How to pick the right school

Not so long ago, children went to the primary school that was closest to their home. It was a system that worked because children could walk or bike to school, they developed friendships with children in the neighbourhood and there was a strong sense of community support for the local school.
Today parents can be a lot fussier, especially in the cities, and many choose to opt out of the local school and drive their children across town to one they think is better. Some parents even shift house to be "in zone" for their chosen school - sometimes even before their child is born. It can be a very tense time for families, so here's a guide to choosing which primary school will suit your child best:
  • Make a decision about which area you need the school to be in. If you commute a long distance to work, is it a better idea to have your child at a school close to your work so you can spend time in the car together each day and you'd be close if your child had an accident? Are you likely to shift houses in the next few years? If so, does it make more sense to have your child in a school near your work for consistency? or is it more important that your child lives near their school so they can walk when they're old enough and make friends with the local kids?
  • Go to www.ero.govt.nz to read the latest Education Review office reports on the schools you're considering. The reports are up-to-date and easy to understand.
  • Make a list of the schools in your chosen area and ask friends in the neighbourhood about each one. Listen out for instances of bullying going unchecked or unhappy teaching staff. But take this all with a grain of salt because the best way is to check each school out online.
  • Narrow down your options, then make an appointment to see the principal of each school. He or she should be happy to talk to you and show you around the school. If not, then wonder how much time they will spend listening to you if you have any issues in the years to come.
  • When you go to see the principal, choose a time when the children are in class so you can see for yourself how the classrooms are run and the interaction between the kids and their teachers. Don't expect it to be silent. There should be a nice buzz of activity going on.
  • Have some questions ready to ask. For example: How big are the classes? What is special about this school? What is the procedure if I have concerns about my child's learning or homework, or social issues such as bullying? What are the discipline procedures at the school? What is a typical school day like? Why should I send my child to this school rather than the one down the road? What makes the principal proud of their school? How involved with the local community is the school? What are the school fees?
  • Ask for a curriculum so you can see what subjects your child will be learning.
  • Ask about after-school activities, such as sports teams, for when your child is older.
  • Find out if the classes are composite - will your child be in a class with children of other ages? Ask how this works in the school.
  • Find out what arrangements there are for new entrants to visit the school prior to their fifth birthday. A good school will have visiting times in the month leading up to starting school.
  • Ask yourself some hard questions. If you were your child, would you like to go to this school? or have you chosen the school because it is "in" with your own social crowd, or because you like the uniform? (I'm not joking, I know of people who've done this.) Are you travelling long distances to get your child to school when there is one equally as good closer to home?
When you have made your decision, don't forget to enrol. If you are in zone, the school needs to know how many children to expect in new entrants, and if you're out of zone, you will need to let your chosen school know well in advance.

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