How to make the most of school Open Days
Open days are a great way of finding out about a school you may be considering sending your son or daughter to, but what questions should you be asking to get the most your of your visit
When it comes to choosing a suitable independent school who should decide – you or your eleven year old? Looking at a schools prospectus or website may help, word of mouth from other parents may give you the inside track but the best way is to visit the schools you are considering and form your own opinion. Open Days are a great way to get a feel for a place and you will also have the opportunity to ask questions directly to staff and students.
“Do visit as many schools as possible but do your homework before you visit,” advises Louise Robinson, Head of Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School and former President of the Girls’ Schools Association. “Look at the school’s website, send for a prospectus and school magazine and read the latest ISI or Ofsted inspection report.”
There is no doubt that independent school pupils achieve excellent exam results, with 60.4% of GCSE and IGCSE entries achieving A* or A in 2013. Each independent school will have its specialisms whether it’s academic excellence for high flyers, brilliance on the sports field or fabulous music, drama or art departments. Have a good look at the school facilities – are they of good quality and well cared for? Not every school will have the best of everything, but each will have its particular strengths so bear in mind your son or daughter’s unique talents when you are sizing up the library, drama studio or sports fields.
Deciding between a single-sex or mixed school is an important thing to consider. And if you are thinking of boarding your child, be sure to visit the boarding house and find out what after-school activities and pastoral care is provided.If your child has special educational needs or a disability, make sure you ask about extra support, specialist staff and appropriate facilities.
As you walk round a school, think about your child. Can you imagine them fitting into this sort of community? Is this a place they could thrive in? Pupils’ appearance and manners can tell you a lot about the values of a school and the type of young adults that will develop in its care. Are the relationships between the staff and pupils friendly but respectful? Ask pupils what they like best about the school – does this tie in with what you are seeking for your child?
Ask teachers how pupils are selected and who would flourish at this particular school. What is staff turnover like? Too low and there could be stagnation; too rapid and something may be amiss. How big are classes? Are pupils streamed by ability? How involved are parents with the school?
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While there is no right or wrong answer to these questions, the replies you get will help you to understand the school’s ethos and decide if this is the right school for your child.
Remember an Open Day is an opportunity for a school to show itself off so you should be impressed but not overawed. If you and your child like what you see and hear, your next step should be to make an appointment to see the Head.
Advice from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA)
Independent Schools Council (isc.co.uk) represents 1,200 independent schools
Girls School Association (gsa.uk.com) represents independent girls’ school in the UK
MyDaughter.co.uk offers independent on line advice for parents with daughters
Independent Schools Inspectorate (isi.net) a Government approved inspectorate responsible for the inspection of Association independent schools
goodschoolsguide.co.uk covers some 30,000 schools and is a useful tool if you don’t know the area