available?
- Social opportunities – Is the atmosphere of the school friendly and welcoming? Does your child feel at ease there and find it easy to make friends?
- Extra-curricular activities – How much opportunity is there for pupils to engage in sports, crafts, language learning or hobbies outside normal school hours?
- Reputation – The weight attached to a school’s name can sometimes make all the difference when your child goes on to apply for a university place or a job.
- Moral environment – Education isn’t just about knowledge but also about wisdom, so you’ll want to make sure that the school you choose has the right values and priorities.
- Cost – If you choose a private school, you’ll need to make sure that you can afford the fees. Even if you don’t, you’ll need to think about the cost of things such as uniforms, trips and books.
With all these factors to consider, you may well find that what’s important to you differs from what’s important to your child. You’ll need to talk about your concerns carefully, make sure that you each understand why the other feels that way, and work together to strike the right balance.
You can then start thinking about the type of school that’s likely to be best.
Run by local councils, community schools are usually the easiest to get a place at, with their selection criteria mainly based on location. They follow the national curriculum, so it’s easy to keep track of what’s being taught there. Because they don’t select by ability, they may leave brighter children feeling frustrated, but on the other hand, because they bring together children of different abilities from different backgrounds, they are a good place to learn social skills applicable to the wider world.
A board of governors runs foundation schools and is responsible for land, buildings, staff and pupil selection. Kingsdale Foundation School in Southwark caters to secondary-level pupils and has a particularly good record of improving performance, so those who might not have been high achievers at earlier stages still stand a high chance of getting good grades. This type of school is a good choice where it suits the individual child’s needs.
Religious or faith schools are run as voluntary-aided schools; they are run in a similar way to foundation schools but usually by a charity or religious institution. They’re the normal choice for parents who want to ensure their children grow up with a particular set of religious values, but some parents choose them simply because they have a reputation for instilling good behaviour and getting good grades. Critics argue that they may limit children’s perspectives and sometimes let down girls or LGBT pupils.
Local authorities with the support of charities, businesses or community organisations run these schools. They generally select by location but differ from community schools in that they tend to focus on a particular set of values, whether moral or entrepreneurial. Like foundation schools, they tend to be a good choice where they match the needs of an individual child.
There’s a lot to think about when choosing a school, but if you take your time, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to find somewhere that really improves your children’s learning and gives them a great experience.