Making the Most of a School Visit

As we head into Autumn, schools are showcasing what they offer during their Open Days. Here we look at some of the key questions to ask.

If this is the first child you are educating privately it is important to know how to get the most out of a school open day. Knowing the right questions to ask is imperative to get a good scope of the way the school works. Schools are more than just numbers and academic figures – it’s about meeting the people, the staff, students and head teacher, that make it to see whether it has the right ‘feel’ for your child. Always try to arrange to meet the head on your visit, as well as a Housemaster or Housemistress if you are considering boarding at some point in the future.

Some General Questions:

  • How long has the head been at the school?
  • When was the school last inspected and can you see a copy of the report.
  • What are the facilities for extra-curricular activities such as sports, music and drama like? And are there plans to develop them in future?
  • What is the average class size?
  • Does the school offer scholarships or bursaries? And if so how to parents apply?

Academic Questions:

  • What is the academic focus of the school and the pace of teaching?
  • Are the pupils grouped by ability? If yes, at what age and are the children assessed in each subject individually or across all subjects?
  • How does the school cater for age differences of younger children in a year group, according to month of birth within the academic year?
  • At what age and in what subjects are children divided from their normal class to be taught specialist subjects?
  • What modern languages are on offer?
  • How does the school stretch gifted children?
  • Does the school offer support to pupils with dyslexia or other special educational needs?
  • What is the school’s policy on homework?
  • How does the school monitor academic performance, what is the assessment policy and how does the school keep parents informed?
  • How frequent are parents’ evenings and what format do they take?

Pastoral Care Questions:

  • How are the pastoral needs of the children monitored? Are there heads of year in place?
  • Is there a House system and are children offered the opportunity to take on responsibility?

Extra-curricular Questions:

  • Are their trips available in each subject to interest all children?
  • Ask to see the school calendar for the current term, as well as the weekly activity programme. Is there a diverse variety of things to choose from?
  • Are children able to pursue musical instruments to a high level?

More generally as you walk around the school you can gain a sense of its successes – are the notice boards full? Do the children look happy and active and are they polite and courteous when spoken to? How do the children interact with each other? No two schools are the same, so make sure you head to your short-list armed with some good questions to get the most out of it. Also, do take your child, and take into account their views on the schools too – although it might seem like the perfect school to you, your child might not feel the same. If you are still undecided after an Open Day, contact the school to arrange another visit at a different time; it will also give you a chance to ask any other questions you might have forgotten!