Our children are planned children, like most other 'important things' in our lives. When my husband and I thought that we were ready for children of our own, apart from all the excitement, there were concerns and questions in mind too. Choosing a school wasn't necessarily the biggest issue at the time but it didn't take long for us to get to a stage in life where we focused on it quite deeply. Many people around us thought we were over-doing it. It is hard to blame them for thinking that way but then again, that is who we are and it would have been unnatural for us to handle it differently.
Our search for schools started when I was pregnant with my son, approximately 5 years ago. We jotted down our expectations, worked out our then and future budgets, started reading up on the topic, rolled eyes at certain schools, drooled over others and so forth. Just to help you picture the drama we have been going through over this, I must mention that we started contacting some private schools that caught our attention and started reading the information packages we received from them while breastfeeding our tiny baby son at the time.
As time went by, there were times when the topic took a second, a third or even a further back place in our lives but there were always times when something triggered something and it hit us back again and took its place on the front row. However, we now understand that until the right time came, which was this year for us, when our child was due to be enrolled in a school for the next year, it was all too theory based and too idealistic.
We soon learned that the particular private schools in Victoria (Australia) that made us excited were way over our reach, unless we both chose to work day and night and found a way to get our kids looked after by others (then again, that would be quite expensive too). It was one thing we both could confidently say 'no' to unless we had to for another reason apart from paying for private school fees. That made us look more into public schools in the state, yes, it is not a typo, I meant in the STATE.
Even with the public schools, we soon came to a realisation that we may not be able to choose just any school we liked, as most schools that have a good reputation are in demand and therefore, they use a 'zoning system' to limit the amount of people that can be accepted to the school. Fair enough. Someone has to miss out as they can't afford to cater for each and every child that would like to study there. There has to be some sort of a limit. We thought of moving. We again did our research and thought of a few other suburbs where we could possibly relocate. I guess there is no need to mention that schools and real-estate work hand-in-hand. Better school areas mean more demand. More demand means higher house prices and so on. Of course there are other contributing elements that make certain areas less affordable than others but schools are very important too.
We drove around a few suburbs, we made the effort to get some insight information and comments on them, took a note of advantages and disadvantages of moving there etc. Then again, we decided that none of those suburbs was really where we would like to live in, possibly except for one, which is why we kept it as an option, up until we found something more local that we were happy with.
Early this year, I started visiting school websites and took a note of their open days or made appointments to visit them. I put them all in my diary as well as on our monthly family diary that we keep on the fridge along with all those gorgeous masterpieces of our children. We started our school visits a few months back and have visited 5 primary schools so far. We actually had to fit in some kindergarten visits too, as our son's current kindergarten, unfortunately, may close down at the end of this term. It is a privately run early learning centre/kindergarten that follows a particular philosophy and we all have been quite happy with it regardless of our awareness that it had some room for improvement. It is due to some financial difficulty but I will not get into details as this topic is a big topic on its own. The point is that, we ended up visiting over 10 centres/schools in total and we now feel so much more comfortable with school visits and what to realistically look for still keeping our own values and expectations in mind.
We now also have a good idea of what questions to ask and what to look at when touring a school. I am sure the list can be added to or changed by other parents or even by us in time but I will soon be sharing with you a guideline list that you may find helpful. Stay tuned!
Update: You can access to the list of questions that you can use while touring a school here.
Note: Please do share your experience, suggestions, opinions here but do not leave a comment saying something in the line of 'if your child wants to study, he will do well at any school. Otherwise, regardless of the school, he will fail". We have heard it a bit too many times and are aware enough to know that yes, a good school does not guarantee anything. However, we still believe that it is our duty to make the extra effort to choose a school that -we believe- suits them the best before leaving it all to its course.