Choosing a school is one of the most important and consequential decisions a parent is likely to make, and there’s no denying that it can be a stressful, bewildering task. But putting in the groundwork and carefully considering your options will always pay off, so it’s worth taking the time to ask the right questions.
The process of selecting a school isn’t always straightforward. Parents have to contend with the ‘information overload’ that often comes with multiple school tours, conflicting recommendations from well-meaning friends and family, and endless paging through brochures. That’s why we’ve put together a few tips and pointers to help you identify what to think about when looking at schools, what questions to ask and where to find the answers.
Opportunities & Learning
Can the school help your child reach their full potential in areas where he or she excels or needs most help?
Most schools offer a ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme for high achievers as well as some level of educational support. What’s important is that a school can recognise your child’s needs, and there should be ample opportunity to nurture talent.
Does the school have strong ties with reputable tertiary education providers?
It’s essential the school can offer solid counselling and university placement support. Find out where past graduates have gone on to study and whether the school has ties to any colleges. A school that has established partnerships with further and higher education institutions will be able to offer guidance on a greater breadth of options.
Will the school care about the holistic development of my child?
All schools claim to develop well-rounded children, but some prioritise high academic attainment, while others have a stronger emphasis on well-being and personal development. Your parental preferences are key, but try to scratch beneath the surface and find evidence that supports any claims made.
What additional learning support is on offer?
Options for children with additional needs vary widely, but many schools offer integrated education for children with special educational needs. Support can range from extra teaching assistants to in-school speech and occupational therapists.
Does the school offer comprehensive career support?
While career support is generally available, it’s important to find out how seriously schools take this. Ask what opportunities there are throughout a child’s school life to consider, gain exposure to and even experience different careers, and find out the level of guidance available.
Does the school have good facilities?
A successful school is one that generates a positive environment for learning. This, in part, is generated by the facilities that are available to the students, and these should provide, at a minimum, a physical space that is comfortable, safe, secure, accessible, well-illuminated, well-ventilated and aesthetically pleasing.
It’s a good idea to look closely at the owners of a school, as this will give you an indication of its long-term stability and direction.
Who are the owners of the school? Is the school family owned, for example, with a history in the education field, or is it owned by an institution whose core business lies elsewhere?
If the school is backed by financial investors such as private equity, bear in mind that investors may look to exit the business down the line, which could negatively impact the school. Carefully consider the owners’ track record and reputation.
Have they run schools before and, if so, for how long? Do they have a history of closing or selling schools? In a challenging economic environment, will they be able to sustain the school and continue to invest in infrastructure, teachers, and facilities? Or will they be forced to compromise their value proposition to parents due to financial pressures?
Similarly, while some schools offer attractive deals and discounts in order to entice parents, it’s important to evaluate whether these offerings are sustainable. The last thing any parent wants is to be forced to find an alternative school, unnecessarily disrupting their child’s education and development
Does the school promote values and ideals that match your requirements and aspirations?
The ideals and values of the school should match your own, with the school’s ethos and the direction of its leadership clear from the website and brochures. More importantly, though, these values should be ‘lived and breathed’ by teaching staff, parents and students, and this should be evident when you visit.
Does the school meet your written and spoken language needs?
All students in the UAE learn Arabic, usually alongside another foreign language, but if you have a different mother tongue or plan to move to a non-English speaking country in the future, then you may have quite specific language teaching needs that should be considered.
Do you feel comfortable and welcome in the school and around the staff?
It’s important the school size and facilities match what you want for your child. Aside from the physical attributes of a campus, what’s your gut feeling about the school? Is it a happy place when you walk through the doors? Do staff seem content? Trust your instincts.
Is there affordable accommodation close to the school?
Many parents choose to move closer to their child’s school to avoid additional travel, but this needs careful consideration with regard to your family budgeting.
Is the school near to where you live?
A nearby school can save you fuel, help you avoid traffic and even give the option of walking or cycling to school.
Will all your children attend the same school?
Multiple drop-offs and different school timings can add complexity to daily logistics. Many schools have a broad age range, meaning all your children could attend the same school, or they might have nearby feeder or sister-schools.
Are there school buses to your area?
Check whether the area in which you live is covered by existing bus routes and find out whether your area is serviced at the beginning or end of the route, as this can significantly impact journey times.
Are school buses operated by a specialist provider?
Externally operated bus services usually mean newer, more technologically advanced buses, highly trained drivers and better operational support. Find out about the staffing and safety procedures on board and ask whether vehicles are fitted with GPS trackers, student ID scanners and adequate seatbelts.
What are the full enrolment costs?
School fees vary widely, but it’s possible to find quality education within your reach. In addition to tuition, there will be application fees and potentially a deposit to pay. It’s not uncommon for oversubscribed schools to require an application fee to join the waiting list.
Does the school offer well-priced and readily available uniforms?
Uniforms are integral to a school’s identity and encourage student unity and equality. Because of their daily use, it’s important that uniforms are well priced, high quality and hard wearing.
How much will you spend on extracurricular activities and holiday care?
Most schools offer a combination of teacher-led afterschool activities included in the tuition fee, as well as externally-provided afterschool activities that are paid for separately. You’ll also need to factor in activities to keep your children busy during holidays.
Does the school have any value-added offerings?
When considering tuition fees, it’s helpful to consider the overall proposition. Value-added offerings such as loyalty and reward programmes can significantly reduce your expenses or enhance your lifestyle without compromising on the quality of your child’s education.
How well does the school communicate with parents and families?
Some schools offer a dedicated parent app, website or limited-access Facebook group, and all run parent-teacher conferences at least once a year. Find out whether the school offers direct access to the principal and senior school management.
Does the school offer a programme of child and parent support?
Most schools aim to support holistic child development, but how does the school put this into practice? Does the school really try to get to know the child and the family? Can they support non-educational needs? What are their bullying and social media policies? Do they have on-site counsellors? Are they proactive or reactive in approach?
Will the school view the family as a unit and consider the needs of siblings and parents?
Siblings in different year groups often have different start and finish times, so it’s important a school offers wrap-around care to allow families to do a single drop-off. Does the school offer social activities for parents and families to meet each other?
How much does the school encourage parent engagement?
It’s important that your school actively encourages you to be engaged in learning, share feedback and ideas, and participate in the education and well-being process as a valued partner.