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About choosing a school for your child
Decisions about where your child goes to school are very personal and can be difficult. It's common and normal for parents to feel anxious about getting this decision right.
For some parents, the decision is simple. Their children go to the local public school - the school in the same government zone as their house. Other parents might want to look further afield at other government schools ('out-of area' schools) or private schools. And others consider home-schooling.
Things to consider when choosing a school for your child
If you're looking beyond the local public school, think about what will work best for your child's personality, strengths, needs and interests. You might also consider how different schools' cultures and values fit with your family values and family life.
Here are some other things you could think about.
Personal values and preferences
- Do you prefer public or private education? Are the facilities or subject choices a consideration?
- Do you want your child to attend the same school that you attended or have a different experience?
- Do you want your child to have a religious education?
- Do you need to send your child to boarding school, or are you interested in distance education or educating your child at home?
- Are you interested in a particular teaching philosophy - for example, Steiner or Montessori?
- How do things like the location of the school, cost or difficulty of travelling to and from the school, and public transport options affect you?
- If you have other children, is it important that all your children go to the same school?
- Where are your child's friends going to school?
- Where do most of the children from your child's preschool go to school?
- Do you need before-school and after-school care for your child?
- Is the school small or large? What size is likely to suit your child best?
- What facilities does the school have to support your child's learning - playgrounds, library, music programs, clubs and sporting teams?
- Has the school improved its academic results over the past few years? What about its performance in other areas like the arts, sport or community engagement?
- How well does the school support children with additional needs, if your child has a disability, developmental delay, autism spectrum disorder or other need?
School communication and connections
- What opportunities are there for parent and family involvement with the school, and how is communication between home and the school managed?
- How is the school connected with the local community?
Choosing a primary school
The following questions might be useful if you're thinking about primary schools:
- Will you and your child feel welcome at the school?
- Does the school offer a 'transition into school' program?
- What are your options for before-school and after-school care and vacation care?
- What approach does the school take to behaviour management?
- What do other parents you know think about the different schools in your area? What are their experiences?
- Does your child's preschool teacher have an opinion on which school might be the best fit for your child?
Choosing a secondary school
These questions might help you decide which secondary school is best for your child.
Financial and practical considerations
- Are the school fees and other costs affordable?
- Are there any scholarship programs, and is your child eligible?
- What are the options for transport to and from school? Do they work for your family?
- Does the school require students to have specific technologies like iPads or laptops?
Academic and extracurricular considerations
- What are the school's admission procedures and entrance requirements?
- What study paths are available at different schools - Higher School Certificate, Senior Secondary Certificate of Education, International Baccalaureate (IB), Vocational and Educational Training (VET) and so on?
- What languages and elective subjects does the school offer? How many subjects are available in the senior years?
- What extracurricular activities - sport, art, music, drama and so on - are available to suit your child's interests? What are the time and costs associated with these?
- Does the school offer extension or accelerated learning programs? If so, what are the selection criteria?
- Does the school offer extra support if it's needed - for example, English as a second language (ESL) classes, literacy and numeracy support programs, and support for children with health conditions, special needs and so on?
- Is a selective entry school a good option for your child?
Feelings and values
- How does the culture of the school match your family's values - for example, uniform policy, attendance, emphasis on academic achievement, compulsory weekend sport and so on?
- What school does your child want to go to, based on primary school friends, opportunities provided by the school, career aspirations, motivations and so on?
Choosing schools: important facts and factors
Many parents worry about things like class size or whether a single-sex or co-educational school is best. They also want to know how to find out about a school's philosophy. Here are some answers that might guide your thinking.
Small class sizes can have a positive effect on children's learning but teacher quality and working conditions for teachers are likely to be more important. This includes teachers being well supported by other staff and having access to resources.
Single-sex or co-educational
It's up to you to choose whether single-sex education or co-education is best for your child, because there's no conclusive evidence to say that one is better than the other.
Generally, whether a school is co-educational or single sex isn't as important as the school's quality of leadership, teaching quality and approach to teaching. Most families will have a personal view about this issue, which is linked to the personality of their child, the parents' own schooling experience and their family values.
School culture or philosophy
Schools have individual and distinct cultures and teaching philosophies. For example, some have a strong sports ethic, some follow a religious affiliation, and others promote individuality, artistic pursuits, creative thinking or problem-solving.
It all depends on what's important to you and your child. Are you looking for a school with a balanced sporting and academic approach, or one with strengths in artistic and musical areas, or in science and maths? An environment with a strong academic focus might be important to you, or perhaps one that teaches your child more about your religious views.
Most schools talk about their philosophies and approach in a document like a prospectus, handbook or charter. You might also find this information on the school website.Before your school search starts, it could help to come up with a list of five things that are most important to you (and your child) in your choice of a school. As you go through the school selection process, think about this list - you might want to add to or revise it as you gather more information.