It’s that time of year again when relocation seems to be on everyone’s lips and we find ourselves talking to more and more people about moving on. A particularly hot topic of conversation is about the experience of school visits back in your home country, the ups and downs of trying to choose a new school – but how you can really tell what a school is like and if it’s going to be right for you as a family?
We talked to Stephanie Cheah, an education consultant with many years of experience under her belt and the organiser of BESSA, the British Education Schools Show in Asia, an annual show held in Singapore each autumn, where she brings together admissions directors from the leading UK independent schools for you to meet without even having to get on a plane (genius!) So Stephanie, over to you…we’ve met the admissions team, we’ve read the amazing glossy brochure so now how do we actually approach the school visit?
“All independent schools devote some of their resources to ‘marketing and sales’. Distinguishing between the image the school attempts to project, from the reality of the quality of education it offers, presents the greatest of challenges to parents.
Word of mouth may remain the greatest influence on a school’s reputation, but even the personal views of current parents or students may well be coloured by individual rather than collective experience. Aside from a school prospectus, what other valuable and reliable evidence, not presented as part of the publicity package, could prospective parents use to influence their school selection?
Dig below the surface of the exam results statistics published on the website. What measure was used for it to claim they had achieved their ‘best ever’? Were they secured by, for example, the school preventing those who would depress the results being discouraged or even prevented from taking one or more exams?
Having been shown the model classroom (equipped, no doubt, with state of the art technology), ask to see another. Having entered, check the quality of furnishing, and for graffiti on the desks and walls.
Ask to visit the school on a normal school day, and to see a taught class of your choice, not that of your tour guide. Observe the demeanour of the students and the teacher’s management of them. Is there a positive working atmosphere? Do the students appear engaged and interested in their work?
Ask to see the school during morning or lunch break, and stand in the corridor when students are due to return to class. Are the students and teachers punctual to their classes? What is the students’ language and demeanour like as they enter?
Ask a member of the ancillary staff how much they enjoy their job, and how respectfully they are spoken to by the students, and even staff.
Look at the wall displays in the classrooms.Are they fresh and eye-catching?
Ask the head teacher how regularly staff are appraised, and what the school policy is on staff professional development. Then ask him or her how long they spend in the classroom, either teaching or observing lessons.
Ask about sporting opportunities,especially for students who are not natural athletes.
Engage with the current students. Do not be afraid to stop students to ask them what they believe are the school’s strengths and weaknesses, and if they are happy there. Above all, do not forget that your children will not remember the school by its facilities, but by the quality of the teachers and teaching – by far the most valuable resource in the school.
And lastly, Ask the head teacher about staff turnover. If it’s high, morale could be low and employment conditions poor. Particularly, how challenging it is to recruit staff in shortage subjects, like physics and modern languages; and while on that subject, compare the standard of public exam results in these disciplines with, for example, those in English and History.
BESSA, the British Education Schools Show in Asia, takes place in Singapore on Saturday 2nd November 2019 at The Shangri-La Hotel
Tickets for the event are free but pre-registration is required.
BESSA Malaysia, takes place on Sunday 3rd November 2019 at the Garden Hotel, Mid-Valley, Kuala Lumpur.
Register for the Malaysia event HERE
Check out the speaker programme and more details for