Education expert: How can parents choose the right school for their child?

This is the time of year when parents are focused on choosing the right school for their children. This is a stage that can be pretty stressful, as school is where your child will spend a large part of their day and life, where they will develop not only their knowledge but also social skills and attitudes. This is why it is so important to find a school that meets the parents' wishes and is suitable for the child, where they feel safe and can express themselves. Nerijus Buivydas, the co-founder of Democratic School in Vilnius, shares his advice on how to choose the right school and what to look for.

Nerijus Buivydas.
Nerijus Buivydas.
Daugiau nuotraukų (1)

Mar 31, 2023, 3:49 PM

Why is it important to choose the right school?

Children spend a very significant part of their day and quite a large part of their life at school, so the philosophy of the school, the environment, the staff, and even the children who go to the same school have a significant impact on the child – on their thoughts, actions, vocabulary, abilities. This is why the choice of a school is a very important and responsible task that cannot be taken lightly. It would be irresponsible to judge a school solely on its proximity and ease of access.

When should parents start thinking about which school to send their child to?

If parents feel the need and anxiety and want to start looking for a school as early as possible, that's fine, and I think it cannot be too early. Although I usually recommend that you start looking for a school at least nine months before September, and the beginning of spring is often the time when most parents are concerned about this, so you should hurry up now and start looking into school choices if you haven't already done so.

What criteria should parents use to choose a school?

First of all, based on your family values and the relationship between academics and your child's well-being. Parents should ask themselves whether they want their child to achieve the highest academic results at all costs, or whether they want a school that focuses on the child's well-being, or whether they want a middle ground – a school that strikes a balance between academic achievement and the child's well-being in school.

Once we have sorted that out, I think it is possible to find schools that fall into that group and move on. You assess the school environment and the staff, go and talk to them, try to get a feel for whether the school is close to their family, to the child themselves and make a final decision.

What would you say are the key steps to making a successful school choice?

First of all, make a list of at least five schools to analyse and start online: look at the schools' websites and social media accounts, and read comments.

Then you can move on to the second important step: feedback, preferably from mutual acquaintances and trusted people whose children attend or have attended the school. Looking for help on social networks and groups is now very popular, but strangers are not the best advisors. We do not know what their values are and what is important to them. After all, what is a plus for some can be a big minus for us and vice versa.

The third important step is getting to school. If you are pressed for time, I would suggest visiting at least three schools. Most have open days or offer individual visits for parents. It is also very important to prepare for these visits by planning the questions you will want to have answered. Ideally, these questions should be the same for all the schools you will visit, as this will make it easier to compare and choose the one that best meets your expectations. You should also go to the school with your child so that they can feel connected to the environment, see it for themselves and, if they feel comfortable, ask questions.

How can parents assess their child's expectations?

Your child should be involved in the school choice process as early as possible before decisions are made. You can talk to them and ask them what is important to them. When you go to see the school, you should also discuss with your child what school you are going to, what you will see, and what you will ask. And when you get there, don't just sit in the classroom where the interview is taking place – look at the classrooms, the corridors, and the learning spaces, and see the teachers and other children in the classroom.

What would we suggest you do if the school is not a good fit?

It certainly happens that a school may not be a good fit, even if you have made a very responsible choice. In this case, I would first suggest discussing what you don't like and what you have concerns about with the teachers and the administration. Listen to the position of the school and make sure that it is not really suitable for your child and that it cannot adapt to your family's needs, and only then think about changing the school.

In fact, if the school does not have factors that make it dangerous to leave your child there, I would suggest changing schools at the turn of the school year, after the summer holidays.

Changing schools in the middle of the school year can be very inconvenient and challenging for both the child entering the new class and the class as a whole. From autumn onwards, children have already established or renewed their social relationships and classroom communities, „settled in,“ and have their own rules and routines, which can naturally make it much harder for a new child to fit in. Not only would they have to get to know new teachers, new environments and possibly different learning methods, but at the same time, build new social relationships – which can be really difficult and challenging.

Should you follow the same principles when changing schools as when you first choose a school?

Yes, the principles are the same, but you should take stock of where you went wrong and what questions were not asked or left unchecked. Or maybe the school was chosen on the basis of location, and this was the biggest mistake.

If you can see that the school is not really right for your child, you should not be afraid to change. As I said before, school is where children spend a large part of their day and their life, so it is a place where the child should feel comfortable.

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