Choosing a school is one of the biggest decisions parents make for their children, and one they often feel they have to get perfect.

Most of the time parents are making this decision years before their child will start at the school, so the indecision can be crippling and make the whole process longer than it needs to be. If you’re in the middle of this and not sure what to look, for I’ve got five questions that will help you to narrow the field and make a decision based on what’s really important.

I have previously written an article on what to do if your child doesn’t seem to be settling into their school, which is a topic I also wrote about for Kidspot. But in this one, we’re taking a step back to the beginning of the decision making process.

From the conversations I’ve had with friends over the years, parents make decisions about what school to send their children to, based on these things:

  • How close the school is to home
  • How easily a young person can get to and from school
  • If the child will have friends or siblings going there too
  • If the school is co-educational or single sex
  • Whether the school offers extra-curricular activities and what expectations are placed on that
  • The academic results of the school
  • Curriculum choices that are available at that school
  • The quality of facilities and the overall environment
  • The “feel” or culture of the school that they observe during open days, or from seeing the school and it’s current students over time
  • The cost of school fees
  • Other entry requirements, like having a religious affiliation
  • Any family history with the school

That’s an overwhelming list when you’re in the thick of it and feeling overwhelmed by all the information, so let’s look at five questions you can arm yourself with when you’re on the hunt.

5 questions parents should consider when weighing up school options for their kids

5 questions to guide parents when choosing a school

Most parents will put a lot of thought into choosing a school, starting with a look around their website before actually making a visit. There are plenty of websites you can check out to get extra information about a school, and of course you will often find parents with kids already at the school to ask a few questions of, as well. Once you’ve gathered all this information, I suggest you ask these five questions:

  1. Is it easy to access? We thought our kids would get themselves to school when they started high school and made sure there was a reasonable public transport route to use. In reality, with after and before school activities a couple of times each week, I ended up driving back and forth to the school almost every day. Be mindful of how getting the kids to and from school is going to impact on your life as a family. Some schools do offer minibus services that take kids to and from school every single day, and while this does require them to look for cheap minibus insurance, it can solve a lot of the transport related problems that parents have to deal with.
  2. Does it offer things my child is interested in? Schools offer so much these days, with different study pathways, lots of different subjects and a range of sporting, social and cultural activities. Look for three or four things about a particular school that you think your kids would really enjoy getting involved in.
  3. Can I live with the academic results the school gets? Many parents make this the most important question, but academic results are just one of the things that your child is going to finish school with. The best schools are going to develop your child holistically, as a human being and a student, so look for a school that has good results but don’t put more weight on it than other aspects of school life.
  4. Does the school have a nice feel about it? The school years pass really quickly, but any school you choose is likely to be a big part of your life while your kids are there. When you visit the school, have a wander around the grounds, visit the big spaces and look in some different classrooms. Talk to staff and some of the students to see if you like the culture of the school, as well as it’s physical space.
  5. Could I live with my child being like the kids I see from this school? Open days at a school tend to present a polished image of the school, but how do the students from that school behave at the train station or local shopping centre? Kids tend to want to follow the crowd, so the behaviour you see in current students could be exactly what you get from your child once they attend there.

No school is going to be perfect, so it’s important to make the best choice that fits for your family as things stand today and be prepared to change that decision later on. I know lots of parents will put their kids names down at a number of schools and wait until much closer to the time to make a firm decision. Personally, I’ve always felt that it has given our kids a certainty to know where they are going and to start building an identity with that school before they even get there. Having them buy into the idea is half the battle of getting kids settled into a new school.

So if you’re shopping for a school, then take some time to not only look at the surface like the facilities and results, but to look underneath at the culture and organisation that drives the school towards those things. If you use the five questions, you’ll narrow your choice right down to those schools that are likely to be a place for your kids to thrive and discover their strengths, talents and a few lifelong friends as well.

Do you have some other questions that you use when making this decision? I’d love you to share them in the comments section below.

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