With so much on offer at each independent school, it can be hard to know which school is the best fit for your child.
Most families attend an open day, or book a visit to tour the school and chat with the head before making their final decision.
To help you make this important choice, we spoke with Nikki Miller, editor of the Nursery and Schools Guide Edinburgh, who has provided a handy checklist of questions to help you consider which aspects of school life are important to your child and family.
CO-EDUCATIONAL OR SINGLE SEX
- If co-educational, what is the male/female ratio? Is the school co-educational in all year groups?
- If there is a smaller gender group, how is it integrated during school activities?
- If it’s a single-sex school, does it have links with other single-sex schools of the opposite gender?
- In the school’s view, what are the main advantages of the type of education it provides?
- What is the overall size of the school?
- How many classes are there for each year group and how many pupils per class?
- Are all year groups on the same campus?
- How integrated are the year groups? e.g. during breaks, assembly or activities?
There are pros and cons to large and small schools. For example, large schools can be highly competitive and foster centers of excellence. Whereas a small school could be much more inclusive.
Are the same sporty children dominating the first teams? Or only the most talented musicians making the choir/ orchestra? If your child is not one of them, will this affect their confidence?
Large schools are, however, likely to have enough children interested in a niche activity to put on a club and take part in local or national competitions.
- Is the school within walking distance of your home?
- Does the school offer a school bus service or a walking bus, and do you need to pay for this service?
- Is the school on a convenient public transport route?
- Is there a procedure for drop-off and pick-up times and does this fit into your schedule?
Don’t underestimate the advantages of choosing a school within walking distance of your home. Not only for practical and ecological reasons. It’s also likely your child’s friends will live nearby.
If your preferred school is not within walking distance, it may, however, run a school coach service, which is ideal for younger children. In this case, there may be a pick-up point close to your home. Ask about the cost from different pick-up points. It could be worth driving to a stop closer to the school.
Once your child is old enough to take public transport, the FREE local bus service could be helpful.
ETHOS & STAFF
- What is the school’s anti-bullying policy?
- Is there a published set of school rules that you can have?
- What is staff turnover like?
- How does the school reward and encourage effort and achievement?
- How does the school motivate pupils?
- Does the school have prefects and how does the prefect system operate?
- Does the school operate a house system and what role does it play in school life?
- Is there a mentoring system and how much interaction is there between younger and older pupils?
An open day is a valuable opportunity to meet teaching staff and the heads of departments. Do speak to them as this can be very revealing.
Most tours involve being shown around the school by current pupils, this gives you a perfect opportunity to get some ‘straight’ answers to questions you might have. Bear in mind, however, that you would expect pupils to display a certain amount of loyalty to the school in their answers. This is a chance to ask the questions above and get answers to questions that may be very specific to you, e.g. on healthy eating, break-time activities, how strict (or otherwise) the school is, school trips, etc.
- Does the school follow the Scottish, English or a wider curriculum and which public examinations are taken for which subjects?
- Are there any timetable restraints which restrict certain subjects from being taken together?
- How integrated is the use of IT/iPads in learning?
- If your child has particular interests or you want them to learn a specific subject, is the school strong in this area? (Ask to meet the head of department as this will give you a good sense of the passion s/he has for the subject.)
- For which age groups are languages offered and which languages are available? (Remember to ask about Latin as well as modern languages.)
- How much homework is given at each age and stage?
- Does the school group pupils in sets, streams or mixed ability groups and for which subjects and year groups?
- Which universities and courses have been the most popular for leavers in recent years?
- Do class sizes change for particular subjects and/or year groups?
- What are recent exam results like? Are there subjects in which the school excels?
- If your child is particularly bright or has additional learning needs, how many support for learning teachers are there? How many pupils access support for learning?
- How does the school support pupils applying to Oxbridge/ Ivy League or international universities?
- Do they provide support for entrance exams such as STEP mathematics?
You may prefer a school that doesn’t use iPads or one that does; a school that doesn’t give homework or one that does; one that streams class subjects or one that doesn’t. There are no right or wrong answers. They simply help you find a school that aligns with your values.
Exam choices are certainly something to consider if you are looking at senior school entry. Ask the school if they have any timetable restraints which would restrict any subjects being an option. For example, it might not be possible to take German and Spanish together.
- Does the school offer bursaries and/or scholarships? Who is eligible and what percentage of assistance is available?
- Does the school offer reduced fees for siblings, former pupils or certain occupations?
- What additional costs (on top of fees) should I expect?
- Termly Fees
- School Bus
- After-school Activities
- Compulsory Uniform & Sports Kit
- Music Lessons
- Is lunch provided for all year groups and is there an additional cost?
- What sort of meals are provided and are they hot or cold?
- Is there a swipe card system? Can parents see what their child has chosen to eat?
- Is the food freshly prepared on site and are the menus changed regularly?
- Does the school offer a breakfast or evening meal service?
- Is there provision for special dietary requirements?
- What is the mealtime experience like? Do teachers eat with the children? Do all year groups eat together?
- Are children allowed off the campus at lunchtime, if so which year groups?
You may prefer a school where all children must have a school lunch and not allowed off the campus at lunchtime (except in Sixth Form). Or a school that allows a packed lunch, and children leave the school campus. Some schools bill a set price for lunches per term, others offer a swipe card for individual items chosen by your child.
Many thanks to Nikki Miller, editor of the Nursery and Schools Guide Edinburgh, for her contribution to this blog.