Choosing the Right School

There are people who remember a huge amount of their school days, even decades later. They remember the school dinners they had, excursions they went on, specific lessons they attended, and conversations they had.

My friend Lynda is one of these people; she can quote entire chapters and verses about our shared school days, whereas the most I remember about the five years at my secondary school is what the building looked like, a couple of the teachers who I really liked, and a couple of momentary flashes of events that – for whatever reason – have stuck in my head. Other than that, I’m drawing a complete blank; for me, I left school entirely (after Sixth Form) when I was 18 – almost 20 years ago – and I learnt what I clearly needed to learn, but everything else has been blotted out.

This then makes life interesting when choosing a school for my son. Life has moved on dramatically since then; technology, knowledge, the speed and demands of society are all massively different now, so what criteria do I use to make that choice an effective one? Do I read the OFSTED reports? Online reviews that parents or students or interested parties have written? A tour of the school? All of those things play a part, of course, and it would surely be churlish to rely solely on one method to make that choice.

I had a clear favourite from day one, because two kids I know – a brother and sister, who I’ve nicknamed The Overlord and The Warlord, for reasons passing understanding – are both currently at the school and always speak very highly about their days. They tell me consistently that school lunches are one of the highlights, which is useful to know, and they enjoy informing me about what they’ve learnt and what they’ve done with their teachers and friends. Their mum and dad have similar views, and don’t have any issues to speak of, so that’s also reassuring.

I also went on a tour of the school, which absolutely helped. Of course they’re selling the ethos and the services of which they’re proud, but you get to see the children in situ engaging with their learning and their teachers – or not, as the case may be, if the school’s not doing that good. That certainly happened at my school; those are usually the memories that stick with me, when a class became roudy and the teacher lost control. It was the type of school where that sort of thing wasn’t entirely uncommon, and it’s influenced my thinking – I absolutely look at the relationships between the students and teachers and try to get a feel for how genuine that feels.

I was impressed by the school’s approach and its design; it was laid out well, and trying to get in was like trying to get into Fort Knox – the security had just been massively upgraded. I don’t knock this, but it threw me. I was strangely comforted by the security; in this oddly worrying time, we must protect our children as much as is humanly possible, and I’m glad that schools recognise their importance. They shouldn’t, of course, need to be that obsessive over security, but needs must, and this school takes its responsibilities seriously.

I’m dramatically influencing the direction of my son’s life by the choice of school, and it’s an intense privilege; I gave it a lot of serious thought, and the choice I decided upon was absolutely the right one. I got to see its classrooms, its warm environment, and its children in action – all of which convinced me quickly enough that it was the right choice.

The planning stage for my son to go to the school now begins in earnest; it’s taking me back to my own childhood in ways I hadn’t imagined, and I can only imagine what my parents must have gone through in trying to decide where to send me. A child’s personality is starting to form and develop, but how will you know if the school is right for the same kid aged five and aged eleven? They will have changed massively in those intervening years, so can the school deal with those changes? If it can’t, then how easy is the transfer process?

But I also get to use the adoption “card” positively in this instance; my first choice of school (as long as they have room) will take my son. Brilliant; it feels right in terms of complimenting his personality, and their long experience in dealing with children who have complex backgrounds is incredibly reassuring.

Now let’s get my son learning!

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