The three things that parents need to keep in mind when choosing a school for their child are its academic curriculum and experience, how they fit into their child’s needs and the future they promise. A proper evaluation of a school must take into account its values and ethos, its facilities and how they are used, the staff and how they see themselves as being part of the school community and how they are likely to enrich your child’s experience in that school.
You need to look out for evidence of their values in action. So visits to the school, real and virtual, and communication with parents and others involved with the school in one way or another are essential. Smiling faces, confident first steps, and wide-eyed wonderment – these are what parents look for on their child’s first day at a new school; the tangible results of the new school selection process.
Few decisions frustrate and confuse parents as much as choosing a new school, but there are some universal tips that can make it easier.
An A and 2 F’s (AFF)
No, we are not talking about A Level results, but rather three simple categories that describe what most parents are looking for when choosing an international school – academics, fit, and future. The simple AFF framework can help you think about what’s important to you. By carefully considering what is important to you, you will be better positioned to evaluate potential schools.
It is easy to look at the curriculum and a few key metrics and move on, but understanding a school’s academic offer is deeper than knowing which subjects they offer and how many A*’s their students earned.
Here are some questions to help you understand and narrow down what’s important to you about academics:
- What curriculum is offered and how does it compare to what I am used to?
- What is the school’s experience with transitioning students between curricula?
- What academic measures are important to me (grades, international exam results, university offers, etc)?
- What are the teachers like? How are they trained?
- Does the school provide the right resources for learning?
Pandemic aside, your child will spend more time at school then they will spend at home. A school should fit well, but a school is not a pair of shoes. Fit encompasses not only what will feel comfortable, but also how a school will fuel personal growth.
Here are some questions to help you best understand fit:
- How will the school get the best out of your child?
- Will the learning be personalised and what does that look like?
- Are the school’s values aligned with your beliefs?
- Is the community international and welcoming?
- Will you feel supported?
Every family will have a different budget for school that is a part of finding the best fit school for you, but no matter what you can afford you should feel like the school provides value for every ringgit you spend.
The intersection of academics and fit should prove that a school is focused singularly on your child’s short and long-term future.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Does the school continually invest in their teaching, learning, and facilities?
- What focus is placed on skill-building in areas that are important to universities and employers, like communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and resilience?
- How do the school’s co-curricular activities enhance their learning?
- How do they handle student transitions from year to year, or primary school to secondary school, and secondary school to university?
The above questions certainly do not cover every topic, they are just a starting point, and all can be adapted to address what’s important to you for physical school or virtual school. Even if you use AFF to develop what is important to you, you still need tools to evaluate the answers. Luckily, international schools will be happy to help. Here are some tips for gathering the information you need.
School websites, social media and school guides like this one provide a lot of valuable information. You should quickly be able to answer all the descriptive questions about a school. You might have to dig a little deeper to understand things like their school values and if they operate with a shared sense of purpose. A great website will make that clear, but a school should not be judged solely on their website.
The school visit, even virtual ones, remain the best tool for you to learn about a school and apply your AFF assessment. You should not just see facilities, but see how they are used. You should not just meet people. You should understand how they feel about being a part of the school community and how they will enrich your child’s experience. You should see the school’s values in action and you should walk away knowing a clear set of next steps.
Listen within your community. You probably added a school to your list based on the recommendation of a friend or colleague. Do not close that line of communication once you have made your shortlist of potential schools. After your visit, confirm your thoughts and feelings with their first-hand experiences. If you have visited a school where you do not know anyone, ask the school to provide a few parent references.
Be open. Every parent will have concerns and worries about selecting a school. Do not be afraid to share these thoughts with your admission professional. The right admissions officer will understand and be empathetic to your concerns while providing information they feel addresses your needs.
Choosing the right international school can be daunting. Be honest with yourself during the selection process. The best parent-school partnerships begin with a clear and mutual understanding about who our children are and who we would like them to become.
For more information, please visit www.britishschool.edu.my
Carl Esposito, Director of Admissions & Marketing from The British International School of Kuala Lumpur, gives his advice on choosing an international school.