03 August 2017
Oversubscribed state schools in England will require families to live in their catchment area if they are to stand a chance of being offered a place. It’s important, therefore, to ensure that your chosen home is affordable and falls within the designated area of your chosen school. Likewise, deciding between state schools, independent fee-paying schools and an international school will depend on budget, as well as on other considerations, such as the length of the assignment and the standard of education available in the area.
Once you have established your wish list, it’s time to start gathering prospectuses and brochures and browsing websites. At this point, it may be worth compiling a spreadsheet of the schools available to you and the information that can be gathered before visiting, including the facilities, the curriculum taught throughout the school, details of exam performance, the latest inspection rating, the pupil-to-teacher ratio, and the numbers, types and costs of extracurricular classes.
The main points to consider on a school visit are: Do you feel welcome as you enter the school? Are the staff friendly and confident? Are pupils involved in the school tour? Are the children friendly, polite and confident? Are the school resources well treated and respected? How long has the headteacher been in post? This provides evidence of stable leadership Can parents visit during break or at lunchtime to see how the pupils interact? Do children have a good relationship with staff? Are the administrative staff friendly and helpful? They are the people with whom you will be communicating on a daily basis How does the school communicate with parents? Does it produce regular newsletters? Can you see copies? What are the displays on the walls like? Are there photos of children engaging in interesting activities, such as field trips and community involvement? Will the child have an orientation visit or be given a buddy to help him or her settle in? What extracurricular activities are available, and how many of them are free? How much scope is there for involvement in a parents’ organisation? Does the school offer programmes and support for accompanying partners?
“The key is focusing on the child and understanding the environment that they would flourish in,” says Sophie Stead, head of communications at Enjoy Education, a schools advisory and private-tuition company based in London. “If possible, early preparation makes a huge difference, especially when moving to the UK independent system, where the admissions process can often be hugely complex and time dependent.
“Another aspect is whether the school offers a social network for parents, mostly in the form of a parent–teacher association,” says Peter Kotrc. “Coffee mornings, social clubs and activities from parents for parents are the quickest way into a new country.”