I’m just back at my desk fresh from a slew of summer visits to schools all of which involved meeting with Heads – one of the perks of this job, because almost without exception Head teachers are wonderfully inspiring.
If you are looking for a new school for your child, once you have a short-list of schools to hand, the most important next step is the school visit – it is at this moment that you will simply begin to have a feel for whether you could picture your child, the family, here… and talking to the Head may well be a big part of that. But, however old and accomplished you are, there is something about entering a Head teacher's office that daunts the child in all of us, so here are some tips for getting the most from the meeting:
· Be prepared. You will be given a fairly short amount of time, so take a list of questions and don’t feel awkward about making notes. Particularly if you are visiting a number of schools in a matter of days. If there are two of you – plan who will ask what so nothing is forgotten.
· Be bold. If there is something that you have noticed on a tour of the school; something a pupil said to you which concerned you, or anything that made you uneasy – ask the Head about it, even if it feels like putting him or her on the spot. The fresh coffee and mini pastries may be disarming, but do be resolute and take the opportunity to ask difficult questions directly.
· How much is the Head interested in your particular child or family? Heads are busy with their own agendas for their schools and can talk at length on their latest passion which you may also be interested to hear about, but it seems telling to us how much a Head is prepared instead to think about your child as an individual from this very first point.
· Be honest. If your child struggles in certain academic subjects or particularly if they have a learning difference, do share this with the Head – it’s all the more impressive when they have taken the time to read an Educational Psychologist’s report. It may seem that this might reduce your child’s chances of a place, but if you can’t share their needs with a school, then it isn’t the right school for them.
· If the family is different from some, or is facing challenges like an upcoming divorce, if you can, we’d recommend sharing the true picture with the school. Heads have seen everything and we’d hope the right school will be there to support the whole family.
· A Head’s key focus has to be on the teachers that he or she appoints. Ask about new appointments, how teachers stretch the most able or support the less confident, and how many lessons has the Head observed in the past month.
Good luck. Most parents find the process of school visits enjoyable and a huge relief as school choices begin to emerge. If you’d like help with your initial short-list of schools, we’d be delighted to help.