Choosing a school for your child

The opportunity to choose which school your children go to is clearly a privilege and a luxury, but it can also be a minefield.

Choosing the right school for your child
Dr Selina Samuels Education expert BA(Hons), LLB, PhD, MEd Tuesday, 23 July 2019

We’re lucky here in Oz. Australia consistently ranks as a “top 20 country” – access to quality education is one of the reasons why. But with so many high-quality schools, the idea of choosing just one can seem impossible.

The good news is that regardless of the school you choose, COVID has taught us that there are plenty of options for out-of-school education that can supplement and support learning. Private schools can be expensive, so a public school option combined with 1-to-1 or small group tutoring sessions might be the better choice for you. Find out about how we can help here.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to choosing the right school for your child

Step 1: Do your homework

There are a lot of schools out there. Far too many to visit each one. You’ll need to narrow the list of your potential schools down to a manageable number so you can compare them. The easiest way to do this is to make sure you’ve thought about the factors that are non-negotiable when it comes to schools, i.e. what is most important to you. These are usually logistical or based on your values and beliefs. Some of these questions may help you get started:

  • Single-sex or co-ed?
  • Public or private?
  • Religious or secular?
  • Do you have a budget that you can’t exceed?
  • How far are you prepared to drive/let your child take public transport to get to school?
  • Are school rankings important to you?


Step 2: Get the ball rolling

Now that you have your baseline of school requirements sorted, you can begin to research schools that fit your criteria and weed out any that don’t.

If you have a few schools in mind already

You might already have a list of schools on your radar that meet your criteria above. In that case, jump straight to step 3.

If you’re starting from scratch

If you’re open to any and all schools at this point, choose one of the criteria above to narrow down your search. For example, if rankings are the most important factor for you, check out our school rankings page to see the top performing schools in your state, then take it from there. If school sector or location are the winner, head over to the My School website for extra information.

Narrowing down by school fees is a little harder and will take longer. You may be able to find the cost of tuition online, but you’ll most likely have to check with the individual schools to be sure you have the most up-to-date info. Some schools offer discounted fees for two or more students from the same family, and many will try to help in cases of financial need, so it’s a good idea to call anyway.

Remember to research other education options when thinking about your budget.

How Cluey can help

Our tutoring sessions are a great way to supplement your child’s learning. We offer both private and small group tutoring to suit your needs and budget (discover our pricing here). They’re always personalised to your child and taught by expert tutors in a friendly and fun online environment.


Step 3: Think about your child

Hopefully, you’ve managed to narrow your list down to a handful of great schools. Now it’s time to think about what your child needs. Don’t forget to talk to them about what they want too! After all, they’ll be spending most of their waking hours at school, so you want to make sure they’ll be happy.

Here are some questions to get you thinking: 

  • What are your child’s interests?
  • Are they displaying clear signs of academic, sporting, artistic or musical ability that you want to nurture?
  • What does your child like about their current school?
  • What don’t they like?
  • What do they want to get out of secondary school?


Step 4: Figure out what else is important

You may still have a few schools left on your list. These questions should help you narrow down the search even more:


How to choose a primary school

Does the school offer a ‘transition into school’ program?

  • What before-school and after-school activities are available?
  • Does the school have specific policies on bullying?
  • What is their approach to student discipline and safety?
  • Does the school have any learning support programs in place?
  • How many children are in each class?
  • What sports do they offer?
  • How does the school communicate with parents and get them involved?
  • Do they have resources like musical instruments, computers and a well-stocked library?
  • Are there any extra costs you need to think about – uniforms, textbooks, stationery and excursions?
  • Have any of your friends investigated the same schools? What are their experiences?
  • Does your child’s current teacher have an opinion on which school might fit your child best?


How to choose a secondary or high school

Does the school offer any scholarship programs, and is your child eligible?

  • Does the school require students to have specific technologies like iPads or laptops?
  • Does it have a particular curriculum focus, such as music or physical education?
  • What are the school’s admission procedures and entrance requirements?
  • What languages and elective subjects does the school offer?
  • What extracurricular activities – sport, art, music, drama and so on – are available to suit your child’s interests?
  • Does the school offer extension or accelerated learning programs? If so, what are the selection criteria?
  • Does the school offer extra support when needed – for example, English as a second language classes, literacy and numeracy support programs and support for under/over achievers, children with health conditions, special needs and so on?
  • Are there any language classes offered?
  • What are some of the school’s greatest accomplishments?
  • What percentage of students take their final exams?
  • Are counsellors available to help students make important decisions?


Step 5: See for yourself

Time to take a look-see – your instincts and gut reaction tell you a lot, and there are some questions you can only really answer by going there:

  • Do you and your child feel welcome?
  • Are the administration staff helpful?
  • Does the school feel cared for? Is it well maintained? Safe and inviting?
  • Do teachers seem warm, enthusiastic and knowledgeable?
  • Are they keen to meet with you and get you involved?
  • How are the students behaving, in class and during recess?

What not to do when choosing a school 

Cluey Chief Learning Officer, Dr Selina Samuels provides tips on what to avoid when it comes to choosing a school for your child.

Don’t choose based on legacy

It’s a wonderful idea to send your child to the same school that you or your partner went to, but remember that time changes everything — even the most solid of institutions. Your alma mater is now a different school from the one you went to (and if it isn’t, that’s a worry in itself). More importantly, your child is a different person. It may well be a very good school and one worth considering, but make that decision based on the school as it is now and on what you know about your child, not on your memories and lingering feelings of sentimentality. The same goes if you’re planning to reject the school based on your bad memories.

Don’t choose based on convenience

Yes, city traffic is a nightmare and workplaces are not always very flexible. But sadly, parental convenience isn’t actually a reliable indicator that your child will thrive in the same school as his or her sibling(s). Location and convenience might be a factor (having a calm parent is always better for a child than one displaying signs of pathological road rage), but perhaps it’s not enough to determine years of education.

 Don’t choose based on expensive facilities

Don’t be seduced by an Olympic-sized pool or sporting arena. It’s not that important unless your child is a competitive swimmer – and if that’s the case, you’ve probably already organised a trainer and an appropriate club.

Although there’s nothing wrong with a school having beautiful facilities, it isn’t the primary reason for choosing one over another.

Don’t choose based on school community

Don’t confuse your social life with that of your child. The fact that the parents you meet at the open day are really nice doesn’t mean that the school will give your child the opportunities, the support and the education that he or she needs. Similarly, while a recommendation from another parent can be very persuasive (the most effective ways that schools promote themselves is through word of mouth), you should still do your due diligence. What works for one child does not work for all.

Don’t choose based on impressive open day displays

If every piece of student work displayed to the public is absolutely perfect, be concerned. It may be a sign that the focus of the school is on outcomes, rather than process. If only a selected group of students’ work is displayed because it will impress visitors, then you know that image is more important than celebrating the achievements of all students. There’s also a risk that the school promotes perfectionism. You want a learning environment for your child in which he feels safe enough to try, to fail, to try again and to learn from his mistakes.

Don’t choose based on the principal

The principal of a school might well be amazing, but this doesn’t necessarily trickle down to the day-to-day classroom environment. You need to feel comfortable that the other teachers – deputy principal, year coordinator, classroom teachers – are all engaged, interested and capable. Equally, an unimpressive leadership team is not a reason to rule out the school as an option for your child.


More Cluey guides to schooling

If you’re considering moving schools or homeschooling your child, here are a couple of handy articles you might like to read:

5 signs you should move schools

Complete guide to homeschooling in Australia

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