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Criteria for selecting a school – guidelines, checklist

It is that time of the year again – The start of school admissions! You know the process – standing in long lines to get school admission forms, keeping track of the admission dates and paraphernalia and on top of this trying to select an appropriate school for your child. It sure is a trying time for us parents.

Well, we do not have the magic formula yet of how to get in the school that is on top of your list.  But we have here some practical guidelines, criteria and advice that will help you figure out how to approach selecting an appropriate school for your child.

First things first: Researching the list of schools

  • Figure out what works best for your child and family and what you all value. You might not have all the golden answers from day one but some introspection will help you narrow down on schools and tame this jungle better. Of course do discuss with your spouse. The process is iterative and as you visit schools and talk to parents you will better understand what you want in a school.
    • For example: Does your child work best in a structured or unstructured environment, does your child need a lot of attention? As a family what do you value – academic achievements, allround emphasis on sports, extra curricular activities etc.
  • The schools websites and prospectus will also give you lots of information about the school and what they emphasize.
  • Nothing like talking to other like-minded parents and seeing what works for them and what does not. Check out the  school reviews and ask your friends for ideas. If there is someone who’s blog and discussions you really gel with, go ahead and ask them for suggestions.
  • Do go and see the schools on your short list. Talk to the principals and teachers. Ask them probing questions.
    • For example, what is the main emphasis of the school? You will better understand if it is the merit list type of academic achievement or holistic learning.

Some typical selection criteria and checklist (What to look for)

(Not in an particular order of importance as different parents view and value different criteria differently)

These will help you to short-list schools and some common criteria for assessing schools. You can use this as a checklist as you talk to other parents and schools.

  • Kind of school (in general)
    • Is the school a mainstream, alternative, international, blend of mainstream/alternative, particular philosophy, co-ed etc.
    • What are the values and the emphasis of the school?
      • Academic achievements, fostering competition, holistic learning, balance of academics and activities, child-centred or curriculum centred? Is the school structured or unstructured?
  • Curriculum
    • The curriculum of the school. What do they teach?
    • The board: CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE, IB, State Boards etc. Check out Parentree article on School Boards in India to understand the different boards.
    • The subjects offered and the subject combination and electives offered in higher classes (class 11 and 12)
    • The languages taught.
    • Till what class is the school etc. A school that has only the primary classes may result in you having to find another school when you child gets past class 5. Many good schools do not have that many seats open in the higher classes and a transfer may become difficult.
  •  Teachers and the staff (the real humans behind the school).
    • The quality and quantity of the teachers in the school are very important. While talking to other parents or school principals probe what kind of teachers they have, their qualifications and experience level, teacher training and teacher turnover.
    • Do look at the principal’s background. A great principal can really make a school.
  • Teaching and assessment (methods and style).
    • What are the methods of teaching used? Textbooks, workbooks, class discussions, projects etc.?
    • How do they assess students? Is it exams, quizzes, continuous assessment,unit/monthly tests, general assessment.
    • Do they have grades, marks or detailed descriptive assessments?
    • How much homework do they get?
    • What kind of learning does the school espouse and encourage? Rote based, balanced, conceptual, applied, lateral, creative?
    • Are the students encouraged to ask questions and discuss?
    • How do the teachers interact with the students and motivate them? Do they punish? How do they punish?
    • How do the kids move to higher classes?
    • Do you have a stand on what methods work best for your child and your family? Talk to other parents to try and figure this out.
  • The student-teacher ratio.
    • How many students are there per teacher in a class? Lower the student-teacher ratio, the chances are that more attention your child will get. In lower classes especially, a low ratio is very desirable and important.
  • School safety
    • How do they keep the students safe?
    • How do they screen visitors to the school?
    • Their sick-child policy etc.
  • Daily, weekly and yearly routine and schedule
    • Sometimes it can really help to understand how a typical day flows in the school. What are the timings? The breaks? Whether they give lunch in school? Do they get any play or unstructured time?
    • What is the weekly time table? How many times do they have PE (Physical Education) or other extracurricular activities?
    • It can also help to understand the schedule of different events the school has: Show and Tell, school play, sports day, other events, whether every student gets to participate or only a few?
    • What external competitive tests does the school have? (Olympiads, IAIS, Macmillan, South of Wales, Asset testing,  Spelling Bee etc.). This can indicate what the kind of learning (conceptual, applied, lateral, rote learning) the school is leaning towards.
  • School infrastructure.
    • How are the sports facilities, building, the classrooms etc.
    • School cleanliness – bathrooms etc.
    • The classrooms.
    • Is the classroom space is clean, tidy and inspiring? Does it have work done by students?
    • The computer rooms, the labs and equipment
    • Playgrounds and open areas
  • The activities and sports the school offers.
    • Is there a certain activity or sport your child and family is crazy about? Is it offered in the school? Will the child have time to pursue that activity?
    • Do the students participate in inter-school sports and extracurricular events and competitions. What is the school’s performance in these?
  • Parent teacher communication
    • How can parents communicate with teachers? What forums does the school have?
      • Some schools have regular parent teacher meetings. In some schools, parents can walk over to the school any time while in some schools parents can request meeting on certain times.
      • Some schools communicate to the parents – via the Internet, circulars etc.
    • It is not the most important criteria that you will look at in a school, but it might give you general indication of the school’s overall philosophy.
  •  Distance from the school and the commute time
    • Typically, it can really help your family if the school is near. Less commute time in the traffic and pollution is better for their physical and mental well-being. And they can spend more time doing real stuff – like spending time with you, playing, studying, activities etc. Of course if there are no good schools in your area, it is a different story.
    • Does the school offer a bus or van service ?
  • The fees
    • What are the fees? Can you afford it? Of course try and give your child the best education within your means. Do not overly stretch your budget and unnecessarily strain your family. Is not worth it.
  • Your gut-feel
    • The general gut reaction you have about the school as you talk to parents and teachers and see the school can be very important.
    • Of course do all the research and analysis but do not over analyse. Listen to your gut.
    • Can you picture your child in the school? Do you see your child happy in the school?
    • Do not get overtly swayed by keeping up with your neighbours or how prestigious a school is but by how your child can benefit.

Remember that you cannot have it all and no place or no one is perfect. No school is perfect and can meet all your criteria. A common woe of us 21st century parents! I sound like my mom but I feel it is true. We want it all for our little ones. You cannot give them all. Some compromises are always necessary. Do research and find out what is important to you and then just listen to your gut and relax. I have to keep reminding myself to do so. 🙂

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