Whether your child is moving schools because you are moving to another area, or they are just moving onto the next stage of their education, it can be a daunting process for both children and their parents.
This can also be a really exciting time however, and with some careful planning and organisation, lots of talking to your children and more importantly lots of listening on your part, the process doesn’t have to be stressful.
It might be helpful to think of an open day or open evening as an interview. You and your child are essentially interviewing the school to see if it will be a good fit with their needs and personality. Not all schools will suit all children and that’s OK. That’s why open days exist, for you to get a flavour of what life might be like for your child.
So how can you make the most of an open day?
Find out all the details
First things first, find out all the details of the open days for the schools on your short list. Most schools will have the dates and times on their website but if you are unsure, a quick email or phone call to the school can confirm everything for you. You can often request a prospectus to be posted to you at the same time. Some schools have the prospectus’ available for download from their website but bear in mind that no doubt you will be given a copy at the open day as well.
Do your homework
Have an idea in your head what the key points about each school are. Talk to other parents and children you might know who attend the school, have a browse around the website, and flick through the inspection report BUT, go with an open mind and be prepared to change your view. It’s possible that you and your child could feel completely different about a school having visited. Just because a school has an all singing and all dancing website and a good inspection report does not automatically mean your child will be happy there.
Banish any hangups
Are you against a particular school because of the neighbourhood it is in? Do you dislike a particular family whose children attend the school? Do you dislike the uniform? Have you ‘heard stories’ about a particular school? Put those thoughts to bed, they aren’t helpful when you are choosing a school. Your child is likely to be aware of these and might end up choosing the school they think YOU want them to go to not the one where THEY feel they will be happiest.
Let your child take the lead
Try to avoid dragging your children around the various open days. It should be an exciting and interesting process NOT a tedious one. Let your child lead in terms of where you visit first, give them the map to see how well they can navigate their way around and don’t leave until they have seen everything they want to.
If your child is rather resistant to the whole process, put the groundwork in at home beforehand to avoid wasting time on the day. Pick two or three things that they are really interested in and start with those.
We are all busy parents but walking around an open day on the phone or responding to emails is not cool! You’ve made the time to attend the open day so embrace it and switch the phone off.
If you have questions then ask. Don’t leave wishing you had found something out as you are just making more work for yourself later on. The staff and pupils who take part in open days are waiting for your questions and are normally thrilled to answer anything you want to know.
Observe and feel
Sometimes so much can be gained by just watching , listening and feeling. How do you feel as you walk around the school? How do you think your child feels? What is the expression on their face like? Do the staff and pupils look happy? How are they interacting with each other?
Pros and cons
When you have visited all the schools your child wishes to consider, sit down and make a list of pros and cons. Are there any schools you can rule out straight away? Reconsider the list and compare and contrast until you have reduced your list to three schools. You will then normally need to pick a first, second and third choice to enter onto your application form.
Making a decision
As parents we can present the options, we can support the process, we can give our views, providing we are reasoned and thoughtful about it, but ultimately, if a child is capable of making a case for a particular school and exercising a preference we should support that.
Children do their best where they are their happiest and whilst many children can leave friendship groups and make new friends successfully, why should they if it isn’t necessary? You might think that school A is a ‘better’ school than school B, but ask yourself what you are basing that on. If you are just looking at results you may be missing the bigger picture and providing school B isn’t a failing school, chances are your offspring will do just fine.
Don’t over think it and don’t pile on the pressure without being able to give a good justification. School can be a difficult place for some children, but with added parental pressure your intended concern could actually make things worse.
Keep it exciting and keep it child centred and child focused.