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Choosing the best school for your child

On this page we provide advice on choosing a school for your child. If you are specifically after advice on finances and private tuition fee information, see our financial assistance guide.

When it comes to moving on after your child’s primary school education what options are available to you? In this article Tory Gillingham, General Secretary of the York Boarding Schools’ Group, gives a guide into the Independent School option, and how to choose the right school.

Drawing on her own personal experiences of selecting a school suitable for her own two children, and 13 years spent marketing schools in the York area, Tory is the ideal guide to the whole process of selecting the right school for both parents and children.

Right before we start lets dispel some myths surrounding independent schools:

They are not dark, cold institutions where parents are forbidden and children are made to eat gruel! They are warm and welcoming – home from home. Children are encouraged to grow and develop with the help of a huge range of facilities, and parents are very much asked to be a major part of this process.

They do not grab you on your first visit and expect you to sign your child up straight away – they welcome you, show you (proudly) around their school, let you meet current pupils and will spend as much time as you like answering any questions you have. They will also expect that you will want to visit again, probably more than once, and that you may then decide not to enroll your child after all.

Over the years I have spoken to many parents who have been anxious, like we were to ensure that they found the right school for their child. Comments ranged from “it’s such a minefield” ,”I don’t think we are the right people for independent schools” (- wrong! they are for everyone), to “where do I start?”

To each and everyone I give the following advice, which I would like to share with you:

1. What are you looking for?

Write a list of everything that you are looking for in a school for your children. This should not only include the needs of your children – academic, sport, music or art facilities -but should also include the location in proximity to your home (don’t forget there could be times that your child may need picking up late after a match or theatre trip), single sex or mixed, and whether the school has a boarding element.

2. Gather information about the schools

There are many ways of finding information about independent schools:

  • Visit the local library and look at a number of independent schools guides that will tell you about individual schools
  • Look up the schools on the internet – most schools now have very comprehensive and easy to navigate sites.
  • If you are looking for a school in the York area you could visit www.yorkboarding.co.uk where you can gain direct access to over 15 schools in and around the City of York.
  • Contact your local Independent Schools Information Service.
  • Contact the schools and ask for information to be sent to you. Many schools now produce a DVD that will give an even greater insight into the school, ask the school if they can send it to you if they produce one.

The school will ask you a number of questions about you, contact details, where did you hear about them, and about your child. Please do not be alarmed by this, they are not registering your child, but instead are trying to help you by narrowing down the information you require and assessing the suitability of their school for your child and you.

3. Selecting the Schools to visit

Try to narrow your choice down to no more than five schools, otherwise you will start to feel overwhelmed. Look for the ones that best fit the criteria that you set out at the beginning of this whole process. Speak to the schools on the telephone if you have questions to ask at this stage. They really don’t mind how many times you call.

4. Visiting the School

The day has come for you to visit the school. Make sure that you visit the school during term time. However fantastic the facilities are at the school they will not reflect the atmosphere that you will experience when the school is full of pupils and staff. Take with you all the questions that you might have. I often advise parents (and children) to write down the questions, remember you are interviewing them as much as they are assessing you. Make sure that you see everything that you want to see while you are there and if you are not shown it ask to see it before you leave.

5. What next?

You are probably by now totally exhausted having done five schools in as many days, spoken to what seems like hundreds of pupils and staff and seen every single sports facility and music department that could possibly exist – but I bet you also have a clear decision in your mind as to the school you have chosen for your child! I often compare the selecting of a school to the buying of a house; how will you know which school is the right one, you just do, something (and it may turn out to be something very small) will draw you to that school over all the rest.

When my parents were choosing a school for me, many years ago, they visited one of the schools on their selected list. I have to admit it was, on paper the least popular choice but was in a good location – they walked into the school and met the Headmistress and that was it! The result; seven very happy years for me at a school that was perfect for me and my parents!

Once you have decided on the right school for your child, and registered, the school will guide you all the way through the process of enrollment; taster days, uniform fitting and all the inevitable form filling you will need to do!

They are with you every step of the way right up to the day your child eventually leaves the school. You will become part of a community that is always welcoming and in every case will have your child’s welfare and development foremost throughout their school career.

Tory Gillingham is happy to speak to any parents who are currently looking at the independent schools option for their child, or may be doing so in the future. She has a sound knowledge of the independent schools sector and was educated, lives and works in the Yorkshire area. Tory can be contacted, in confidence, on 01653 699800.