Parenting Tips from the Professionals: How to make the most of school open days
September will herald the start of school Open Day season. But what should you be looking for when you go to a school Open Day? We have some top tips from Susan Hamlyn Director Emerita at The Good School Guide.
What to look for at a school Open Day? You want the best for your child, of course, and particularly when it comes to schooling. If you live within the catchment of several schools, you may have quite a lot of choice. If you can also consider independent education, this could multiply the number of schools to consider. So you could go to quite a number of Open Days. As a busy working parent, you may not be able to devote the amount of time to this that you would prefer so it pays to do as much homework as you can before deciding where to go.
And the season for Open Days will be upon us once you pack away the snorkels and water wings. The more schools you can make time to visit, the more you will sharpen your capacity to judge what really matters in a school – to you and, above all, to your individual child. In addition to data and local reputations, you want to look at eg their sizes, educational provision, facilities, state of repair, results and general atmosphere.
So – what homework? Check on the Ofsted or ISI reports. There may be reviews in The Good Schools Guide. Consider the practicalities eg the journey to and from school (remembering that, as your child grows up, they are likely to stay late for rehearsals or practices); look at the facilities in the subjects that are important to you. Does the school have a specialism – one that will suit your child? If your child has any kind of Special Need, you will need to check what provision is offered and go armed with questions for the appropriate staff.
Never be afraid to ask questions. You are contemplating handing this establishment the most precious thing you have – does the school deserve your child? Will they provide the best possible care and opportunities for them? It may be that an Open Day – which is, obviously, not a typical school day as everyone is smiling and all the litter was hoovered up the night before – will not give you the opportunity to ask important questions so never be afraid to ask for an individual visit if need be.
Watch the interaction between staff members and pupils and also between pupils themselves. Is everyone treated with a friendly mutual respect? Do pupils flatten themselves against the wall and look away if a teacher approaches? Are pupils courteous, helpful, eager to tell you about their school?
Every parent will have their own concerns but it’s worth checking on, for example, how the school monitors progress and picks up on anyone who is slipping behind. Does this school manage to retain teachers or are they off and out after two years? The top year – where do they go when they leave? Ask for the lists. The food – is it so good that everyone eats school food or do they bring their own lunchboxes? And how does the school communicate with home? How do they approach the use of mobiles and the inevitable problems that arise from social media?
Depending on your own background, you may have concerns about integration of pupils from a range of ethnicities, beliefs and languages and how the school encourages and supports difference. You can learn a lot from simply observing but it never hurts to ask.
Perhaps most important is to take with you – whether your child comes with you or not – a sense of who he or she is. There is no one right school for every child. A school that might be ideal for your neighbour’s child might be a trial for yours – and vice versa.
Finally, schools are important – very – but they are not the most important thing. Values, principles and attitudes to others are learned at home. And home, of course, is where we all come back to.
The Good Schools Guide
Released On 8th Jul 2019