Visiting a school open day can feel a little bit like visiting the launch of a new shop or restaurant. Sure, you probably won’t get the free glass of bubbly, handful of vouchers and tons of free food but you get the impression that daily life is probably a little different than this. If you feel that way too, then you are probably close to the mark when it comes to school open days. We really try our best to make everyone look good. Everyone and everything. Come the Monday after, you’ll find that it’s back to business as usual but is this a reason not to visit a school open day? We believe it isn’t and we have come up with 10 reasons why you should make the effort anyway.
Although there isn’t any order of importance to these reasons, we do believe that reasons one to three feature at the top of our list for a good reason. If there was an order of importance, then these would be the most important, at least as far as we’re concerned. After reason number three, it’s really anyone’s guess. Some ideas might seem somewhat far-fetched or even controversial and some might seem like complete no-brainers (like ‘bring your child’, which for sheer no-brainer quality, we did not want to list as a top-three idea). Where we can, we’ve also linked some serious sources like the BBC and Country Life. We have focused primarily on what to do but some of the links in this blog post also suggest what to ask, which might be handy.
ONE – MEET THE TEACHERS!
Okay, this might sound like a no-brainer too but when we say, ‘Meet the teachers’, we mean to say ‘Meet the teachers!‘ Ask those questions (check out some top questions here) but instead of just paying attention to the answers, try to get to know the teachers as human beings. Remember, these are the people that are going to teach your child, support your child, guide your child and be there for your child. Or they may be the people that will fail at all four… Sometimes it can be interesting not to listen to the content of the answer but the way in which it is formulated. Sometimes it can be interesting to see how a teacher engages with you and with your child(ren). In that context, it’s also good to remember this is not the Spanish Inquisition. You can ask difficult questions (more on that further down) but it’s probably best to leave your polygraph machine and 1000 Watt torch at home.
TWO – SEE THE HEAD (AND LISTEN)!
The Head is a little bit like the custodian of the school and its values. They are responsible for school policies, recruitment of teachers, the quality of teaching and learning and so on. With all matters relating to the daily running of the school, the good and the bad, the buck stops with the Head. You may not have a lot of time available to go all Inspector Columbo on the head but you’ll find they usually do some sort of talk or presentation. It is well worth visiting that speech though if you think that’s a sales pitch, well then you’re probably right too. Still, there’s often room for questions and sales pitch or not, it’s still good to hear about the values and the mission of the school.
THREE – GET THE TRUTH (AKA SPEAK TO THE PUPILS)!
Most of the time a tour of the school is carried out by pupils, ranging from Year 7 to Sixth Form. It depends on what you’re looking at. Most of the time, these pupils are hand-picked by the organising committee. Most of time the time, the pupils doing these tours are also giving you a sales pitch – sometimes without their even realising it. If you want to get the lay of the land, however, these pupils are your best bet. Even though they’re hand-picked and keen to share with you a portrait of a lovely school, most children find it incredibly difficult not to speak the truth. If you’re going to have your son or daughter prepare any questions, then these are the best people to ask. They go to the school, they have their favourites, they have their not-so-favourites. In short, they’ll either back up, moderate or downright negate whatever the Head told you ten minutes ago.
FOUR – BRING YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER!
The no-brainer, yes, but there’s more to reason number four. The ‘needless to say’ bit is that unless your child is too young to understand any of this, there is no argument for him/her to stay at home. Even when you’re checking out a Pre- or Prep-School, during an open day there are plenty of activities on display and they’ll get plenty of play time so that you can talk to staff. Another really good reason to bring your child is that he or she will be a really good barometer as to what you should think of the school. Check how they respond to staff and how they engage. If yours is a sulky teenager, then see how they interact with the (sulky) teenagers doing the tour. Of course you can ask your child what they think of the school. This is often a cursory question on the way back home and often answered with a monosyllabic answer. You might get more of an idea of what they really think by observing them. Well, you might be lucky enough.
FIVE – CHECK OUT THE SCHOOL AND ITS FACILITIES!
This came from the BBC and is pretty high on the ‘no brainer’ list. The Beeb tells you to go to the loo for instance. Not because you have to but because you want to check if it’s clean. Don’t they know that we’re on to their scheming ways by now? All joking aside, you’re there to check out their facilities but plan ahead. What are you looking for? We’d all love to see state-of-the-art facilities, a sports hall with a climbing wall that reaches into the stratosphere and a forest school area that includes deer and badgers. But what if it lacks character? Don’t forget your child(ren) will spend many years here. The school will become a huge part of their life and their memories. Our view is also that the facilities should back up the school’s vision and the school’s ethos. If they say their Arts department is amazing, then where is all the artwork? If they say their co-curriculars are incredibly important, then where are they supposed to take place?
SIX – EAT THE FOOD (AND DRINK THE COFFEE)!
Here’s a bit of school-related maths for you: Bad coffee = bad school. If there’s one thing we have learnt, it is that good teachers will follow the best coffee. If good teachers equals good school and good coffee equals good teachers, then good coffee equals good school. In all seriousness, do taste the food or at least try and see a menu (you can see ours on the Website). The kids have to eat here every school day.
SEVEN – PLAN AHEAD!
If you’d like to get away from the sales spiels and, ‘Hey we’re amazing – seriously!’, then try and find the Registrar to talk about taster days. A taster day is what it says on the tin. Boarding schools will also do taster stays, where the actual day is extended to two or three days. The registrar or person in charge of admissions will know much more about this and they are excellent opportunities to find out what the school is really about.
EIGHT – ASK DIFFICULT QUESTIONS!
Let’s be honest, choosing a school isn’t the same as choosing what to eat on a Friday night. This is a serious decision and like it or not, it is a life-changing decision, if only for one person. Looking after hundreds of young children and teenagers is also a very difficult and complex task, so you want to know how a school plans on doing this. Bullying is a good example here. We hope that there are no more school staff anywhere who say that bullying is not a problem at their school. They’d be lying. You don’t have to ask this question. You can go straight for the next level. What is your policy on bullying? What systems are in place to detect bullying? How do you deal with it in your classroom? Please do not shy away from difficult questions, for a good school will seek to answer your questions as opposed to wishing you hadn’t visited their open day.
NINE – TAKE THE SCHOOL OFF YOUR LIST!
That’s right. An open day is also an excellent opportunity to eliminate schools from your wanted list. Not only is this a difficult decision based on facts (see above), it is also a question of gut feel. If you walk through the door and think, ‘No,’ very often you’re probably best to sample the food, drink the coffee and strike through the name of that school. Honestly, we do not mind! Choosing a school is also an emotional decision. It’s got to feel right. Equally so, you may feel that a certain school is just not right for you without visiting it, based on hearsay or another preconceived idea. Why not visit the open day, spend thirty minutes to see if you’re convictions were right or that there is this whole other side that you hadn’t seen before. It is does turn out to be the former, then you can cross that school off the list for good. Well, either that or until the next open day…
TEN – COME FOR THE OPEN DAY (AND STAY FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT)!
There’s something oddly (and perhaps sadistically) rewarding about watching teachers who have to be on their best behaviour. Joking aside, open days can be very nice events to get to know the people inside the school better. They are also ideal to start those relations when you do have a longer-term plan in the back of your mind. Plenty of people visit a number of open days at the same school just to see the school over a period of time. If there isn’t a great staff turnaround, then they get to know the staff a bit better each time. Say there is a great deal of new faces, then what does that mean?
If you would like to find out more about our Open Day, coming up soon (well there’s a surprise-and-a-half), please visit our Open Days page on this Site.