One of the biggest decisions parents must make is where to send their child to school. Your child will spend a lot of time there, and their educational experience has a major impact on their cognitive, emotional and social development.
There are five schooling options for Australian students, including public (government), Catholic, private (independent), and online schools, and home schooling. Many factors go into choosing a school that’s right for your child.
Here are 10 things to consider that will help you make this important choice.
1. Is it convenient?
Because going to school happens five days per week for about 40 weeks each year, convenience is a huge factor. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should choose the school just around the corner – although that may be an ideal option if other factors line up!
Think about how getting to school will fit in with your family’s schedule. For example, there may be an excellent school on the route to your workplace (when you’re not working from home due to COVID), or that’s readily accessible by public transport. Some schools have a bus service to pick up and drop off students at home or nearby.
If you live in a regional or remote area, online school or home schooling may be way more convenient. These can also be a great choice if your child needs to fit school in around other commitments, such as elite-level sports or performing arts training, work, or helping with the care of a family member.
The main thing to consider is whether this choice will be convenient for your child and family.
2. Can we afford it?
Cost is obviously another big factor. The price of education can range from free for public schools to tens of thousands per year for some private boarding and grammar schools. You’ll need to calculate what fits within your budget.
Remember to allow for all costs. For example, although public schools don’t charge tuition fees, you may have to pay for uniforms, textbooks and extracurricular activities.
Bear in mind that you may also get what you pay for. You might need to pay more to send your child to a private school with highly qualified and dedicated teachers and/or a strong record of academic or sporting achievement, for example.
3. Does it align with your values and educational philosophy?
Many private (or independent) schools are established around a particular set of values or an educational philosophy. Some examples include:
- Faith-based schools – which are built around a religious faith, such as Christianity or Islam
- Montessori schools – which revolve around principles developed by Dr Maria Montessori
- Steiner schools – which are based on the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner.
When choosing a school, consider how closely their values align with your own. A Christian family, for example, will understandably have beliefs that align well with those of a Christian school. Families who have a strong affiliation with Dr Montessori’s ideas and approach will naturally gravitate to a Montessori school.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to follow a faith or be a staunch believer in an educational philosophy to send your child to that school. Many families, for example, send their children to Christian schools because they appreciate their approach to behaviour management and student wellbeing.
4. How well does it manage student safety and wellbeing?
In these challenging days, student wellbeing and safety – including cybersafety at a time when many students are studying from home and spending longer online – is more important than ever.
As the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework notes, evidence shows there is a powerful link between student safety, wellbeing and learning. They point out that schools should provide a strong foundation that supports students to build positive relationships and achieve their goals for life and learning.
Ask potential schools what policies they have in place around student behaviour and wellbeing. For example:
- What does the school do to prevent misbehaviour?
- How does the school check on and measure student wellbeing?
- How do they support students during lockdowns and studying from home?
- What is the school’s policy on bullying?
When relentless and poorly managed bullying has been a problem, some families turn to online school to remove their child from the situation. This allows them to continue their education in a safe, supportive home environment.
It can be helpful to ask other families about their experiences with the school. You could also look for reviews on the school’s Facebook page and in local community groups.
5. How big is it?
Some students thrive in a large school with a wide and diverse array of peers, while others do better in a smaller school where they can form close connections with their teachers. You know your child best and will have a sense of where your child sits on this spectrum.
School size can also impact the convenience factor. For example, some schools have a single prep to year 12 campus, so you’ll only have one pick up and drop off even with children in several grades. Others have separate campuses for different grade levels.
Class sizes can also vary and may affect teaching quality, so you might want to ask about this.
6. Academic factors
Academics are an important consideration for some families. You can research how a school performs in NAPLAN testing on the My School website. This site also has information on each school’s student profile, funding, enrolment numbers and attendance rates. Some schools publish data about performance on rankings (such as ATAR) on their website, or you could contact the school for information.
For children entering high school, subject choice is another consideration. If your student is interested in a specific area (ancient history, for example) make sure that subject is available on campus or through another delivery method (such as through a school of distance learning).
7. What facilities does it have?
Some schools offer specialist education for students aiming to excel in specific areas, such as sport, performing art, technology, languages, science, and rural operations. Some offer programs for gifted and talented students or have onsite trade/vocational training facilities.
If your child has an interest or gifting in a specific area, check whether the school can cater for this.
8. How good is the teaching and leadership?
It’s important to remember that a quality education is about more than academic success. A good school will take a holistic approach to student development, considering their social, emotional and physical wellbeing as well as the growth of their minds.
Quality teaching and leadership go a long way to helping students have a successful learning journey. In fact, research has consistently indicated the importance of student-teacher relationships on student achievement.
Some qualities to look for in school staff include empathy, patience, humour, passion for what they do, and good communication skills.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search, it’s well worth visiting shortlisted schools, or arranging an online or phone meeting with principals or other school representatives. This will give you a better feel for their approach and an opportunity to have questions answered. You can also ask your friends and local contacts for their thoughts.
9. Can they accommodate special needs?
If your child has a disability, chronic health condition or other special needs, check whether the school is equipped to support them. If your child uses a wheelchair, for example, does the school have ramp access to classrooms and communal facilities? If your child has a learning disability, can they access learning support?
Some special schools are set up for groups of children with similar support needs, such as schools for children with autism or those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
10. What is your gut feeling?
You know your child better than anyone, so don’t dismiss your gut feelings. Importantly, remember that a decision doesn’t lock your child into a school until graduation day! If things don’t work out like you’d hoped or your circumstances change, you can always find another school.