Choosing a school should be as easy as saying ‘they will go to the local school’ but if this isn’t you then here are a few questions to ask yourself to help in the process. Answering these questions should help you be a little clearer about why you are including a school or schools on your shortlist.
- Where will your child go to school?
This could be about the type of school – public or private, single sex or co-ed, faith based or not and so on – but it is most likely going to be about location. The ‘where’ is usually one of the first questions parents ask, the location of your child’s school affects just about every other decision – from transport, to friendships, to cost, to extra-curricular activities.
And let’s not forget the convenience factor, location determines drop off and pick up, waking times in the morning and dinner time at night. Throw in more than one child, more than one school, more than one age bracket, and more than one set of interests or pursuits, and suddenly a military precision schedule isn’t far off…..
Location can be determined by working out your responses to questions such as:
- Do you want your child to be able to walk to school?
- Can they ride their bike to school?
- Does the school support this? Do they have bike racks/secure storage?
- Is it easier to drive?
- Do you have more than one driver/car in the family?
- Do you need a school with a reliable/close bus service?
- Are you happy for your child to use public transport?
- Can a family member assist with drop off and pick up times?
- Is there a school close to where you work easier than one that is close to home?
- Can you share the logistics with another family?
- Does the school offer any help in matching families for transport options or by providing a ‘walking school bus’ or a ‘bicycle train’ within the local area?
- Is before and after school care available to assist with your schedule?
- What will this cost?
- Will your child need to attend boarding school?
- Is it easier/more convenient for them to become weekly boarders?
- When will they go to school?
This seems obvious and straight forward but there are considerations at every major entry point. You can leave it to the experts and have your child transition from early learning or kindergarten into the next stage, some children are ready to start school at five, others do better if they wait a little longer. Some schools will accept students throughout the year, others only offer a single intake. Some allow a six-term Reception/Foundation period, others only offer four terms.
As your child gets older, the ‘when’ can also come into play when you are considering the move from primary school to secondary school. Is your child ready to move on from primary school but is still in year five? Maybe your secondary school option has a middle school, if so, it may be worth moving over earlier. A little tip though – don’t be scared into taking that place earlier because the school ‘warns’ that a place won’t be available at the standard entry point – usually Year 7 or Year 8. This is an old enrolment trick – only take the place if you truly feel your child is ready for the move.
Finally, you may need to consider a move for your child in the senior years as you both come to understand where interests, skills and needs are heading for these final years. You may also be a parent in a rural, regional or remote location that requires a boarding option. You could also be a busy parent/family and the option of weekly boarding may suit your family situation.
So ‘when’ will they go to school is never a single decision.
- How will you afford it?
The ‘how’ isn’t about their mode of transport. In this case, we’re looking at costs – public or private – school costs money. The more children in the family, the more the dollars will increase. So how will you afford school? Have you planned for schooling and put money aside into an ‘education fund’ – your own savings account or one offered by an institution? Are you winging it and hoping that you’ll be able to find the money each year? Do you have a budget to give you an idea of what the costs will be?
School costs aren’t just the fee or parent contribution and this can range from under $100 to more than $30 000 each year depending on the school you choose. You may be able to negotiate and access discounts but there will be other costs to consider, usually outside any fee remission structure, such as:
- ICT – will a device be provided for your child or do you need to BYOD (bring your own device)? This can be an additional $500 to $1000 or more per child.
- Uniforms – this will include the summer, the winter, the sports and maybe a few specific uniforms required for individual sports. Remember, there will also be a leaver jumper at Year 12 and often now for the last year of primary school. Depending on the school you have selected and the options your child takes up there could also be rowing kit, pipe band uniforms, dance costumes, cricket whites and so on…remember even if the uniform isn’t compulsory there will still be clothing costs to get them through the year.
- Shoes – not just one pair! You may need to buy sandals for summer, sports shoes for all year, closed shoes for winter, Children are tough on their shoes and keep growing so it isn’t always possible to hand them down like uniforms. And then there are the football boots or dance shoes…
- Excursions and camps – some schools include this, most don’t. There will be $10-$20 here and there for all number of different outings and excursion throughout their school years along with at least one to three big ticket costs for major camps. Some schools also offer international trips or overseas outdoor education ventures. These can run into the thousands. Oh, and remember to factor in travel insurance and the bag/s they will need to travel.
- Fundraising – every single class in every single school seems to fundraise – a gold coin day here, a casual clothes day there, a chocolate drive, a mini-fete – you name it, your child will be involved in it. Times this by the number of children in your family and you can easily fork out a couple of hundred dollars a year.
- Out of school hours care – this includes before and after school care and vacation care. What do you need and when will you need it? The sums on this can also add up pretty quickly.
- Tuition – it seems odd factoring in tuition when they are going to school but it will not be unusual if you need to engage in some additional help for your child. It could include music or voice tuition, sports coaching or second language assistance. You may be paying an additional $50 a week for some kind of support.
- Kit – this could be the sporting gear, the music instrument or other technical equipment for your child’s particular interest or passion.
- Finally, there are the ‘levies and charges’ that may appear – Parents and Friends levy, Building fund, Resources fee, additional charges for specific subject materials, you may pay an additional fee for an IB subject – check the fee schedule or ask the business manager for a full outline of these type of charges.
- Who will go?
This is normally a question for those parents considering school entry outside the standard selection of the local public school (both primary and secondary) and at the usual entry points. Who will go to boarding school? Private school? A different school?
What suits one child may not suit another so be flexible and open to different solutions for each of your children. A small, single sex, faith based school with a vocational trade training offering may be the best choice for one child while a larger local co-ed public school with a diverse population and a focus on the performing arts might be perfect for another.
Boarding can be a great experience for students – regardless of where ‘home’ is – but it isn’t for everyone. Some embrace it, others loath it, so be prepared to have alternative options.
- Why this school?
Parents need to be clear about their expectations and approach to school. Some see it as ‘cheap babysitting’ (yes, we’ve had a parent describe it that way to us!), others see it as a way to ‘leap their kids forward’ (another parent….) Most would think it is simply something that has to be done – we expect all children will go to school.
All parents have a view on schools that is formed, and informed, by their own experience. This doesn’t mean it is ‘true’ for today’s schools or for their child. Ask yourself why you are picking this particular school for this particular child? Is it about them? Is it for them? Do they like it? Do they want to go there?
Be clear about your choice and always remember, you are choosing a school for your child – not for yourself.