Visiting the School of Your Choice
Despite the title of this article, most parents will actually visit several schools before making a final decision on the one school - or schools- they wish their child to apply for. Often this final list will still include a few schools, since many schools are over-subscribed, particularly academically selective schools, so it is useful to have several schools to choose between. With this in mind, an open day visit will need to be carefully planned, to enable parents and children to see how each school best fulfils individual needs and academic ability.
When to VisitMost independent schools organise open days and evenings when it's possible to view the school with many other prospective parents, and also attend organised talks by people such as the headteacher, class teachers and students. These will be advertised in local newspapers and on schools' websites. It's a good idea to take your child with, so they too can get a feel for a new school and don't feel too daunted about the prospect of changing schools, or starting their schooling. Alongside these organised open days, it is also a good idea to try and see your favourite school on a normal school day, when the school is fully operating and your guide will be able to show you classes in progress.
Who to Talk to at a Prospective SchoolBefore visiting a school, it's a good idea to write down a list of questions or concerns to address. If possible, try to speak to a range of people who work at the school, including the headteacher and class or subject teachers. In a boarding school you should especially try to speak to those in charge of pastoral care, such as a head of house. Try to speak to pupils, but ask them about the topics they know about. So don't focus on the school's pastoral provisions - save that to ask a teacher - and instead quiz them about things like the quality of school lunches, how much homework is received on weeknights and weekends, good, bad and boring teachers. It's also a good idea to talk to parents of pupils - you might find track them down at the school or alternatively you might be able to contact via an organisation like the school's Parent Teacher Association, the PTA.
On the VisitDon't feel overwhelmed by a huge, organised open day: many involve things like choir recitals, sports demonstrations and lessons in progress - remember this is each school showing off, on its best behaviour.The headteacher will usually give a talk about their school. Listen carefully, and read between the lines if possible: the headteacher will create the school's atmosphere and ethos, so look at their interaction with staff, as well as that between staff and pupils.
Pay careful attention to body language of everyone working in and outside the school. If pupils are smiling in lessons, they're enjoying themselves and will then work harder. If the school gardener or dinner lady talks with students, the whole school community is likely to be a friendly and welcoming place. When observing lessons, consider the pace of the teaching, and whether that rate is suitable for your child.