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Private School Open Day - What questions to ask?

(16 Posts)
Happysummer Sat 02-Mar-19 08:50:51

We have never set foot in an independent school before. DD is currently in a state primary, but we have a local indie school which is very sporty. We are looking to apply for a sports scholarship (yes aware of the criteria and high level required).

The info from the school says "Your afternoon will include a tour of the school (and boarding house if you wish) by one of our youngest pupils, afternoon tea with teaching and pastoral staff, sixth-form pupils (our most senior girls), current parents and, of course, the headmistress, bursar and admissions team.".

We have asked to see the boarding house, even though she'd be a day girl out of interest for how boarding works/what do living arrangements look like.

Qs I've thought of are:
- How many girls from State school normally start Y7? (They have a prep on the same site and 50% of intake for Y7 seem to be from there)
- What progress do girls make each year?
- Are classes in mixed ability?
- Are there setting arrangements in the core subjects?
- What do they do to improve attainment and improve progress?
- What do they do with under achieving pupils?
- How many unfilled vacancies are there?
- How many vacancies are temporary staff?
- What are the requirements/commitments for a sports scholar pupil?

I have no idea what I would talk about with existing parents. What do I say to them? Any other questions I should be asking?

Thanks in advance!

OP’s posts: |
Utility Sat 02-Mar-19 10:43:38

Your list seems comprehensive.

minipie Sat 02-Mar-19 10:50:33

I’d ask more about the pastoral care, especially if you can get one to one chats with existing parents (bearing in mind the parents will have been cherry picked).
Ask about bullying - what happens if a parent reports their child is being bullied. Experience with/approach to eating disorders, anxiety. Policy on phones and internet access at school.

Also if it’s a girls’ school - check out the science and maths facilities, are they as good as in comparable boys/mixed schools. How many girls take Maths, Chemistry, Physics at A level

How many leave at 6th form

Puffty Sat 02-Mar-19 10:55:36

I'd ask the parents and pupils how kind the school is and I'd ask the parents what the school's communication is like with parents.
Some schools like to say they have 'an open door policy' whereas others are very much arms length.
Kindness towards and communisation about my child were both very important factors for me when choosing

I'd also ask the pupils what the food is like and where the children store their bags (locker, huge communal cloakroom, pegs throughout the school etc). Food and organisational logistics both big issues for DS!

Puffty Sat 02-Mar-19 10:57:59

Oo and another - any set requirements at GCSE. One SW London indie secondary insists on 2 languages at GCSE, no exceptions. DS would struggle with this.

Happysummer Sat 02-Mar-19 11:17:09

Fab thank you, I'll add those to the list!

OP’s posts: |
Ynci Sat 02-Mar-19 19:18:45

The Indi my daughter goes to produces something called the Red Book every term. It lists ALL the details about the school including the sanctions and rewards, bullying,uniform rules, school ethos etc. It also lists all the staff for each department which can give you quite a bit of insight into staffing levels. Someone I know applied for a job there last year and she said it was very helpful to understand the school for the interview. See if they have something similar. Not all this info is on the web site!
Oh and they are having a huge push on mental health, even down to recruiting additional staff specifically for this. Ask what your school are doing to support students.

SalrycLuxx Sat 02-Mar-19 19:21:36

What languages are offered and if the are an ‘all the way through’ school, how do people who start at year seven cope given they’ll be several years behind.

Is there a nearly new shop for uniform?

happygardening Sat 02-Mar-19 20:09:39

I sways think rather than asking questions where the answers are likely to be what they think you want to hear and staff and the choose children you meet will be on their best behaviour. Youre much better to observe with a critical eye and listen to any talks with a critical ear if it helps take notes to read once you’re out of the place.
In particular watch the children going about their everyday lives do you like what you see? I loathe over strict boot camp type schools especially if there’s boarders, I think children should look relaxed between lessons chatty happily to each other, I personally don’t worry if uniform looks a bit scruffy but this is your own personal opinion, watch the staff around the children if there’s lots of boarders the relationship between staff and children is likely to be slightly more informal you’re in both their homes. When you go around a boarding house watch how staff and pupils react and keep saying to yourself this is their home and staff are acting in loco parentis do they look like their in their homes do staff look like their more parents than teachers. I’m personally never expected pristine conditions because I don’t live like that, staff should respect pupil privacy e.g. knock when entering rooms. If you can speak to pupils (not those chosen to join afternoon tea) away from staff jump at the opportunity get their take on the school.
Just look at try and soak up the ethos and atmosphere do you like it feel comfortable there. Never forget that many independent schools away from London and the very big names actually struggle to fill all their vacancies.
Finally if something is very important to you ask. It never used to cease to amaze me how many intelligent sensible parents failed to establish before signing their DC’s up for a school whether the school expected pupils to come in every Saturday morning for lessons, or if their non academic talented golf nut son could play golf instead of hockey rugby and cricket and then proceeded to moan endlessly because Saturday school was compulsory or the school had no golf course.

Happysummer Sat 02-Mar-19 21:42:55

Great advise @Happygardening thank you.

I hadn't thought about the boarding house being their home (sounds daft now!) so glad I've asked to see this part of the school too.

DD is Y4 and when I said to the registrar 'is it too early to look around?' I got a response of 'you're welcome to attend the open day, shall I book you in?'. I did wonder if they are just trying to fill the open day to appear well subscribed...

I know there is no Saturday school, which is a plus, and need to ask about sport provisions, coaching and commitments. I shall definitely take a note book.

OP’s posts: |
elfonshelf Sat 02-Mar-19 22:32:18

I did this recently and found that the questions that really made the children showing us round open up were things like:
- so why did you pick this boarding house and if you could choose again would you still choose this one.
- asking what happens if you are having music lessons and really don't gel with the teacher... are you stuck with that one or can you move to another where the fit might be better.
- asking what their favourite and least favourite parts of the week were.

It was very easy to tell when they were relaxed and giving me their actual thoughts and when they were reading from the script.

I'm very much of the liberal, hands-off-unless-I-have-to-step-in type of parent so when I asked about uniform I was very pleased to hear confessions that jumpers might not have been quite regulation in colour, but it didn't seem that anyone was particularly bothered about it. Silly little things, but if you have been in a rigid boarding school yourself, you know what is going to be an issue or not for your child.

If you are interested in anything that might potentially take your child out of school for commitments related to their particular interest then really check what the rules are and how experienced the schools are with working round this.

Nothing worse than getting a drama scholarship to a school that then has a fit when you ask for time off for auditions or professional contracts, or a sports scholarship when they agree that you can miss one day of school for a regional, but then say no to the national rounds when you are successful at regionals (I have seen both of these situations happen multiple times and in all cases the schools were 100% supportive until it stopped being hypothetical - oddly they were all very keen to feature the various childrens' achievements despite being generally a spoke in the wheels rather than facilitating).

1805 Sat 02-Mar-19 23:04:38

I always ask at least two different pupils

"If you could change 1 thing about the school, what would it be?"

I think it gives a good insight into the school from a pupils perspective.

happygardening Sat 02-Mar-19 23:15:08

Draw up your ideal must have list: ponies? six choirs regularly entering into national comps? pushy? Super academic? Broad intake? Ridiculous outdated uniform? Meaningless ritual? Hands on? Hands off? Big name? Coed or not? Easy to get too? If your hoping your DD will stay through till university look at the subjects offered, someone on here once complained that my DS2’s school didn’t offer computing and business studies at A level (despite have quite a few pages on their website devoted to subjects studied and individual subject results) and therefore were being “forced” to move their DS, I know it’s some distance away but do look into this. Forcecample your DD is already learning Chinese and she’s desperate to study it at university would you be happy if the school doesn’t offer it? Would you want to have to mover her for 6 th form? I know I know it’s a long way off and children change but still look into this sort of thing. It doesn’t matter whats on anyone else’s list it’s what matters to you and your DD after all it’s your money paying for it. You’ll never get everything aim for 90%.
Try and do more than 1 visit, the second time you’ll see the school in a different way.
Don’t be swayed my shmoozing urbane heads who know every pupils name, dainty canapés, Olympic sized pools, Medieval manuscripts, 300 acres of manicured playing fields or flower beds worthy of Kew Gardens, all are nice but not are essential to your child’s education it’s the ethos of the place that matters try and work out what it is and ask yourself if it chimes with your ethos. Not always easy to do which is why more than one visit is helpful.
Also don’t be swayed by the opinions of others or a schools existing reputation. Over 10 years ago we were amongst 6/7 other parents who were shown round a world famous school, by the end of the tour 2-3 of us wouldn’t send the dog there 2 were ambivalent and 2 couldn’t wait to fill in the application form. None of us were wrong we all saw things differently and therefore came to different conclusions. It may be worth starting a thread on here about a particular school you like if youre ambivalent or can’t choose beteeen a couple, you’ll always get those who won’t hear a bad thing about their chosen school but hopefully others will give you a more warts and all opinion.
Maybe try and visit the school when they’re doing a play or a concert, again watch staff and pupils do you like what you see?
Finally look at a few others even if on paper you don’t like the look of them, you might be pleasantly surprised for a start by one you thought you wouldn’t like and it will give you a useful comparison and maybe school X (which you’re visit has confirmed isn’t your type of place) does Y and you think Y is a brilliant idea so you’ll check out if the school you do like does it or maybe I need to find another school that does Y.
Paying doesn’t necessarily mean it will be better or even if it is better on paper than your state options it still doesn’t mean it will be better for your DD but it does give you more choices.
Good luck and don’t believe everything you hear never forget they want your money but also have fun looking around.

PetraDelphiki Sat 02-Mar-19 23:22:57

One more - what opportunities are available to sports scholars that are not available to other actually want to know this in case she doesn’t get the sports scholarship...that’s when you find out that there’s special scholars only training sessions, scholars get picked automatically for the A teams etc, the pictures of all the wonderful sports scholars all over the Facebook’s really painful if you go for a scholarship and don’t get it to then also be excluded from the opportunities she would most enjoy!

Lenazayka Sun 03-Mar-19 08:45:41

We started our school tours when DS was in Year 4. I walked and talk with students and teachers . At the same time, my DH went well behind me, looked around, heard others talk and noticed what I could not or could miss. Our DS looked by his own eyes: class size, sport activities, subjects, boarding houses, departments, smiles, food, assistance of teachers, discipline, pastoral care, library and further abilities in his favorite subjects. At the end of the day we shared each other our opinions. Of course, you can stay whole family and just listen. But in our case “watch, talk, look and hear” method worked best of all.
You can contact and ask the school later if you have unclear moments or worry about something. Sometimes need more than one tour to be sure. In my opinion, you need to come with visit at least twice: at the open day/evening and open morning/ private visit. Also need to look at the subjects and gained GCSE/ A-level marks, university destination. Maybe your DC is an artist but school produce technicians mainly.

Happysummer Fri 15-Mar-19 12:05:24

Thank you for all the good ideas. I made lists for teachers/parents/pupils. Although we didn't get a chance to ask that many questions due to DD getting over excited and a bit silly towards the end! So I shall make an appointment to go back and hopefully meet with the head to have a conversation, and as many of you said, visiting more than once is a good idea.

The registrar did a speech about the application process and said they have 2-3 applicants per place. They, as a school, are not at full capacity and one of the staff members said they can have between 50-70 in a year group depending on entrants. When we were shown around there was a year 7 boarding dorm completely empty (which was brand new). Am I correct in thinking that 2-3 applicants per place means it's not competitive or oversubscribed? I've read on here about most children applying to around 2-3 schools (outside of London) so it's expected half the applicants won't want a place anyway, they are just hedging their bets. The pass rate for the common entrance is 60%, which I felt was quite low so I'm not concerned about DD passing as this seems entirely likely, but I'm wondering how competitive applications are??

Thank you as always!

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