When choosing a school for your child after a search online it is usual to make a visit either at an open day or for a bespoke tour. Since the Covid pandemic many schools have moved their tours to be entirely virtual and seeing the school in action on a working day is not possible due to guidelines around bubbles and social distancing. If left with the choice of making the decision based on what you can view on the web, here are some hints as to what to ask to see – and what is important to know.
Most schools offer an online face to face call with the Headteacher, senior member of staff or the admissions registrar. This way it is possible to ask all the usual questions and to get a feel for the establishment along with the ethos. Your child could join in depending on age. Have your questions ready but standard ones may already be covered on an FAQ page. Use your precious time wisely and ask about what matters to you and your child, this might be about academic ethos, approach to education and whether the school values the creative subjects, for example.
Use the school website to find out everything possible by looking at news pages, any digital tours and information on examination results and inspections. You may also be able to look at biographies of staff and current or past pupils. There might be taster days albeit online and other ways to interact with the school community. Reviews on the school website as well as those on sites such as Mumsnet give a flavour, but must always be tempered by the thought that families have differing values about education and what suits one child may not suit another.
Even a virtual open day opens up opportunities to meet people connected with the school and obtain a deeper understanding of the school’s pastoral care and academic curriculum. There is the possibility of acquiring more knowledge about co-curricular clubs and activities and whether they are provided during, or after, the official school day.
Your choice of school will depend on practical needs too such as ease of transport and whether the school has wraparound care. Much of this information will be on the website.
It will take more than one visit virtual, or otherwise, so start your research early.
Jane Prescott is Headmistress of Portsmouth High School