How to choose the right school, right now

Jason Slack, head of foundation at King's School Macclesfield
Photo: Mike Carter

Jason Slack, head of foundation at King's School Macclesfield Photo: Mike Carter - Credit: Archant

Choosing the correct school for your child is not easy under normal circumstances, says Jason Slack, newly appointed Head of Foundation at the King’s School, Macclesfield, but during a pandemic there are additional challenges

A CGI aerial view of the new school and grounds at King's Macclesfield

A CGI aerial view of the new school and grounds at King's Macclesfield - Credit: Archant

Traditional wisdom suggests visiting the school during a school day and talking with existing pupils. Of course, none of this is possible during the current circumstances. The result is that choosing the right school for your child has become even more challenging. So, given the importance of the decision, how can parents gain information in the current circumstances to make the right decision for their own children?

Visit the school out of hours

Most schools are having to adapt and accept small numbers of visitors after school or at weekends. No current pupils should be around but admissions staff or teachers may act as tour guides. Look for evidence of pupil engagement; work on the walls, piles of exercise books ready to be marked, science equipment being tidied away for example.

Talk to the admissions staff

Preferably this should happen ‘in person’ and perhaps during the after-hours tour or at least over the phone. And don’t be shy! Difficult questions such as investment in ICT during the lockdown period, and how many ‘live lessons’ took place across a screen, are important not just for the content of the response but the manner of the response. All schools have found it hard and if you hear anything different then be suspicious. Schools should be transparent and accept that they aren’t always perfect. Having humility is a key attribute that schools should teach and ‘practising what they preach’ is important.

Ask what positive lessons have been learnt during lockdown

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It has been tough but it’s not all bad news. Schools should have learnt some really positive lessons over the last six months. Using online resources such as Teams, Show My Homework and Firefly will have a lasting impact and application way beyond the pandemic. Having a greater emphasis on outdoor education and valuing the outdoors as a teaching resource should also figure highly in any future curriculum developments.

Check out the website and any digital media that showcase the school

School marketing departments have had to adapt quickly. Those that value giving parents strong information to make the correct choice will have adapted best. Virtual tours, interviews with staff, but most importantly having resources that involve the children are all crucial. Parents will be able to make a judgement as to how much is scripted and how much is ‘straight from the heart’. Teachers aren’t trained actors and they tend to wear their heart on their sleeve. Children even more so. The savvy parent will be able to tell whether a pupils or teacher believes in what they’re saying.

Parents will have to be more insightful than usual when choosing a school in the current situation. And this makes getting relevant information from schools even more important. I sense that attitudes are shifting following the last 6 months away from a reliance on academic league tables and towards a more holistic approach of enjoyment with broader skills being valued such as resilience and perseverance for our young people. Now, more than ever, choosing the right school where a child is going to thrive is crucial.

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