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Choosing a private school: look beyond the brochures

date:Apr 12,2013 source:互联网 editorial staff:linan clicks:

As part of Telegraph Education's weeklong focus on private schools, Virginia Matthews explains how schools are going a long way to attract parents.
As part of Telegraph Education

Fine balance: art, science and dance classes contribute to a well-rounded education 
Constrained budgets may be putting the dampers on shiny new arts centres and state-of-the-art sports facilities, but when it comes to improving their overall offering to parents, independent schools are coming up trumps.
Whether it’s additional languages, earlier morning drop-offs or comprehensive online parent portals, the sector’s reputation for choice is holding up well, says Janette Wallis, senior editor of the Good Schools Guide. “Many parents have told their schools they would rather see fewer fee increases than a brand-new performing arts centre and heads have taken that on board,” she says. “The emphasis is increasingly on ad hoc and flexible boarding facilities for the children of working parents, and a more wide-ranging approach to before- and after-school care. Both are making a huge difference to families at a time when the pressure is on.”
While glossy brochures are a good way of getting across a school’s unique selling points, canny parents look beyond glitzy marketing to the curriculum, facilities, teaching staff and core values. Pastoral care and discipline are vital areas to quiz a school about, and its bullying policy will often give an insight into how it views its responsibility to pupils.
“Analysing the last three years’ exam results will give you valuable academic information, but softer issues regarding school life are vital for making children feel settled,” confirms Wallis. “If you are considering boarding, ask current boarders what the food is like and find out what they do at weekends.”
In terms of curriculum, language provision is improving all the time. Even the smallest prep school now offers more than just French. “Spanish is a favourite,” says Wallis, “and while many senior schools already teach Mandarin or another Asian language, others will offer it during a lunchtime session or after-school club.”

Roger Clark, head of Battle Abbey School, East Sussex, believes a school’s website is a far more important source of information than a brochure and urges parents to pay particular attention to the weekly newsletter, which tends to be more truthful about what’s going on at the school.
He advises them to “ensure that all subjects have equal status” and to know what they’re looking for in a school. “We don’t want to be too prescriptive when it comes to subject choice, nor do we want to freeze creativity out of the curriculum. If it’s an academic hothouse you’re after, we may not be the right fit for your child,” he says.
Socially speaking, Clark prides himself on offering a diverse student mix, pointing out that it’s more valuable to sit next to someone whose summers are spent on the Black Sea rather than the South Coast. “Whether they come from Vladivostok or Virginia Water, we encourage our pupils to broaden their horizons,” he says.
Stephen Crump, headmaster of Hethersett Old Hall School, Norfolk, says it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to boarding. “We offer reasonably priced flexi-boarding and many families find it very useful. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need it, the option is there,” he says.
He advises parents choosing a school to listen to their heart as well as their head. “Note whether the building smells of disinfectant or something more appetising. Are faces glum or happy and relaxed? Trust your instincts: remember, if you feel unwelcome, so will your child.”
An independent education doesn’t come cheap and Crump advises parents to find out exactly how much a place will cost once extras are taken into account. “Lots of parents are shivering in this economic climate and we’re doing all we can to help with fee remission, deferred payment and emergency bursaries.”
The advice of Gill Dixon, head of Trent College in Nottingham, is to look for heads “with ambition and direction” and find out exactly what their priorities are when it comes to future plans for the school.” She also advises meeting current sixth-formers and imagining your own child as one of them. “Sixth-formers who leave our care are free-range, not battery hens, and, although confident individuals, they don’t have the pomp and swagger that so many well-established independent schools appear to favour.”
Dixon adds that the assessment process is a two-way street. “There is a tendency for newly-moneyed parents to think that paying large fees means their children will automatically get A* grades and top university places without having to put in any effort. Occasionally, we have to suggest they look elsewhere.”

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