Every September, schools across the country throw open their doors. Lawns are mown, floors polished, cakes baked and new artwork hung on the walls as schools work incredibly hard to give the very best impression of themselves to visiting families. And whilst that first impression may well influence your decision, it is so important to go behind the scenes and find out for yourself what the school is all about. As both a parent and Director of Admissions, I have enjoyed many Open Days and hope the suggestions below will help you make the most of your visits to prospective schools.
Prepare in Advance
Do some research before you go. Explore their websites, read reviews and understand the school’s values and offering both academic and co-curricular. By doing so, you will inevitably come up with a list of questions that you will want answering and that will bring some focus to your visit.
Arrive With an Open Mind
Do not be swayed solely by what others have said or a school’s reputation or even your own preconceptions. Each school has its own unique strengths and ultimately you are looking for a school that is right for your child.
Talk to Everyone
Speak with as many teachers as you can. This will give you an insight into the calibre of teaching at a school and their commitment to your child. And do not forget the pupils too. You can get a real feel for a school’s atmosphere and community by chatting to pupils of different ages and can generally count on them to be refreshingly honest about whether the food is any good and what they think of the Library or co-curricular clubs. And speaking of co-curricular clubs – dig deep here. Find out what really is on offer and when. Are there limits on any of the clubs and how is signing up managed to ensure everyone gets a go at the popular ones. Does the list of clubs ever change and who runs them?
Have a Good Look Around the Facilities
Do you like what you see? Are the facilities and general infrastructure up to date and all set to support an inspiring, well-rounded education for your child?
Understand the School’s Values
What do these really mean and does the school stand by them? Is the ethos in line with your family’s values and aspirations? A school with shared values will offer a more enriching, joined up experience for you and your child.
Think About Your Family Logistics
Getting to and from school will be a major part of your child’s life (and yours) for the next seven years. What are your options? If you are planning on travelling by car, try the drive during rush hour to see how long it will really take. If public transport is an option, find out how many pupils use it and whether the school help them in the first few weeks. Does the school have its own network of buses that could be useful to you?
Be transparent about your financial constraints and ensure costs align with your budget. Do not be afraid to enquire about bursaries or scholarships and ask questions about what is and is not included in the termly fees. Either the Bursar or Director of Admissions would be more than happy to talk in more detail.
Finally, Trust Your Instincts
How did you feel during and after your visit? Could you see your child at the school and did it resonate with what they need from a school? Do not hang back from contacting the admissions team if you have any outstanding queries or would like to visit again. They would be very happy to hear from you as ultimately, they, and you are pursuing the same goal – finding the right school for your child.