Choosing A School - What To Look For

Parents should spend some time looking for school they choose for their children. After all, children will spend a significant amount of time in the school setting chosen. It is important to get to know the administration of the school as the principal (and his/her philosophy) usually sets the tone of the school.

The choice depends on the feeling parents get by talking to the staff, the principal and walking through the school itself. Word of mouth from students, neighbors and friends is also a helpful source of information. Parents should trust and use their instincts while taking into account the individual needs and situation of their children and family setup. The following describes some of the key information parents should seek when checking out a new school for their children:

  • What does the school expect from its students? Are the expectations too high or too low for your situation?
  • How is learning achieved? In a large group setting or is it individualized? Individualized approaches tend to take into consideration each child's specific needs, skills and situation.
  • Is the principal visibly involved in day-to-day activities or is he/she strictly an administrative figurehead who never leaves the office?
  • What is the student-teacher ratio? In general, a ratio of 25 to 1 or less is adequate. When the ratio is more than 30 to 1, the ability to teach and therefore learn can be seriously impaired. However, it also has to do with the type of difficulties children in the class have. For example a 20 to 1 ratio may sound good on the surface, but if the class has many children with learning difficulties or other special needs, then the ratio should be smaller.
  • How do teachers and children interact? Is it purely a didactic (lecture) approach or is there group work. In groups, children can learn together and from each other. What is the balance between lectures, group and one-on-one teaching/learning?
  • What resources does the school offer? This includes special or remedial teachers, social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, libraries/librarians and computers facilities. Also what the type of sports activities/facilities does the school have?
  • Do you and your child feel welcomed in this new schools environment?
  • What is the overall attitude or tone of the school? This can only be determined by walking through the school and looking at things such as the cleanliness, bulletin board contents and interactions and attitudes of the children and staff.
  • What is the school's policy when it comes to bullying, taxing and so on?
  • Is the school safe? Are the playgrounds, kitchen, cafeteria, gymnasium, parking lots, school bus loading zones and passenger car drop-off areas free of safety hazards? Is ventilation adequate, and are room temperatures comfortable? If it is an old building, is there a mold or asbestos problem and does the building meet current standards?