Due to Covid-19, all London and international schools have moved their open days online. This will enable you to vet the schools that you are considering for your child. Although not the same as breathing the air of a school and soaking up the atmosphere, virtual open days will give you a strong feel for the school. Virtual open days are here to stay for the time being, so how can you make the most of them?
How to prepare for virtual open days?
Make sure you have a plan and prepare your questions. Read the inspection reports from Ofsted for state schools or the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) for independent schools. Check the performance charts and league tables. You can register early or on the day if places are still available, as the school will want to send you a schedule, web links and any access codes that are only communicated to participants. Looking for different opinions: forums, friends or social media can be very helpful to get an idea of the school’s reputation. Differing opinions are inevitable. Remember that a school can be an excellent fit for one child and not another. Go into the virtual open day with an open mind. Remember that the length, depth and quality of the open day will depend on the school’s resources. Independent schools, bilingual schools and boarding schools will most probably have more comprehensive open days than prep and state schools with a smaller budget.
What to expect from virtual open days?
A welcome talk from the headteacher is common, but whether it will be pre-recorded or live will depend on the school’s use of technology. There will be a tour of the school and the school grounds and ideally a Q&A session with the school staff. You may also have the option to book either face to face time with a staff member of your choice or a phone or video call. Don’t forget to send enquiries to the admissions team or registrar in order to have your questions answered. If you are unable to ask them during the virtual open day, do set up a phone call to discuss any queries you might have. This is important as the schools might not be able to give each parent lots of their time to speak to at the open day. The school’s willingness to adapt and set up meetings outside the open day times will speak volumes about the school’s culture and how they communicate with parents.
Questions to ask staff and students
You may be interested in more details on the curriculum, extra-curricular clubs or the school grounds. If your child has special needs, learning difficulties or health issues, make sure to ask to speak directly with the SENCO team so you can find out exactly how they help the children who need them and how they have supported children in the past. If you feel like they cannot reassure you that they can meet your child’s needs, you might want to consider looking at other schools.
What to look out for
Exam results and league tables are important. But league tables will not tell you whether or not a school is the right fit for your child, and do not tell you what a school’s culture is like. If a school’s answers do not satisfy or reassure you, trust your instincts and look at other schools. Once you have a shortlist and offers, choose the school where you think your child has the best chance of thriving and being happy. Your child’s school is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make: take notes, set up spreadsheets, colour-coding or anything else that will help you see clearly which environment will benefit your child and family.
Following up with the school
After attending the virtual open day with your family, do not hesitate to contact the key person at the school to ensure that your questions are answered. You can always ask to arrange an individual conference call to run through your concerns.
Contact expert education consultants
Does it feel overwhelming to decide which school is the best fit for your child? It might help to speak with an education consultant to explore all the options and narrow down your choices. We can advise on the best London and UK boarding schools, prep schools and bilingual schools. We also offer a state school service. Contact us and we will help you to make the best decision for your child’s individual needs.