Picking the right school for your child

I’m about to hit a scary milestone. My daughter will be starting high school next year. At the moment, my days are consumed with researching schools and completing enrolment forms.
I realise that many parents out there have already established months ago, or even years ago, which school their precious munchkins would be attending. However I’m always a bit slow off the mark. Luckily, most schools haven’t reached their enrolment cut-off dates yet (phew).
Sometimes choosing a school for your child is as easy as geography – the one closest to home and for which your address is zoned is the right one. But for some families, school selection can be a more complicated decision.
Here are some things to consider when choosing your child’s primary or high school.

Personal values

Do you have a preference for public or private, religious or secular? Does any particular teaching philosophy appeal to you, e.g. Montessori? Consider how the culture of particular schools aligns with your family’s values.

Your child

You know your child best. Are they more likely to thrive in a single sex or coed environment? Bigger or smaller classrooms? Does the school provide extension or accelerated programs? What type of extra-curricular interests do they offer? Will any of your child’s friends be going there?

School-specific factors

Consider the size of the school, its facilities and classroom sizes. You might also be interested in how the school has performed academically. In Australia, this information can be obtained from sources such as My School.
One thing that has become important as my children approach their teen years is the quality of their peer groups. While your high school self may have scrambled to join the cool kids who smoked behind the toilets, you probably don’t want your own kids to fall prey to these temptations. Yay double standards!
So like a fussy old schoolmarm, I’ve recently found myself tut tutting the rowdy behaviour of uniformed teenage girls in the wild, mentally measuring the length of their skirts and staring intently at their chests (to see which schools they are from! It’s times like these I’m so grateful to be a woman and not a man – again, yay to double standards!)
Ummm, no. Via Giphy. 

Practical considerations

There are practical issues that can’t be helped. For example, budget or distance might unequivocally exclude some schools you were considering.

But then there are those practical concerns that fall into grey areas. Are you prepared to make certain sacrifices to send your child to a particular school if its other attributes make up for it?

Parents’ lives can be significantly affected by the school their kids go to. This is where my favourite theme, “will somebody pleease think of the parents?” comes in.

My kids have moved schools a few times and while I generally wasn’t 100% strategic when it came to choosing the best school for me as a parent, I wasn’t blind to noticing certain advantages and disadvantages.

School/after school hours

What is the earliest time the kids can arrive and the latest they can leave? In my case, I chose a school that had the most generous hours compared to the other schools in the area. Even though it was only 15 minutes on either side of the school day, those precious extra minutes bought me additional employability, not to mention a slightly more relaxed work day.

(I found out later that the school also has a disproportionately high number of pupil-free days each year. Oops.)

A decent before and after school care program is also a godsend for full-time working parents who don’t have a reliable network of babysitting relatives. Even for those of us working part-time or not working outside the home, having before and after school options can save your sanity and be useful for emergencies. And there’s no need to feel guilty – kids have a ball  in these programs!

Another cool trick to extend those supervised hours? School buses! If the school offers a bus service that takes your kid from near your place to the school’s front gates, take advantage of the extra time they’ll be sitting on a supervised bus.

Uniforms

Are the uniforms easy to clean? Surprisingly, there are schools out there who think that white shirts are a good idea. If you don’t like spending loads of time in the laundry, consider schools with darker uniforms, or uniforms that are easy and cheap to buy in bulk.

Canteens and other lunch options

Canteens can be a saviour for disorganised parents, parents who want a break from the lunch-preparing routine, or for those mornings when the bread you’ve been planning to use for sandwiches has turned green overnight and you have no time to go to the shops.

Image: Flickr/Taylor Herring

The best school canteen I ever encountered was open every day and offered healthy, homemade and cheap lunches that could be ordered on the spot. On a lazy or hectic morning, all I had to do was throw down a few coins and I could rest assured that the kids wouldn’t starve in the day (or worse yet, buy only lollies).

Some schools have canteens that open only a few days a week, some require pre-prepared lunch orders and others offer last-minute online ordering options to make things easier for parents.

What is the drop-off/parking situation?

If you are going to be regularly dropping off and picking up your little ones from school, the ease of drop-off zones and parking can make a huge difference to your day. If you don’t want to break out in nervous hives every morning as you prepare to duck and weave through narrow streets without smashing any side mirrors or mowing down children, consider a school where the drop off and pick up situation is less stressful.