Top 5 questions
Mike Weston, Headmaster at Sherborne School in Qatar, tells us about the top concerns that parents have when they visit the school.
1. Exam Results
Parents often ask about exam results. This is perfectly understandable, although I find when I dig a bit it’s often something they’ve been advised to ask, rather than something they think of as the only way to evaluate a potential school for their child. They’ll say they’ve been told to ask the question!
When we talk about it, I’ll encourage them to see exam results in the context of the total education, the total experience their child will receive – and really this is how most parents understand the question already, of course. It’s important to understand how to interpret results, how to interrogate them to make sense of what they mean for your child. Headline figures can often be misleading, or rather very partial in the impression they give.
This is a very important consideration, a central question for many parents. They want to be sure that the education their children will receive is absolutely transferable. They want to know their child won’t be at any disadvantage when they move on to other international schools elsewhere, or return home.
In our case they want to know that it’s a real British education that we offer – in the curriculum, in the exams, in pastoral care, in extra-curricular activities. An education which is ‘portable’ and can be continued in the UK or in other British schools abroad.
This is always something parents are interested in. This could be the facilities that are used in the classroom in different subjects, or it could be the facilities for sports, after-school clubs and extra-curricular activities.
There are really lots of different concerns wrapped up in these questions – it’s about the range of activities the school offers, and also about the quality of the school’s environment.
4. Helping children to settle in
This is a subject that’s naturally towards the top of their minds for many parents. What do we do to help their child settle in? A really important question. In our case we have a ‘buddy’ system, a friend that’s assigned to each new pupil. We encourage every new child not to worry about anything they think they’re doing wrong – that nothing is wrong or right. And the pupils in general help new children to settle in. Also, every pupil has a tutor, who is the first point of contact with parents. We keep parents well-informed and the relationship becomes a strong one. So it’s a process with many different aspects. The important thing that I can say to parents is that most children accomplish it more smoothly than they might expect!
Because aspects of moving to a new country can be challenging for some parents, we have a very active Parent Teacher Association, and there is a lot of help and support given to new families by these volunteers.
5. The impact of a different culture
Of course a lot of parents ask about the experience of attending a school in a Muslim country, and it would be the same in other countries and cultures. They want to know how this affects life in the school, what difference it makes. The essential point of course is that an international school offers a distinctive education of its own – a British education, in our case – and a cosmopolitan experience, bringing together children from numerous different backgrounds, including lots of children from the country in which the school is located.
Children are naturally inquisitive and will talk about the new culture, asking questions out of a genuine desire to learn. When all’s said and done, they are all children who play together, become friends and develop together; and the differences don’t matter in the slightest
And lots more ....
Every parent will have a long list of questions. Parents sometimes ask questions about specific subjects and the time given to them, or how the curriculum is balanced between different subjects, and so on. They might want to know how many periods of Maths their child will have in a week, or what languages we offer. With all these questions I’ll have a discussion to find out what’s on their mind and what they’re concerned about. Parents should always ask questions about anything that’s worrying them – a school can almost always help!