Choosing a school for your child is a huge decision. There are so many factors to consider, but ultimately it will come down to your gut feeling of what suits your child and your family. Go to the school open days, go to the local school fetes, research on the internet and of course speak to other parents about where they are planning to send their kids.
To help you in making your decision, North Shore Mums have come up with a list of things your should look for in choosing a school, and questions you may want to ask.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN TOURING THE SCHOOL
- What facilities does the school have? Playgrounds, grass, library, sports, music programs etc.
- Does it have a welcoming atmosphere? Do you feel comfortable with the teachers and parents?
- How clean and tidy are the grounds?
- How safe is the play equipment?
- How happy, pleasant and well-mannered are the kids that you pass in the school (not the ones who are showing you around – they’ll have been picked for their charm). Also, ask to have a peek in to a random class in progress.
- How modern are the facilities? For example, do they have an Interactive Whiteboard and air conditioning in each room, do they have a computer for each student in the computer room, how well stocked is the library?
- The location of the school, cost or difficulty of travelling to and from the school, and public transport options.
- The schools’ previous academic results or performance in other areas (arts, sport).
- What do other parents think about the different schools in your area? What are their experiences?
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Last year, North Shore Mum Kirstie Dolton looked at the three local public schools in choosing a school for her daughter. Here, she shares her experiences and observations from her search:
- Do they do any kind of ‘buddy’ system to help the kindergarten children settle in?
- What approach does the school take to behaviour management?
- What is the school’s anti-bullying policy?
- How do they communicate with parents about any concerns?
- What does the canteen menu look like and how often is it open?
- How much are the term payments on average?
- Do they encourage parental involvement with class work (guided reading times, group literacy etc)
- Are children able to visit the library during recess or lunch if they want?
- Does it offer before and after school care?
- How big is the school (number of students), how many kindergarten classes and how many children per class?
- Is there a religious affiliation, and how strong is it?
- How do they cater for children with different abilities? Do they have withdrawal groups for students with learning difficulties, or a gifted and talented program? What year do these start in?
Last year we were determined to find the best public school to suit our daughter, so we did some research. I hope this helps other families make that very important decision.
The Easter Hat Parade
Living on the Hornsby side of Wahroonga, our catchment school is Waitara Public School, which by reputation has excellent academic results based on NAPLAN. It was in the 99th percentile last year. It also has two opportunity classes (OC) and attracts International Students because of the fantastic academic reputation. We also wanted to look at Warrawee Public School and Wahroonga Public School. All three schools were in the top third percentile based on results and I would imagine that most North Shore schools rank very highly.
For us, it was more than just academic excellence. It was about finding a fun learning environment where our daughter would be happy, make great friends and want to learn. We wanted great teachers, a fabulous principal, a variety of sporting opportunities (we are sporty parents), art, music, learning facilities (such as access to a library and computers) and lovely playgrounds.
Our daughter loves art and craft, is keen to learn and she is active. She is a typical five year old, but of course extra special in our eyes and, like all parents, we want the best possible opportunities for her. My gut feel from the beginning was that Wahroonga Public School (aka ‘The Bush School’) was the perfect school for her.
Location was another important factor, as both of us work full-time, so we needed an easy drop off and pick up as well as Before and After School Care. Although most before and after school care facilities are a separate business to the school, there are sadly not enough places versus the demand. A place at the school without a place at before and after school care would mean making other arrangements, as we haven’t any family in the country.
We looked at all three schools, and below are some key points that stood out to me in deciding between three wonderful school!
- ‘The Bush School’ has a divine setting amongst the blue gum trees, an outdoor classroom and two swimming pools – the only public primary school in NSW with a swimming pool! The fact that out daughter would be able to do swimming lessons in after school care time (supervised of course!) would save us valuable time at the weekend.
- ‘The Bush School’ has an environmental class, and the Kindy kids get the opportunity to play the recorder at the Opera House!
- The other two schools have more traditional playgrounds near busy roads and limited grass areas. Waitara is planting trees and has plans for more green in a couple if years, though already has wooded area at the edge of the school grounds in the original school area. There is a also special fenced garden at Warrawee and a gardening club, which is a lovely idea.
- All three schools have decorated the Kindy classrooms to a high standard that made them attractive and they all have the modern interactive whiteboards and access to a computer lab with weekly computer lessons.
- All three schools primary focus is on literacy and numeracy skills, primarily with reading groups formed by Term 2. Parents are encouraged, if their circumstances allow, to assist with these reading groups in the mornings.
- The stand out Principal based purely on first impressions and chatting to them at open evenings was the Warrawee Public School Principal. She was so passionate and her energy was infectious. I’m sure she knew every child in the school.
- All three schools are big schools with between four and five kindy classes each year. This may not suit every family and for more reserved children a smaller school like Turramurra North Public may be more suitable.
- Warrawee Public School has two sides to the school with Kindy separated, which makes it appear smaller, and possibly gives a friendlier feel.
- All three schools go on excursions to a farm in term 1 or 2.
- The Bush School had slightly more variety of sports, but all schools have a day where the kids wear their sports kit for the whole day (that way no need to change in the middle of the day).
- The library at The Bush School was the most extensive, but they all have well stocked libraries.
- I clearly remember the Warrawee children had the best singing voices as they sung the School Song to the parents at the open evening and it was so beautiful, I shed a tear.
- When we visited the three schools unannounced at different times, I’d say that the Warrawee kids were the most disciplined and well behaved, with The Bush School kids laughing the loudest and the noisiest by far!
- The teachers we met at all three schools seemed exceptional and genuinely caring and fun.
- Wahroonga and Waitara both have a ‘buddy system’ where an older child looks out for and spends a day per week with a Kindy kid.
There were fewer ‘out of area’ places offered at Wahroonga and Waitara schools versus Warrawee last year. Warrawee usually decides on ‘out of area’ places earlier in the year than the other two. This is dependent on demand for ‘in area’ places of course.
Summer in her winter uniform
The hardest thing for us, was that we initially accepted a place at Warrawee Public but were offered a late ‘out of area’ place in November at Wahroonga Public School. We didn’t think we would get a place at the Bush School, as every time I chased they said it was highly unlikely. I had, however, written a ‘business case’ in an attempt to get our daughter accepted and we are only one street from the catchment boundary.
When we were offered a place at Wahroonga Public School, our daughter had already done two of the three orientation sessions at Warrawee, and we had even bought the uniform! Changing schools at the last minute was a really tough decision. We personally met with the Warrawee Principal as we felt so sad about letting them down.
The ultimate reason was that the location of The Bush School was more convenient for us. Warrawee was the wrong side of the Pacific Highway to where we live and would add an extra 10 minutes to our trip each day.
Once we made the decision to go with The Bush School, we never looked back. Out daughter has been 100% happy there, and she loves the After School Care. There are chickens, chessboards, a volunteer art teacher plus new activities every day. It looks so much fun. We wish we could go instead of work!
As she is an only child, it is fantastic for her and us and she has made some lovely little (and big) friends – yes, one of the plusses of after school care is the mix of age ranges. She is doing amazingly, has a fantastic teacher and loves school.
I guess the key message is that all the North Shore schools are wonderful, so it is about finding the fantastic one that suits your child the best.
Note: Each public school has a specific catchment area. You can find out what local public school your children can attend by visiting the NSW Public Schools website, and entering your suburb. If several schools come up, you may need to go to each individual school website to find out what their catchment zone is. If you want to apply to a school out of your catchment zone, you’ll need to provide a good case for why you should be considered.