Visiting a school
Tony Richardson, an inset trainer who works with teachers in international schools all over the world, writes for Winter’s about the importance of school visits, and suggests some of the questions that you’ll want to consider at this critical stage in the process of choosing a school.
The old adage ‘time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted’ pays dividends when you’re choosing a school. You need to research all your options very thoroughly – but then the visit is the key step.
Before the visit
Making decisions about a school over the internet or from a distance when you’re not able to view the building and meet the staff can be very daunting. However there are several indicators you can use to check if the school is of a good standard and offers what you’re looking for.
Check if the school is accredited by a reputable organisation. Examples are: -
- BSO British Schools Overseas
- COBIS Council of British Independent Schools
- CIS Council of International Schools
- NAIS National Association of Independent Schools
Accreditation means that all aspects of the school have been assessed against a set of standards. This includes the financial viability of the school.
Schools based on the National Curriculum of the UK may well have had a recent inspection, which will be posted on the British Schools Overseas (BSO) website.
The school’s own website will inform you of the type of curriculum followed and examinations undertaken. It should also give you information about the overall intake of the school, and how the school is organised. It may well give you an idea of the facilities that the school offers, particularly in the area of sports. Sites do vary in content enormously, some offering more detailed information on staffing and intake, for example, while others inevitably leave you with a very large number of questions to answer!
Finally, most schools do invite you to email any queries you might have, so it is worth sending any unanswered questions to that email address.
Visiting an English-speaking international school
The best way of checking the suitability of a school for your child is always to contact the school and arrange a visit.
Prepare any questions or queries beforehand so that you can make full use of your time there.
Try to time your visit to take place during the school day to catch both the atmosphere and working nature of the school. A meeting with the head teacher or school principal will give you the opportunity to raise any questions not answered elsewhere in the visit.
Trust your own judgement about the general atmosphere and look of the school. A sense of well-being and ordered presentation are good starting indicators. Notice-boards can give you a good indication of the school’s activities and recent achievements. Are they up-to-date and do they celebrate the school’s successes?
As you walk around the school look at class size and class make-up. How well-resourced are the classrooms? In the infant and primary sectors, look for the teaching methods that are being used. Look to see if smart white-boards are available in most or all of the classrooms.
Use the context of classroom visits to ask pertinent questions about the curriculum, teaching styles and classroom organisation.
You can also ask questions about staffing in the school. Most schools try to achieve a balance in their staff: the more recently trained teachers are fresh with new ideas on children’s learning and classroom practice, but more mature staff have a greater breadth of practice and experience.
Are there additional facilities such as computer rooms, libraries, gymnasiums and other sports facilities? How well-equipped are they?
Is there a school hall? Are there school assemblies? Assemblies are a prime time for developing a positive school spirit and fostering the school ethos.
You may be concerned about your child’s integration into the school, particularly if they are starting mid-term. Most schools have a policy for ensuring that a newly arrived pupil is befriended and helped to get to know the school in every way.
How will the school respond to any specific educational needs that your child may have? If your child has a specific mobility requirement, check that the building can meet their needs, as many international schools are based across a variety of buildings.
If your child is learning the native language of the country, how frequently is it taught and what method is used?
Transport to school may be another concern. Schools often have a bussing system in place. Check the cost of using the school’s system.
Last of all (and probably something that you don’t need to be reminded about!), check if there is a waiting list for places, as popular schools are often oversubscribed.
You’ll have lots of other questions that you’ll want to ask on a visit. The key thing is to be well-prepared, and to remember that schools are happy to answer any questions at all. In fact, the way that your questions are answered will probably tell you as much about the school as the answers to the questions themselves. If the people you meet are open and friendly and want to help this will tell you an enormous amount. If you find yourself enjoying the visit then trust that feeling!