The 8 most important things to look for in a school
… and nope, exam results are not one of them! Here’s the insider scoop on choosing the best school for your child - straight from the headteachers of some of Kent's top schools.
1. SEE BEYOND THE ACADEMICS
Julie Lodrick, headmistress, Kent College Pembury, says:
There is no denying that a rounded education has to include exam results that a young person can be proud of and set them off along their chosen path. But there is so much more to school life. We want our pupils to develop a love of learning secure in the sense that all are deeply cared for. Here at KC, for example, the girls feel equipped to balance their studies with a whole range of extra-curricular activities – from the Climbing Wall to Rock Choir – where they learn new skills, develop resilience and make new friends. Confidence outside the classroom feeds into confidence inside the classroom – you can’t underestimate or separate the two.
In order to form well-balanced young people I also think it vital that schools engage with their wider community as much as they can through supporting charities, participating in local events and engaging with their local community. We champion the newly formed West Kent Independent State Schools Partnership, there is also a growing number of opportunities for pupils to work together on joint projects across schools.
All of this is now even more important as more and more pupils are achieving top grades at GCSE and A Level and so they need to find other ways to differentiate themselves and stand out from the crowd.
Kent College Pembury, Open Morning, Sat 5 Oct, 9.30am-1pm
2. DIG DEEP INTO THE WELLBEING PROVISION
Gavin Franklin, headmaster, Wellesley House, Broadstairs, says:
Within any successful school, the progress of each child is first dependent on them feeling safe and secure. The very best schools offer outstanding pastoral provision and understand the importance of physical and emotional well-being in both staff and pupils to enable everyone within that community to grow and flourish.
When considering a school for your child, parents should be looking for evidence of opportunities and activities that encourage pupils to explore, learn and grow – both emotionally and academically. A school with well-being at its heart is likely to have a culture that encourages pupils to take risks and strive to be their best without fear of failure; a culture that encourages self-reflection; and a culture that balances opportunities for independence with supportive guidance. At Wellesley, and many other excellent schools, well-being is critical to our values, which are embedded in and resonate throughout the curriculum and extra-curriculum.
Wellesley House, Open Morning Sat 28 Sept, 10am
3. DON’T BE BLINDED BY FACILITIES
Hilary Blake, headteacher, Sacred Heart School, Wadhurst, says:
Ultimately, when choosing the right school, it is about the ‘feeling’ you get when you visit. Do you receive a warm welcome; do the children appear happy and confident; how is the relationship between pupils and staff? Is the environment respected and cared for; are the children proud of their school and their learning? This is all far more important than acres of playing fields.
Even a small school can offer a strong sporting and creative curriculum. What you want to ensure is that the school will support your child’s wellbeing and has good strategies in place to encourage good behaviour and discipline – while making sure that learning is still fun! This is what matters. If your child is engaged and happy then the rest will follow.
Sacred Heart School, Wadhurst, Open Morning, Fri 27 Sept, tours at 9.30 & 11am
4. CHECK OUT THE SOCIAL MEDIA / PHONE POLICY
Stephanie Ferro, headmistress, Walthamstow Hall, Sevenoaks, says:
Walthamstow Hall has a very long standing policy that mobile phones for students in Years 7 – 11 are not used during the school day. And, for a lot of the girls, if you asked them honestly – they’d say they are glad of it.
Parents should ask schools how they go about equipping students to use their phones responsibly, appropriately and advantageously. How do they address issues such as, for example – online safety, cyber bullying, self-image and the rise of ‘fake news’?
Whilst these precautions have their place we also firmly believe in showing students how technology can enhance their lives. Like most schools, iPads, laptops and Firefly are an integral part of lessons and homework. Sixth Formers use their phones during the school day and are encouraged to use a variety of apps.
Walthamstow Hall, Sevenoaks, Open Morning, Sat 28 Sept, 9.50am – 12.15pm
5. LOOK FOR GENUINE ‘OUTDOOR LEARNING’
Emma Neville, head, Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, says:
When looking for a school for your children make sure the learning environment offers a variety of rich experiences including an outdoor learning space. Outdoor learning has become a buzz word in the world of education at the moment – so investigate what’s really on offer a bit more deeply. When looking around a school enquire how the curriculum links with the outdoor space and whether the curriculum offers a journey of discovery, excitement and challenges.
An outdoor education such as the one we offer at Rose Hill School enables pupils, from Kindergarten to Year 8, to develop key skills which will take them into adult life rather than them simply having fun in an outdoor classroom.
Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, Open Morning, Fri 4 Oct, 9.30am
6. ASK TO SEE THE CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Claire Corkran, head, Sutton Valence Prep, says:
Take time to look in the children’s books as you walk around the school. Check both the quality of work and the detail left in the feedback given to pupils to help them improve. I think well-presented books, that the pupils are clearly proud of, are the measure of a good school.
So rather than just a tick or a ‘well done’, do their comments extend the learning? And what do you think of the quality of the activities the kids are being set? At SVPS we invite our Prep parents the visit the School and go through books with their children so they can celebrate the excellent progress through the year.
Sutton Valence Prep School, Open Morning, Fri 11 Oct
7. ENQUIRE ABOUT THE OUTREACH
Emma Károlyi, head, Junior King’s Canterbury says:
It’s important to consider what a privileged school does to keep it real? At our school, for example, it is essential that our pupils learn to be empathetic and develop an appreciation of what they are so fortunate to have.
For example, at Junior King’s, we enjoy an outreach connection with Christchurch University, here in Canterbury, and benefit from the students helping and giving their expertise in our arts provision, as well as our providing the necessary experiences to help them to develop in their degrees.
In our Pre-Prep we have, for a few years, visited Highland House, a local retirement home. The importance of the connection between our youngest children with the oldest generation is truly special and the benefits and joy that this brings both the children and the elderly residents is extremely valuable and precious. Community outreach provides life skills beyond those learned in the classroom. This way children develop skills and it also allows them to improve the quality of the life of others.
Junior King’s Canterbury, Open Morning, Sat 12 Oct
Having narrowed down your options draw up a shortlist of schools to visit. Most have Open Days which can be a good introduction allowing a little anonymity and providing an initial impression. If pupils are your guides ask plenty of questions. It is the children themselves who show and tell the heart of a school: are they confident (but not arrogant), articulate, polite, proud of their school; do you hear laughter? Ask them what could the school do better and see how they respond! If you like what you see make an appointment for an individual tour.
Some parents prefer to go straight to the bespoke, personal visit and meeting with the Head. Try to meet as many staff as you can and go with a list of questions. At the end of the day it is ‘the feel’ of a school visit which is crucial – and, like many of the most important things in life, cannot be measured. If the school ‘feels’ right to you the chances are it will be a good choice for your child.
The New Beacon, Sevenoaks, Open Morning, Fri 11 Oct, 9am – 11am