Choosing the right school for your child
A holistic perspective:
If you are privileged enough today to be able to choose your child’s school, you will be all too aware that there are many factors to consider before a decision should be made.
Dr Tonia Lennox - Specialist Wellness Counsellor, St Benedict's
When it comes to your child, nothing but the best will do. However, from my own personal experience of teaching and counselling in both public and private schools, I believe even the ‘best’, ‘priciest’, ‘most prestigious’ schools might not be the best choice for your child. Sometimes, a great way to gauge how a school really operates is by making an impromptu visit without an appointment. First impressions, although not everything, can make a huge difference. Just by driving into the school grounds and walking into the reception area, you will be able to see the cleanliness and security of the school; whether the staff/principal is helpful and friendly (do they have good and open communication); if the children look happy and what facilities the school offers.
The needs and the well-being of your child must come first. Make the right decision and you could put them on a journey to success, which includes lifelong learning, tertiary education and promising career opportunities… NO PRESSURE!...
So, what must you consider?
- Your child’s personality and abilities
- Teacher – Student relationship
- Parent – School relationships
- Extra-curricular activities and facilities
- Tertiary acceptance
- Religious and gender preferences
- Scholastic Support
Your child’s personality and abilities
Your first and foremost consideration must be your child’s personality and abilities/ When considering schools you may have on your list of possibilities, always ask yourself whether a particular school environment will ‘fit’ or ‘gel’ with your child’s uniqueness and not the other way around. Later, as your child becomes more fully who they are, this will play an extremely important role as the spirit of the school might be incongruent with your child. This not only sometimes leads to parents blaming “the school” for their child’s lack of thriving, but also causes increasing unhappiness for your child, affecting all aspects of their school and social life.
The second consideration is affordability. Private schools, in particular, are quite unaffordable for most South Africans. Parents need to consider whether the amount of money required for fees annually, together with all the add-ons e.g. tours, sports kit, academic extra lessons/tutors and other monetary requirements (which are often quite extensive), is sustainable for the 13+ years of schooling for their child. Although many parents work two jobs or more to give their child this opportunity, I have experienced that sometimes students are not able to stay at a school due to non-payment of fees. This often has detrimental social, emotional and academic effects on the child.
With our present ever-rising living and fuel costs, the location should play a major role in the decision. Transport issues might not only hamper your child’s possibilities of getting to school, but could also affect lift clubs and extra-mural activities. Both friendship circles and social play dates, which often require transport, play a pivotal role in your child’s social development.
Schools are often known to be low on security. Most private schools have security personnel stationed at the gate and require people who enter the premises to register their names in some way, thereby giving just that little more protection for your child. They also insist that all educators and personnel undergo a fingerprint testing to ensure none are on the child sexual offenders list. However, many schools across the country have yet to install any type of security protection. To ensure that you as a parent feel confident to leave your child in the care of a school, you need to ask these questions from the school before you make your decision.
Teacher-student and school-parent relationships
Other incredibly important factors are the teacher-student and school-parent relationships. These relationships, in my opinion, are more important than any curriculum. Think of it this way: the average child spends 8 hours per day, sometimes six times a week at school with teachers, whereas most working parents only get to spend on average about 4 hours per day with their child. Therefore, if communication is not transparent and seen as a partnership, much miscommunication and conflict can occur on every level. Therefore, it would be important to have a conversation with a prospective teacher, who should be able to speak about strengths and weaknesses and are well informed about how children can expand their personal and academic achievements, together with specific interests by way of extra-curricular activities.
sports and cultural activities
Certain schools offer a limited scope of sports or cultural activities, these may not include those which your child has strengths in. However, if the school is a ‘fit’ for your child in all other aspects, she/he can always attend outsourced clubs which have programmes that might suit them. An added consideration is that these outsourced clubs will incur additional costs. In addition to sports and cultural activities, a further question should be asked if a school offers extra facilities e.g. after school care, lunch/tuck shop facilities, boarding, additional transport etc. These options might make your life as a parent much easier and simpler. If services/facilities (situated on school grounds) are offered, it would mean less parental transportation or time off work needed, making the choice both cost-effective and convenient.
Reputation of tertiary acceptance
A seventh factor is whether the school is adequately geared towards tertiary acceptance, and offers the relevant advice to you and your child to ensure they follow the best possibilities and options for their unique abilities and choices. Acceptance into our universities requires an NSC (National Senior Certificate) with matric exemption. And although both the public and private school systems can help your child to achieve this, it would be important to note that the pass rate among IEB (Independent Education Board) schools have been greater. If your child aims to travel and study abroad for tertiary education, it is important as a parent, to note that there might be further requirements needed beyond the NSC certificate. Can the school you have chosen offer these additions? Do they have a school counsellor or educator (e.g. Life Orientation teacher) that can empower you to fulfil and obtain knowledge of what is required.
Religion and gender
For many within our society today, religion and gender play an extremely prevalent role in deciding what school to choose. Some schools may not allow for all religious observances, this could result in social and/or religious deficits for you and your child or choosing a school with your specific religious understanding could be positive and transformative. Some believe it is important to go to mixed gender schools to ensure that their child can be developmentally sound in their social lives, but this has shown to be no guarantee. Others are convinced that with limited distractions from the opposite sex, a single gender school will ensure better academic results, but this too is not guaranteed. Whatever your choice in this regard, always keep your family and child’s needs in mind.
Lastly, it is always important to consider scholastic support. Should your child require a remedial environment due to learning disabilities, you will possibly do them a disservice if you place them in a highly academically demanding school, where they constantly feel like a failure. This could lead to other issues both socially and emotionally for your child. It would also be advisable to inquire whether the school offers extra classes and tutorship and if it requires extra payment. Your child must always have enough support to function optimally and therefore, choosing a school that can supply your child’s needs is of paramount importance.
To conclude, there is no ‘perfect’ school, which fulfils every possibility. All schools have their pros and cons, strengths and deficits. I see positive factors in all schools. Whichever you choose, make sure you have covered most of your choices and needs on you snag list. Another important factor to remember, is also that any choice must consist of a 3-way effort: a third being yours’ as a parent, a third being the effort your child needs to make, and the last third the role the school plays in the life of your child. It should always be a 3-way partnership to ensure that the schooling experience is not only pleasant but also a fruitful one.
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