If you have a child that is about to start a new school (whether it be primary school or high school) the task of deciding which school is best can be very worrying. Many parents are content to send their child to whichever school is closest. That’s fine, but we all know what impact our schooling lives has on the direction we take in life, so yes; it is a big deal, and it’s okay to be a bit stressed over it. It just means that you want the best for your child, as every parent should.
Whilst it is common for parents to want to know which school is best for their son or daughter, it is very difficult to know for sure what a school is like when you’re on the outside of it. Even if you went to that school yourself when you were younger, schools can change enormously over time.
To know which school is best for your child, the first question you need to answer is this: what is it that you’re looking for in a school exactly? To go even deeper, what is it you’re looking for in a child? Hang on – did he just say what is it you’re looking for in a child?
If that just gave your nervous system a bit of a jolt, then good. As protective and caring parents, we want to do more than just protect our child, we want to mould them. Chances are, we want to influence their surroundings so that it will influence them, and in the process, mould them to be the way we want them to be. We like the idea of designing our children’s lives. Not so that we can create ‘designer kids’ as though they were fashion accessories either (although I’m sure you know of parents who think like that). We know the world is a harsh place, where survival is tough and there’s a lot of bad influences. We want to strengthen our children’s foundation so that once they are all grown up and off on their own in this harsh world, they will have what it takes to lead happy, successful and fulfilling lives.
Whilst I’m sure that we can all agree about wanting to influence our children’s environment and know which school is best to provide them with a happy and fulfilling future, the way in which that is done best is perhaps the fork in the road where parents might disagree. So this is where I am going to ask you to think very carefully about what attributes you feel make for a happy and fulfilling future, when deciding which school is best.
You may believe that getting high marks and a good ATRAR is the magical recipe for a happy life. Your child must after all get into the RIGHT university course, otherwise they might as well go jump off the gap right? Whilst no parent in their right mind would actually agree with this last statement, the reason I worded it so harshly is because if you put too much pressure on your son or your daughter to get into the ‘right’ university course, the unconscious message that a vulnerable and insecure young mind will perceive is actually not too dissimilar to the exaggerated version I just worded. Never being able to live up to mummy or daddy’s expectations, no matter what degree or career path you take, will ever result in a happy fulfilling life. Moreover, the ‘never quite good enough’ mentality will only spill over onto your grandchildren, great grandchildren and become a never-ending cycle. I see it a lot. No one ever looks back on their life and feels content knowing that they contaminated their children with the ‘never quite good enough’ virus. Remember that.
Having said all this, university entrance is important. Achieving the best one can achieve is also important. Having the right environment is very important. So what makes for the ‘right’ environment then? Is the right environment one where the kids wear ties and have strict discipline? Is it where they have a bigger lap pool than the ‘competing’ schools? Is it having the right quantitative statistics to ‘prove’ their success? Is it the one that the other parents will be jealous of when they hear about it down at the tennis club?
Well, if appearances and superficiality is what you value (and therefore want to inject into your children’s personality) then yes. Whilst I could be wrong, I don’t personally believe that superficiality is an important ingredient when putting together a recipe for a happy life. In fact, to me, it only steers a person around in circles chasing after a goal that will never bring them what they’re really searching for. But that’s just me.
In fact, I can’t tell you what attributes you should or should not be looking for to mould in your child. That’s up to you. Just remember that the culture of the school will ‘rub off’ on those who attend it. So whatever personality characteristics you want to mould in your child, look for a school where those same personality characteristics are present in the people there. That won’t be found on a website. It won’t be found in graphs or numbers. It won’t be found in a sales pitch, a uniform, a school motto or the number of trophies displayed in the admin office either.
My personal belief is that a good school is made up of good teachers and good students. A good school is therefore good because of the people who go there. The goodness of a person can never be determined by something that can be calculated or printed on a piece of paper either. It’s something that must be experienced.
The ideal situation would be to send your child to a few different schools, observe what goes on for a few days, and make your decision that way. Unfortunately, that’s not an option. If you want to know about what a ‘people’ are like without being able to interact with those people much, then remember the golden rule of the behaviours of human culture; followers are like their leaders.
If you want to know what the teachers and kids are like at a school, observe the principal and the parents. Observe the way they communicate. Observe their body language, their tone of voice, their facial expressions, the things they talk about and the way they talk about them. Observing the unconscious communication of the leaders in any group will give you big clues about what everyone else is like.
The best way to observe this communication of course is to attend the schools P&C meetings. Attending the schools P&C committee meetings can give you opportunities to ask questions of the schools leaders and observe their reactions. Then compare those reactions between the different schools. It won’t tell you with 100% certainty which school is best, but it will give you an ‘insider’ insight that won’t be gained any other way.
Once again, I can’t tell you what you should be looking for when you make these observations – that’s up to you. Whatever you’re looking for in a school (and in a child) however, then attending a few P&C meetings is probably the best strategy for finding out which school is best for meeting your personal criteria.