I’d like to move schools: how can I do this during lockdown?
There is no such thing as ‘the best school’; only the ‘right’ school for each and every child. With many schools now offering world-class remote learning, it has never been easier to switch to the one that best offers what your child needs. Many families are choosing to make the move whilst online.
But how? Without being able to visit the sites, soak up the atmosphere and see the teaching first-hand, how do you know who to trust to nurture and educate your children, to give them the opportunities they deserve, to help them to create the right habits for life?
Many schools have launched online, virtual alternatives to the traditional Open Day. There are various formats, from pre-recorded promotional videos, to wow-factor drone footage and presentations from the Head. These will certainly give you an impressive glimpse of what a place has to offer on the surface, but you’ll want to look out for a school that offers a personal touch: the opportunity to ask questions, a genuine interest in your family and your child, and the chance to arrange personal meetings with various members of staff. Good schools are about the people: you’ll want to get to know them.
There are few key things to remember and questions to ask when considering schools and what they could offer your child, particularly with the extra challenges of the current Coronavirus pandemic:
- Excellence: What is the pupil journey like? And what do they go onto achieve?
- Character: what is the most important thing to the Head?
- Standards: have you seen the latest ISI Inspection Report?
- Extra-curricular: what opportunities are there for pupils to excel?
- Community: find out about the people: pupils and staff – are they valued individually?
- Special: is there a personal touch?
- Ethos: what are the vision and values of the school?
- Communication: what is their digital offer?
- Sense: trust your instincts!
Naturally, you will want to get to know more about what happens behind the marketing materials – be sure to look out for the school that wants to bring the sights and sounds of day-to-day school life to your screen at home.
Virtual Open Days, although a relatively new addition for most schools, tend to follow a similar format which can make it difficult to tell one school from the next. Most independent schools can boast excellent education, small class sizes, dedicated staff leading to outstanding outcomes – but you are likely to want to know more about how the school is led: its vision, its values and its approach: these have a real impact on the feel and vibe of the school, on the journey of education your child will set out on, and on the development of their character.
Be sure to ask for a personal video call/virtual meeting and make sure they have time for your family individually, not just as part of a larger group. Nothing will compare to the intuitive feeling you get when you visit a school, feel the atmosphere, see the children learning and playing – and it is difficult to make the same connections virtually but if the school team is enthusiastic and willing to invest in your family, that can be a good insight into how they will invest in you if you join. If you can’t make the day the school has chosen, get in touch and see if they will offer you an individual session: how a school operates it admissions process says a lot about what it values.
When you are able to visit in person, remember that schools are now having to strike the difficult balance between wanting to welcome prospective families and ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of their pupils and staff. Don’t be put off if you are asked to stand at a distance, wear a mask, use copious amounts of hand sanitizer, or aren’t able to enter as many classrooms as normal. Remember that how a school looks after its current pupils will give you an insight into the approach they will take to caring for your children, too.
Consider the people: who do you meet? Who takes an interest? Are you part of a conveyor belt or are you welcomed and looked after as an individual family? Good schools are all about people: what can you spot about the relationship between staff and pupils? Do the staff feel that they are valued members of a team? A happy team and happy staff will mean that your children will have the best environment to learn, be challenged and to succeed.
Check out the news section of their website and social media – what innovative ideas have they introduced during this lockdown? What is their online learning programme like? Has it had good feedback?
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, trust your instincts – that’s what you would do if you were able to visit the school in person. You know your children and your family better than anyone; you know what they need and what you want. Pick a school whose values and vision match your own – glossy booklets, pre-recorded videos and website statistics can be a starting point, but they’ll only get you so far. They won’t tell you whether the culture will suit what your family is after. Choose the school where you think your child will be happiest – a purposeful community where people (children and staff) matter, where they will be given the opportunity to flourish, and where you feel confident that the very best hands and hearts will guide them on their journey.