This article was written for our Moscow section, from a British parent's point of view. But we think most of the points she makes are universal when checking out schools for small children.
It's difficult enough choosing a school even in your own home town, in your own country. But choosing schools in countries where you're not sure of even the basics like political stability, local security, and educational quality means being on the alert for things you've always taken for granted.
What are those things, and how do you cope?
Things to consider as you go looking for a school (especially kindergarten and play school)
- Safety and upkeep and cleanliness of playground equipment
- Teaching qualifications of staff. Especially for playgroups and kindergartens. Don’t simply accept a degree and TEFL; must have a teaching diploma as well.
- What is security like? Very important, given the Beslan tragedy and deteriorating relationships between Russia and the US.
- If school is above ground level, are there bars on windows to stop younger children falling out?
- Be aware that Russian teachers favour discipline and will put pressure on a child to participate as part of a group, which some parents found occurred at the expense of individuality and creativity.
- Ask about the teacher student ratio and the target size of classes.
- Ask if all teaching materials will be on site at the start of the school year.
- Opt out clause – what if your child decides they don’t like the place after a few weeks: do you get your money back or at least some of it.
- Drive to all the schools you are interested in at pick up and drop off times to check traffic situation. Very different on a weekday compared with a weekend day.
- Does the school have an annual plan or curriculum that you can look at?
- What sort of extra-curricular outings take place?
- How much sporting activity is there?
- What is the homework policy?
- What is the dress code and how is it enforced?
- Which subjects are offered at higher levels of the school? The BIS has a limited range of subjects and timetable clashes may prevent your child being able to take three sciences at IGCSE level. At AAS in middle school, sciences are taught on a year by year basis, eg. Chemistry this year, then Biology next year, and Physics the following year which depending on when the child leaves may impact on ongoing educational choices.
- Find out if all textbooks for courses your child will be doing, will be in place at the start of the school term.