Selecting a School for your Child
Selecting a school can be a difficult decision to make with a multitude of factors to consider.
Having worked as School Registrar at St Catherine’s for eight years and a teacher for 18 years I advise many parents to follow a three step process of research, making a shortlist and attending school tours to streamline the selection process and pinpoint the right school for their child.
Generally, the starting point for researching a school begins with viewing potential school websites and creating a shortlist. At this stage parents can feel overwhelmed if they try and explore too many options. This is where word of mouth is an incredibly effective and powerful research tool for parents to utilise. Seeking the opinions of current and past parents, students and alumnae provide firsthand opinions and real life experiences which can greatly assist parents during their initial research to shortlist prospective schools.
The next step for families usually involves contacting the School Registrar or Admissions Department to determine place availability and scheduled campus tours. The first interaction with a school can have a huge influence on the parents’ feelings about a school. Parents need to feel their enquiry is welcome and appreciated and feel relaxed about asking for information. Generally, parents should enquire about class size, curriculum breadth and focus, co-curricular opportunities, facilities, pastoral care, the level of contact between parents and teachers and the educational philosophy of the school. Importantly parents should also consider what differentiates the school from others.
Many of the enquiries received at St Catherine’s School are concerning the benefits of single sex education. At St Catherine’s we firmly believe in the benefit of an all-girls’ school environment. In a recent article published by The Age it was stated that “both anecdotal and research based evidence, supports the idea that girls’ schools are better able to create an environment and opportunities needed for girls to succeed and develop intellectually, emotionally and physically.”
Research recently compiled by The National Coalition of Girls Schools also suggests there are a number of reasons why girls thrive in single sex-schools. These include academic achievement, building of self-confidence, a cultural dedication to how girls learn best, development of leadership skills, heightened career aspirations and the championing of girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) , learning areas all recognised as critical to 21st Century workforce opportunities.
A recent Melbourne University study also found girls at single-sex schools grew in confidence and achievement in STEM subjects when moving from a co-educational school . The Age also reported that “post – school they are more likely to pursue tertiary study and careers in STEM subjects, hold leadership positions, and earn higher wages than girls in co-ed schools.”
Most importantly, as President of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, Fran Reddan, articulates “girls’ schools provide an environment where students feel safe to express themselves, are more confident, more willing to take risks, ask questions and engage in healthy competition.”
Another consideration for parents is school size. At St Catherine’s our small size along with our one campus advantage ensures all our students – from the youngest in ELC to our VCE students – learn in one central and encouraging community. Small Year levels and low class numbers allow for personalised academic and pastoral care which fosters high self- esteem, resilience, empowerment and achievement of each student’s personal best, all this while maintaining a broad and extensive range of subjects and outstanding co-curricular activities.
Lastly parents must organise a school visit, either on a private tour or through scheduled open mornings run throughout the school year. The initial experience of a school environment is vital to the decision making process. It is where parents and their child can assess if the school fits them and vice versa. It is critical they experience the school in action to gain an honest insight into the school culture, observing student/teacher relationships, respectfulness of students including how they wear their uniform and conduct themselves, classroom etiquette and whether the students appear cheerful and engaged. This first visit can form a lasting and pivotal relationship with the school.
At St Catherine’s School private tours are conducted by the Registrar whilst Open Mornings are led by our current students. In both cases, to maximise the benefits of the visit, parents should prepare a list of questions to allow them to compare schools based on their chosen criteria. Private tours are individually organised by contacting the Registrar and Open Mornings are published on the St Catherine’s website.
Our Open Morning tours are conducted by our current students and provide parents an honest insight into a student’s perspective of the School. At St Catherine’s, our students are brilliant ambassadors, talking freely and confidently about their curricular and co-curricular activities and, most importantly, their passion and respect for the School.
Education is a lifetime investment. Whilst the final enrolment decision is usually made by parents, a school must also feel right for the child, as the individual who will be attending the school. A school’s values and ethos must also match the family’s beliefs and ideally its facilities should align with the child’s strengths. Keep these considerations in mind and the process of selection will be far more enjoyable!