Considering moving your child to a new school? Heywood Prep Head Rebecca Mitchell explores what parents need to consider when choosing the right school for their child.
Whether you are making the change because you aren’t convinced their current school is helping them to reach their full potential, or your search is the result of a relocation, deciding to find a new school can be a daunting process. Most schools will claim to provide wonderful new opportunities, have high academic standards, small class sizes, a range of extra-curricular clubs, first-rate pastoral care and excellent onward opportunities for senior school entry and even scholarship. With so many independent schools out there, how do you choose the one that’s really right for your family?
Small class sizes are a key feature of independent education, in fact this is one of the key motivators for parents to move their children from the state sector. Dig deep and question hard, because classes can be too small. Schools with very small class sizes may hide this when parents tour, by merging classes together or being vague about class numbers, because too-small classes can suggest an uncertain future for the school. A class of 6 or 10 pupils can sound inviting – just think of all that individual attention! But there is in fact a critical number needed to ensure pupils inspire and challenge one another, develop healthy friendship groups and enable a school to send out robust sports teams – a year group of 8 mixed-sex pupils will struggle to maintain healthy friendships or to field a rugby or hockey team.
Consider also the total size of the school. In a year group of 40+, even if they are split into three teaching groups, will your child really shine and be recognised in a large school of 250+ pupils? Parents paying for independent education are hoping for their child to play in the sports teams, sing in the choir, play in the music recital and star in the play. The bigger the pond, or rather the greater the number of fish, the fewer the opportunities to stand head and shoulders above the rest.
The switch to independent and its associated price tag is often driven by the desire to expose their children to a broad and rigorous curriculum with a range of subjects, together with timetable allocations that primary schools shackled to SATS simply daren’t offer. But a broad timetable is largely redundant if the staff delivering those subjects are not specialists in their field. Drill down into the qualifications and specialisms of the staff and establish how much contact your child will have at various ages to those staff – it’s hardly worthwhile if they don’t meet those teachers until they are in Year 5 or Year 6.
Occasionally parents worry about the impact of educational disruption, particularly if their child isn’t unhappy at their current school and requesting to move. They may wonder: will an all-through school that offers the opportunity to stay until 18 prevent any further disruption? Consider the fact that stand-alone prep schools that don’t feed into a senior will be in a uniquely unbiased position and will be able to advise you honestly about your choices at age 11, without the need to meet target numbers of pupils they are expected to encourage to transfer to the senior department. Your child is an individual and shouldn’t be part of a numbers game.
Ask the tough questions. Never feel intimidated or afraid to ask for the best for your child – they have one opportunity to develop into confident and successful learners and to be the best they can possibly be. Heywood truly nurtures the individual, offering limitless opportunities, in small class sizes of 14-16 but in healthy year groups of 28-32: small enough to nurture but big enough to challenge. Specialist staff work with children as young as 2 years, and our objective is to find the unique strength in every child and help them to shine. Visit us and I would be delighted to answer all of your questions – even the tough ones!