Is Independent Schooling an Option?

An an article looking at why parents with children with special needs, often look to the Private Sector for help in education

Probably The Most Important Decision You Will Have To Make For Your Child …. How Do You Make It?

Some helpful hints if you are considering Independent Education

As a parent, choosing the right school for your child is probably one of the most difficult and most important decisions you will have to make.  The first decision is whether to rely on the state school system or to pay for private education.  Private education many years ago tended to be reserved for the financially well off or upper class.  Today things have changed greatly and many parents decide to give their children private education at great costs to themselves.  They forgo the new car and summer holidays to overseas destinations.  The reasons behind this generally is that they feel that a private education gives their children a more rounded education, an opportunity to experience a much broader range of activities and facilities, to take part in competitive sport, and quite often through school life experiences, leave with higher self esteem and confidence.

When choosing an independent school you need to match carefully the child to the school, and not perhaps choose the one down the road because it is closest to you!  You need to consider what your feel your child’s strengths might be and whether the school you are considering will nurture these strengths.  Equally, if not more important is your child’s weaknesses.  If your child has any Special Needs and needs additional support, is the school able to offer this.  Many schools profess to have support, but is this a token gesture; are they really geared up to support your child’s needs.  If you are considering boarding, this is now more flexible, there is often full boarding, weekly boarding or flexi-boarding and looking at the pastoral care will be of importance.

When you read through the many prospectus’s you will no doubt start collecting in your search for the right school, you will find that they all sound rather familiar … ‘ our aim is to educate the whole child, to offer a friendly and supportive environment … an environment in which children can enjoy learning … encourage your child to achieve high academic standards …to care about others and to be confident …’  They all sound wonderful, so which one do you choose !?

A good starting point is to visit the school either by appointment or during one of the school’s Open Days.  Identify what the mix of children currently at the school is like.  By visiting and asking lots of questions you can usually uncover whether you feel your child would fit.  If you feel your child is a natural at sport, do they have a strong sporting ethos and the facilities to match.  Secondly, if your child seems bright (and we all think our child is!) and you want your child to be pushed academically do they have the facility for accelerated learning?  Is your child musical or would you like them to be?  Do you think they are a budding artist or thespian?

These are all important questions, however, the most important is the feel you have about the school … do you get a good gut feel!  Are the school friendly and the headmaster approachable should you have any problems?  Do you feel that as a parent you fit in with the school culture, as you need to feel comfortable also?  Is the school turning out a ‘type’ of individual and if so, is it in agreement with you?  Do the children appear happy and are they smiling.. are they polite or almost over polite. As one prospectus I read said ‘ What you will not find at our school are children who press themselves to the wall each time an adult passes.…’   What is important is the teachers.  Do they spend money on the right teachers or money on making the school look very impressive.. they may be fortunate enough to do both!

Most independent schools should be able to do a good job with children who are bright, above average or average.  But what about those children who do not fit into this category, who are a bit below average or perhaps have a special learning need such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia or Dyscalculia?? How do these children fit into the often-high academic standards of independent schools?  Many parents of children with special needs take them out of the state sector because the class sizes are often too big and their child is falling behind badly because there is not enough support.  These children need schools where their ethos is to educate the whole child and for that child to reach his or her potential whatever that might be.  Where as one prospectus says ‘many of our most exciting success stories have concerned those who have overcome a particular learning difficulty’.   Some independent schools have an open admissions policy, which is normally by interview with the head and perhaps a report from their present school.  Other independent schools test incoming children to see whether they feel they are able to cope with the curriculum ahead – whilst this is OK for average or bright children, for children with special needs, this can often be a stressful time.

Finally, the best reference is often other parents.  Network amongst people you know and ask them where their children go to school and what they think of the school.  Ask to talk with parents in a your child’s year at the prospective school, if you feel comfortable!  Most of all, take lots of time choosing a school and if you are not sure, go back again for a second visit, the school shouldn’t mind, and if they do, is it the right school for your child?