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Choosing the right High School for your child

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Students who begin Year 7 in 2015 will retire somewhere around 2070. That’s a sobering thought. What kind of world and Australia will we be living in, in 2070? How much will have changed? Will the things that we now consider to be part of our everyday lives be obsolete? What technological advancements remain to be discovered? How on earth do we as parents prepare our children to live and work in a future world that is currently undefined? What are schools doing to educate the leaders, thinkers, workers, and doers of the future? How do you choose the right school for your child?

Choosing a school is a long term commitment.

Choosing a school is a long term commitment.

In Sydney, we are very lucky in that the choice of High Schools is wide, varied and on the whole quite good. Public, Independent, Catholic. Single sex, Co-educational, or a combination of both. Selective or Comprehensive. In some ways, the choice is in fact so large that navigating the minefield of schools in order to choose the right one for your child can be quite stressful. That is the important thing; the right school for your child. Think about what you really want a school to provide.

At their very core, high schools essentially provide and do the same thing. The same syllabus is taught, the same external examinations are sat and the qualification received at the end of the time at school is essentially the same, either the International Baccalaureate or the NSW Higher School Certificate. So what sets one school apart from another? How do you know which one is the ‘right’ one?

Head of Barker College, Phillip Heath believes that good schools exhibit three essential qualities:

  1. Evidence of a good learning culture, where it is cool to learn, cool to try, cool to be capable and cool to care.
  2. Evidence of a desire to quality in all its forms; classroom, co-curricular and outreach. High expectations and high support make for high achievement.
  3. Evidence of parental engagement and openness.
Phillip Heath, Head of Barker College.

Phillip Heath, Head of Barker College.

Mr Heath states that ‘about 80% of what schools do is the same. Therefore, parents need to be empowered to locate the 20% that makes the difference, that builds the connection and that nourishes and inspires their child.’ Parents need to go beyond what is presented on the website, the tour and the professionally produced brochures to find the right fit. The key he believes is to ‘know your child and to know their strengths and interests’. No one knows your child like you do.

Searching for the right school is not unlike searching for the right house. It takes research, visits, discussions, financial planning. This is a long term commitment, one not to be taken lightly. School Tours and expos are fantastic sources of information, but similar to an open house, only the best is on show. You need to get a look at the school when things are likely to be a little off script. Perhaps even go along to Saturday sport to see the students, staff and parents in a less regimented environment.

Here are some tips from Mr Heath for the day of the tour:

  1. Ask to see a classroom that is currently being used. What are the students and teacher doing? Do the students look engaged? How is the classroom designed? Ask the tour leader why the classrooms are designed that way.
  2. Talk to the students you see. Ask them what they like. Ask them what they could change if they had the power. What do they look forward to about their school?
  3. How does the school respond to children who are different? We all know that not all children and compliant, extroverted, intrinsically motivated students. How does the school inspire children who don’t fit this mould?
  4. Ask what is currently being done, and being planned for in the future, to make the school better? What is their vision of the future?

For some, the choice is easy due to a long standing history with the school. However, the school you attended is not the same school today. Think about how different the world was when you attended school as a student to the one we now inhabit as parents. On this idea of family tradition and lineage, Mr Heath comments that whilst family traditions are cherished within school, what matters above all else is that “the school and its culture are a good fit for the child. Let the child find their own story and sense of place and belonging. Celebrate the life of the child pre-eminently”.

We all want our children to be inspired, to be valued and to be taught be people who have a love of learning and teaching. Schools are not a generic one size fits all proposition and it pays to do your homework.

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