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Open Days: 7 top tips

We've put our hand up in class and asked 7 top head teachers to give one ULTIMATE tip each to help you get the most out of school Open Days

Some schools do Open Days well. And sometimes a couple of hours herded around a school with dozens of other parents is not a lot to go on when it’s your precious child’s next 7 years to decide. So how to read between the lines, or expose potential issues? Only one thing for it – ask a head! We’ve tracked down 7 Kent heads to give one ultimate TOP TIP each to help you get the most out of these Open Days.

1. Talk to kids in the first year but also the sixth form

Ms Julie Lodrick, Headmistress, Kent College Pembury, says:

Parents should keep in mind that it’s a seven year journey and your child’s needs will change over this time. This is particularly the case in terms of secondary schools, when the changes are quite profound. What your child needs from a school at 10 might be very different from what they need at 18.  My best advice?  When visiting a school make sure you meet at least one sixth former. Talk about school life, but also engage them in conversation about things other than the school curriculum. You will get a much better sense of how you child might develop through the school.

2. What to ask about pastoral care

Lawrence Groves, Headmaster, St. Faith’s Prep, says:

Every child is important and an individual in their own right and it’s important to ensure that no child goes unnoticed or uncared for. You need to ask the question – how does the school support parent and pupils in difficult times? Any head should be able to give concrete examples of this. Ask how the school’s pastoral care adapts as a child goes up through the school. Or if you have a child in secondary school you need to ask: what if my child starts to struggle with a subject, what is your bullying policy, how do you cope with mental health disorder? What is your social media and phone policy? These are all reasonable questions and you can expect detailed answers.

2. How truthful is the head being?

Miss Alison Cordingley, Headmistress, Fosse Bank School, says: 

Schools should be truthful about the kind of child that thrives in their environment. It’s not an honest appraisal to say that all kids thrive at every school. When looking round a school and meeting the Head, I would hope that honest discussion and enthusiasm help parents make decisions. Personally I am very open with parents about what we offer and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure the child is in the right place. All parents want their children to be happy and confident, and maybe to pass the Kent Tests if at all possible. We have a very good reputation for all three. And that is me being completely honest!

4. Consider the co-ed question carefully 

Mike Piercy, Headmaster, The New Beacon, says: 

There’s no simple answer to this question and any school which didactically tells you their way is the best is being disingenuous. Different children might suit co-ed or single sex schools and it’s important you do your research on your options. In today’s schools there is much more emphasis on the individual and his/her learning style. Look at your son/daughter; then look at each school’s culture and ethos. Where do you think she/he might best fit?  From my angle, leading a boys’ Prep School and having led two co-ed schools, there is no doubt that – generally – boys achieve more in an all-boys’ environment. But it’s each to their own. If you have the blessing of choice, find the best match between your child, his/her character, strengths, learning style, your aspirations and the school which has the best fit.

5. Don’t stick to the script 

Claire Corkran, Head, Sutton Valence Prep, says: 

A school that’s confident in its own skin will have you taken around by students who are not ‘briefed’ and can answer your questions honestly. Getting children to talk about their school unguardedly is not hard – start with the food in the canteen, and move on from there! Think about a couple of key questions that you really want to know, their answers will help you find out if the school is the right fit for your child. Get them to tell you about their experiences of the school from their first day to what happens if they have an issue that needs raising.

 6. See the school on an ordinary day 

Andrew Webster, Headmaster, The Mead School, says: 

Open Days or Evenings are big show-and-tells and give a broad flavour of a school but the best way to see a school is to go back on a normal day, because this is what your child is going to experience. You should have the opportunity to move informally around the school and speak to the children. If you’re not offered the chance to see the school in its usual working state, that’s when alarm bells should start to ring. At The Mead, we certainly want our Open Days to be a ‘fly on the wall’ experience where prospective parents see that the culture of compassion, ambition and curiosity are completely the norm.

7. Ask what the school can do for your child at 18

Miss Stephanie Ferro, Headmistress, Walthamstow Hall, says:

We are very aware that our new Year 7s will be our leavers of 2025 and that as part of a society in constant motion they will be leading lives beyond our imagination when they are 18, 25, 55… Parents need to know that the school will nurture character and values in their children that will help them navigate change and thrive in a world of perpetual innovation and reinvention. Finding out how a school instils these values isn’t straight forward but looking at the School’s ethos, student involvement in charity and volunteering work and participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme are good places to start.

Find more ideas here

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