School open days: the questions every parent should ask

Photo: iStock.

Photo: iStock.

Choosing a school for your child or children is never an easy task. There are so many things to consider for their future, and spending time at school open days might raise more questions than it answers.

The Weekly Review spoke to academic, writer, curator and mother-of-three Dr Lara Cain Gray to get her tips for the right questions to ask at a school open day.

What have you learned from going to open days?

I always try to direct a few questions to the teachers and students at open days, not just the principal or registrar (who might lead tours). I’ve found the official marketing message is not as important as the “lived experience” of being a student or teacher at the school.

What kinds of things should parents ask that they might not think about?

● Budgeting – make sure any discussion includes a full matrix of fees, plus levies, uniforms, textbooks, any separate tuitions, excursions and camps. Even a government school education is not “free” and it’s good to be well prepared.

● Don’t be afraid to ask questions that align with your own values. Ask about sustainability and recycling programs, charity work and fund-raisers, sports culture, discipline procedures. I think parents often feel they need to be on their best behaviour – especially if they are keen to get their child into a more exclusive school.

● Remember, at an open day, you are interviewing them – feel free to ask about anything that matters to you. The school’s culture is just as important as subject offerings.

 

Dr Lara Cain Gray. Photo: Supplied.

Dr Lara Cain Gray. Photo: Supplied.

What should parents weigh up When making a final decision about their child’s schooling?

Make sure it’s the right school for your child, not for you. Just because it’s the school you went to, the in-demand exclusive school, or the school all your child’s friends are going to, it doesn’t make it the right one for them.

You need to take a step back and look at your own child’s aptitudes and personality. If relevant, maybe get an opinion from a psychologist or occupational therapist. Try to match your child’s needs with a school that will support them.

What else do you recommend parents look for?

Look for the innovations. I’ve seen some great ones lately in terms of school lockers – some schools are moving away from locker rooms to outdoor spaces or lockers along full walls, where they are still secure, but easily visible. This helps avoid theft and bullying.

Apart from that, in this day and age, I think it’s vital to expect schools to have advanced technology – or a budget and vision to achieve this. It’s also important for kids to have access to clean, safe spaces to eat and play or socialise.
For younger kids, a playground with good visibility helps avoid bullying or accidents.

Any other advice?

This is a decision that causes a huge amount of stress for some parents. One important thing is that it’s OK to change schools later if your first choice does not suit your child. You’re not locked into one school forever.

Make the best choice you can, with the information available. But know that, even if it doesn’t work out, you have options.

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