How to Make the Most of School Open Days
The team at Sinclair House School in Fulham share their top tips on how to make the most of school open days…
Choosing a Preparatory School can seem like a daunting task for families, many of whom find the process of wading through piles of prospectuses, large websites and endless school guides an overwhelming one. Finalising which schools to shortlist often feels like a weighty decision, and though it is clearly an important choice, it can be made easier!
At Sinclair House School in Fulham, we recommend isolating and prioritising specific factors most important to you, to help you make the most of Open Days and select a learning environment that forms the best ‘fit’ for your child and their unique personality and strengths.
Register Early and Check Entrance Procedures
London has a very competitive educational sector, so it is critical to confirm interest early, registering your child as soon as possible to secure entrance onto a waiting list and the best chance of a place. Make sure to speak to schools about their admissions and selection procedure, as even those that are ‘non-selective’ tend to have an assessment process of sorts (though not all have formal testing requirements).
Parents are often concerned about potential pupils having to sit written papers, but remember that many schools look simultaneously at emotional development and social interaction as well as academic capabilities. Our assessment process at Sinclair House takes a wide variety of factors into account, alongside test results, so these do not always restrict acceptance.
The size of a school makes a big difference to the inherent ‘culture’ and has a key impact on the ‘feel’ of a school environment. Large schools often seem more established with impressive and extensive facilities as well as a longer history, but smaller schools can have unique strengths too. Some may be able to offer capped class sizes and pupil-to-teacher ratios which favour personalised teaching and attention to individual strengths and weaknesses. When attending Open Days, consider your child’s character and talents, this which may be a better ‘fit’ for your child and their particular character and learning needs.
A school’s sibling policy (and potential discounts) can be a key factor to consider if you have several children, and enrolling them at the same school is a priority. This has obvious benefits for cost-savings, but at the same time, may also help in streamlining family logistics, admin, uniforms and parents evenings.
Individuality is also a factor here; for example, a particularly athletic child may be best suited to a school with exceptional sporting credentials and facilities, while an ‘all-rounder’ sibling may be better matched to a more holistic environment. If it is important to you to educate your children together and they exhibit different strengths and weaknesses, look at which schools offer a broad and balanced curriculum that is able to nurture individual talents and skills and differentiate across a range of abilities.
Look at the educational offering beyond the classroom walls
For some parents an established academic record is a priority. Others specifically seek out a variety of extra-curricular activities as an essential part of selection, or view evidence of a strong pastoral system as non-negotiable.
It’s important to use Open Days to identify how different schools encourage academic progress, but alongside this, to ask questions about how they support creative, artistic and sporting talents and nurture social and psychological competencies. The school you choose should be the one that will allow your child to develop emotionally as well as flourish educationally,
Educational Ethos & Values are Important
Asking about the ethos can help you to gauge the culture and shared values across a school’s community. When reading through the plethora of school literature, and attending Open Days, pay close attention to the language used and the specific keywords that are highlighted by a school. Often particular words and phrases will have resonance for you personally, or are aligned with your specific aspirations for a learning environment.
If you can, isolate which speak to you as a parent, and promote a learning culture that you, as a family, identify with. When at Open Days, seek out a classroom context that you think would suit your child, but will also inspire and challenge them.
Can’t attend? Make an appointment to visit in person and don’t be afraid of asking questions
A prospectus or a website can give a superficial impression of a school, but can only convey a feel for the overall educational mission; to truly experience what life is like in a classroom it is imperative that you meet in person with staff and pupils so that you can sense the atmosphere internally.
f you can’t attend an Open Day, enquire about booking an individual tour of the school. At Sinclair House, we always encourage prospective parents and children to ask as many questions as they feel necessary when they visit us, to observe the teaching at Open Days, and to talk to staff and current pupils to gauge a sense of what we are about. When selecting a school, it’s important to begin with an open and honest dialogue about your expectations from the outset, as well as discussing with the school what they expect from students.
Trust your parental intuition
When leaving a tour of a school on an Open Day, the critical question to ask yourself is whether you can see your child happy within that environment. Trying to find somewhere that will be right for them across the journey of growth that comprises the preparatory years can be confusing, especially when none of us can predict the area in which a child’s talents will develop, or the change in their personality that might occur between the ages of 4 and 11.
Ultimately though, happy, confident children learn best (whatever age they are), so look to find a learning environment in which you can see your child content, settled, and secure, and trust your instincts!
For more about Sinclair House School and upcoming Open Days, see sinclairhouseschool.co.uk
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