How to pick the right school for your child
I have worked at a lot of schools - government, independent, Catholic - both as a clinical psychologist, who presents to teachers and parents at schools around Australia, and as a former school counsellor and teacher. Because of this, parents often ask me what type of school I would recommend for their children.
My answer is always the same: "The right school is the one you can truly afford that fits with your location, values and lifestyle."
Let's consider each one of these elements.
It is important to think about the costs of the schools you are contemplating.
Don't think of the costs as simply the fees that they are charging for your child. Most schools will also have yearly expenses such as P and F contributions, school events and even overseas trips. No school experience will be free, but even some state schools will be slightly more expensive than others because of their school camps and uniform costs.
When assessing the school fees for independent or Catholic schools, avoid making best possible predictions when assessing your budget. Consider the strong likelihood of fee rises or your circumstances slightly changing. Never doubt the terrible impact of financial pressure on your stress levels, work hours, and the subsequent wellbeing of your family.
Don't misjudge the burden that distance will have on your family.
To get into particular state schools may involve a costly move. Even if the school does not have a particular catchment area, long commutes add a considerable weight on everyone. Think also of the impact of distance on your child's ability to participate in extra-curricular activities at school, and playdates or catchups with their school friends.
Choose a school whose values and beliefs fundamentally align with your family's.
It will be difficult if you send your child to a religious school if you are an ardent atheist or have them attend a school which doesn't have the same emphasis on faith as you do. You want to be comfortable that the teaching staff can act in loco parentis and that you can broadly trust their judgment as being aligned with your beliefs and ethics.
Consider the impact of your child going to a school where the typical SES status is vastly different to your own.
This is not an issue exclusive to fee-paying schools - whatever school your child goes to, there will typically be wealthier families. Essential here is your comfort with your position in life and choices, such as your Hyundai parked in a sea of Mercedes, and your genuine nonchalance when your child puts the guilt trip on you.
In this, remember that the phrase 'All the other kids have …' has gone on forever. Cave children probably complained about the fashionable skins the children in the cave next door wore.
Avoid thinking that there is one perfect school.
Go to a few open days to enable you and your child get a feel for different schools, talk to the teachers and leadership team and see if they seem to be focused on developing all aspects of students, not just their academic results. Check the behaviour of students outside of the school, such as their manners on public transport.
Don't be fooled by past results.
Just because one cohort of the school was at the top of a leaderboard doesn't promise your child's success. Indeed, nothing guarantees your child's results - it's always a combination of a school's teaching and your child's motivation, efforts and ability.
To ultimately decide, big list of the pros and cons of every school you are considering. Then - and this is the most important thing - make a choice and commit to it.
I say this because I have seen many situations where parents make a choice but go on to have great doubt about the decision. These parents continue to audition the school on a daily basis. That will be a problem, because they will be hypercritical and won't tend to work with the school as a team.
Their children will pick up on this and will start to doubt their school too - that's not going to be good for their sense of belonging.
So, consider all of these elements, make your choice, and then stick to it. Odds are it will all work out and your child will thrive.
Dr Locke did her PhD at Queensland University of Technology on the changes in parenting and is now a visiting Fellow at QUT doing ongoing research on modern parenting, child and parent wellbeing and school environments.
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