(With thanks to Ellesmere College for the beautiful photographs)
It can be difficult when you are starting out to know what to look for when you are choosing a school in the UK. Every school has a different feel and they all have their individual highlights and specialties. One place to start is the league table for GCSE and A-Levels results. However, with a high number of UK boarding schools and colleges producing outstanding results, you will need something else to help you make your decision.
Pastoral care is how the school looks after your child as a person. Are they not only educating them but also nurturing them? If your child needs emotional support, is this available? Is there someone they can go to when they need to talk? Pastoral care can help your child get the most out of their education – a happy and confident child will perform to their full potential.
2. Levels of Progress
Levels of progress measure how far individual students have come since they entered the school. If you are looking at a high school, it is worth inquiring about the levels of progress children make on average throughout their time at the school. This is not always obvious as the final results of the pupils is what the school will probably be showcasing, but you can ask. Levels of progress give a much more accurate picture of how well the school is educating the students.
Each child is different. This means that good educators take responsibility for adapting their teaching to the individual pupil to ensure every child can access the learning taking place. This might mean a student with a visual learning style is provided with highlighters and notes for a lesson, whereas a child with dyslexia might be provided with reading rulers and coloured paper. Ask the school about how they personalize learning for the individual, the best schools will be able to give you a range of strategies and examples.
Accommodation can vary from school to school. If you are opting for ‘boarding’ (where pupils stay on site) rather than ‘day school’ where they go home, or to a host family after classes, it is important to consider where your child will be staying. Find out how many others they will be sharing with. Do they have their own space for study? Their own space for belongings? If you have a young child they are likely to be happier sharing with more children for company, whereas an older pupil will need more privacy and space for quiet study.
UK schools are well known for their excellence in extra-curricular sports and activities. Depending on what your child is interested in can depend on which school can cater for their extra-curricular interests. Look out for sports league tables, orchestras and clubs (either student or teacher lead) when choosing your school.
6. Soft Skills
Soft skills are skills which are more about emotional intelligence and how we interact with people. Soft skills also cover things such as working independently, being resilient to failure, working respectfully as part of a group, leadership skills….and more. These are things for which there are no qualifications, but at the same time, they are skills which are essential for success in adult life. Ask your school about how they teach and develop these skills in their students to ensure a fully rounded education.
7. Staff Stability
When meeting and talking to staff, it is a good idea to ask about staff turnover. Ideally, you want to staff at the school to stay for a long time. Yes, new staff and young teachers fresh out of university bring new ideas and vitality to a school, but children need stability. Too many changes in staff can unsettle student both academically and emotionally. How long have the staff worked for the school? Would they send their own children here? This can give you a good indication of how happy and committed to the children the staff are.
8. Marking and Feedback
Ask to see some examples of books. Are the teacher notes substantial? Do the children take pride in their work? Is the majority of the work marked or acknowledged? Does the teacher use the student’s name and give specific feedback for that child? Studies have shown that marking and feedback, when it is done well, is one of the most effective ways to help children learn.
9. Talk to the Students
How do the children feel about their school? Do they enjoy their learning? Do they respect the teachers? Talking to students can give you a good insight into what life is like at the school. Children are very honest and have no hidden agendas. The most simple questions can give you a very clear picture of the school. For example, which piece of work are you most proud of this year? What do you hope to achieve by the time you leave the school?
10. Gut Feeling
What it your instinctive reaction to the school? Sometimes it is worth considering what you feel, emotionally about the school from what you have seen. Often we subconsciously pick up on aspects of school life which influence how we feel about a school without being able to put it into words. All of the above areas are definitely worth considering and looking out for, but your gut feeling can sometimes tell you more than you think. Therefore, my final piece of advice for you today when choosing a school is: trust your heart.