What parents should know when choosing a high school
RACHEL DOHERTY
Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen
If you’re at that parenting stage of choosing a high school for your kids, it helps to have a process. After all, it’s a big decision!

The final choice you make depends on where you live and where your kids can get to. For some people, that will leave you with few options. But for people who live in the city and have some money, the choice can seem overwhelming.

Our kids went to a primary school where they went off to about 10 different high schools. The choices were endless. Public, private, coeducational, single sex, big, small… you name it and we could have it.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

With more choice comes more pressure to get it right. There’s a sense that you can get this wrong and stuff your kids up for life.

But choosing a high school doesn’t need to be like that. It doesn’t need to be a high-stakes decision. Sure it could make your child happier, or give them some advantages later on, but every high school will get them ready for the adult world. Whether they like it or not.

So when it comes to choosing a high school, it starts with knowing what you’re looking for, searching for evidence and then weigh up the options. Here’s how.

What kids get out of high school

There are five things kids take with them when they leave high school:

  1. Their academic results. Whether kids finish school or not, do well or just scrape by, their results are only one of the things kids leave with.
  1. Friends. The friends our kids make in high school will help set them up in their adult life.
  1. Life skills. Like it or not, once kids leave school they get to decide what their life looks like. Being able to navigate the adult world comes down to having the right life skills.
  1. A reputation. How kids are seen at high school often accompanies them into the adult world. They take on board what others think of them and what think that themselves.
  1. A sense of where they fit in the world. Life after school is a “choose your own adventure”, with kids being able to put together a life of their own choosing. Being able to do that requires kids to have a sense of who they are, what their likes are, how they learn and work, and what the possibilities are. It doesn’t have to be fully formed, but they should be starting to work out what their life after school will look like.

If these are the things children finish school with, it makes sense to use these as a guide for choosing that high school in the first place.

“Education is the progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” – Will Durant

Weighing up school options

If you base your choice of high school on the five things kids get out of it, you have to be willing to accept that not every high school will suit every child. That some kids will thrive in one school while others will find it stifling. And that goes for siblings too.

Before making a choice, it’s important to gather some information.

Visit the school on a regular day. Open days can often give you an impression when they’re on their best behaviour. Get a feel for what the students think of their school. The school’s culture and the atmosphere or the classrooms.

Ask others who have kids there what they think of the school. What they love and hate about it. Find out from kids at other schools what they think of the kids who go there too.

Have a flick around on the school’s website. What options do they offer in the later years? What are the special parts of their program that they highlight? Knowing whether it’s a very academic school or has a lot of pathways can help you work out if it’s a good fit for your child.

For more ideas on what to look for, read my earlier article on choosing schools. It has a list of questions to guide your research in a handy checklist you can print out.

Once you have some information it’s then time to make a choice.

How to choose a high school

So many kids change schools these days, that you shouldn’t feel you’re locked in to your choice forever. Choosing a high school is about making the best decision at the time. Based on what you know of the school and your child.

When choosing a high school, there are five factors that you should weigh up in your choice:

  1. Location. Travelling back and forth to school is a big commitment for kids, but it could be for you as well. Weigh up the distance your kids will have to travel, how they’ll get there, and what burden it will be for you all.
  1. Cost. Whether you go public or private, all schools have cost money. When you add up all the costs, it can often be just as expensive to go to a public school as a private one. Look deeper than the fees.
  1. Subject choice. The size of the school will usually determine how many subjects they offer, particularly in the senior school years. Having a good range gives kids plenty of choice to do the subjects they need to and find a couple for fun as well.
  1. The extras. For some kids, choosing a school will come down to what happens outside of the classroom. Sports, camps, music programs, support or extension activities and school trips can all make one school a better choice for you child.
  1. Where friends are. Knowing someone on the first day can make a big difference. There’s some comfort in knowing people you can turn to when you’re feeling lost or lonely.

Each of these factors has a different weighting for different families and different kids.

It’s a matter of deciding which school has the best fit for your family’s needs and is likely to provide the best outcomes for each child. Outcomes like their final results, the friends they make, their reputation, the life skills they develop and their sense of belonging in the grown up world.

If you choose a high school based on these things, you’re going to make a good choice. No matter what adventures lie ahead.

Are there other factors you think are important when choosing a high school? I’d love you to share your tips!

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