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What is your child really like? This is your starting point for finding a school to suit him/her rather than you. Having decided what your child is really like, ask yourself: What do you want for your child? What do you want from a school? Will it be a good school for a child like yours?

What do you want for your child?

State school or fee-paying? Day or boarding school? Single sex or co-education? Selective or non-selective? It helps to have a game plan, even if you change it at a later date.

What do you want from the school?

Undoubtedly you want to find a great school, one that's ideal for your child, with great teaching and possibly good facilities to match. It is crucial you decide what is really important to you and your child. And be realistic: a not-very-academic child will be much happier in the top half of a non-selective school than bumping along at the bottom of a league table topper.

Make an honest list for yourself of everything that you want for your child, however ambitious, frivolous or peripheral it may seem.

  • narrowly academic or relaxed and creative
  • a nurturing environment
  • social status
  • very local - very convenient
  • before and after school care
  • a traditional approach or a relaxed outlook
  • beauty of architecture
  • state of the art facilities
  • a stepping stone to a top-notch senior school or university
  • curriculum flexibility
  • offers Japanese or polo
  • choirs, orchestras and ensembles
  • sport for all or top class coaching for high fliers
  • help with learning difficulties
  • support for gifted, talented and able
  • awards and scholarships/bursaries (for independent schools)
  • religious ethos
  • parental involvement.

And for boarding:

  • full or flexi-boarding
  • exeats/holidays that fit in with your career
  • doesn't cost too much
  • all in fees or flexible extras
  • environment - bustling town or away from it all country setting
  • care and support
  • contact - how much, how often and how?
  • Saturday school.

The list is endless, so where do you begin? 

Beware the danger of judging a school exclusively by the bottom end because your child is young; look at the end product

Choosing a school is a process of elimination. It is vital you see several schools; even if the first school you visit feels right, you should visit others to confirm or counter this instinct.

Consider:

  • How, and where, you want your child to end up.
  • Your gut reaction - the atmosphere should be tangible and excite you
  • The head - is he/she impressive? You don’t have to like him/her but it helps; the head really does make or break a school
  • Staff - is there a member of staff at the school who is on the same wavelength as you? If your child is boarding there must be someone you can turn to and feel in tune with
  • The pupils - do you see your child sitting amongst them?

Do be prepared to revisit, refine and re-prioritise your wish list.

Importantly

Did you walk into the school and feel at home; did you come out from a school visit feeling good? If it doesn't feel right, it isn't right.

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