14 September 2021
In-person open days are back up and running (for now, at least) and head teachers are poised to take your questions, hoping that their school fits the bill for young Charlie or Charlotte. But will the usual ‘what are the lunches like?’ or ‘how much homework will they get?’ tick the right boxes in pandemic times?
The truth is, not really. The educational landscape has undergone a seismic shift, with Covid now having its feet well and truly under the table. For parents, this means having to think along totally new lines if they want to maximise their child’s chance of an education that’s free from damaging disruption. While most independent schools delivered a solid home-schooling performance during the height of the pandemic, the reality is that there’s no end in sight for weekly lateral flow testing in schools and it’s likely to continue to be usual for pupils to be sent home to isolate in the event of a positive test in their circle.
‘Parents need to understand how a school will respond in the event of isolation periods or even future lockdowns’, says Melanie Sanderson, managing editor of The Good Schools Guide. ‘Depending on the age of the child in question, they should hold schools to account on the issues that may affect their child’s physical or mental wellbeing as well as their academic progress.’
Technology and the agility of schools in using it has never been as important. Ask the school to explain its plans to continue teaching if your child is sent home to isolate. Will he or she be able to access the class live from home or will it just be a case of worksheets and catching up from friends’ notes when they return? Consistency and continuity in subjects such as maths and languages is particularly important; how are these taught remotely? Another good question - especially for your pupil guide - is whether many children had extra tuition outside of school when they were not attending in person; the answer will speak volumes about whether the school itself was doing enough to keep parental concerns about falling behind at bay. If your child has special educational needs, how this will be managed by the school in the event that they are not able to attend? Push for detail and if you are not given immediate reassurance that their needs will be met, look elsewhere.
Good schools should be able to demonstrate with ease how they kept pupils of all ages physically active during the pandemic, so consider asking for concrete examples of how they did this. For primary pupils this might be something as simple as a nature walk, while older children may have been set skills challenges relating to their team sports. Either way, a commitment from schools to ensure that pupils’ education is more than just screen based is critical. In relation to mental health, ask your pupil guide how staff checked in with them when they were learning at home. Did they know who to ask for help if they were struggling? Were pastoral resources made available to those who needed extra support?
Equally, we saw the very best schools keep clubs and societies afloat during the pandemic, making sure that pupils kept their interests alive and social isolation at bay. Ask schools how they handled this and how many clubs kept going remotely. Were concerts and plays performed? Did pupils have the chance to pick up new skills and hobbies such as cookery or arts? What lessons has the school learned overall that have enabled them to improve their offering moving forward?
If you’re moving an older child before GCSEs or A levels, it would be useful to understand how pupils’ public examination grades were awarded in the 2021 exam season. Again, pupils should be able to give you the inside scoop on their own experiences. Did the school seem organised? How were tests and exams carried out and did most pupils feel that their outcomes were fair? In the event that A level students missed out on their university places, how did school support them?
Every pupil is different and all parents have their own ideas of what makes a school right for their child, so devise a list of questions relating to the things important to you. Remember that in the case of fee-paying schools, you’re the customer and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask tough questions – the way in which schools respond (or don’t) will tell you everything you need to know.
Photo credit: Loughborough Grammar School
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