What’s the pastoral care like at your school?
At an international school, the need to support children through the rough times is magnified: disorientation, dislocation from old friends, the challenges of a tropical climate, language barriers… these all have to be faced and dealt with in a caring and professional manner. So ask the school how they’ll help you son or daughter to settle in, who the pupils can go to if they need a chat and how staff go about communicating concerns to parents.
What’s the relationship like between staff and students?
You might be tempted to spend most of a school tour peering at impressive facilities. I’d spend at least as much time looking at the faces of the students and staff I pass in the corridor. Does it look like they enjoy being together?
What’s the community like?
Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this question as I live within 10km of Pattaya, labelled by some as ‘Sin City’. Pattaya as a great destination for families is a subject I’ve covered here, so I’ll leave that to one side; suffice to say, make sure you’re satisfied with the school’s safety and security. More generally, I’d be looking to get some idea of how strong is the sense of togetherness of the parent body (and whether the school helps parents to come together). Also try to gauge the extent to which the school sees itself as part of the local community or sits in isolation (I’m all for the former – there’s so much to learn from those around you).
How will my child be challenged and stretched?
Don’t fall into the trap of simply comparing examination grades between schools, because it can only tell you so much. Instead, talk to the school about how they go about trying to ensure that all children in the school achieve highly. Thailand is a country which provides young people with an astonishing array of learning opportunities: find out how the school makes the most of these through fieldtrips, outdoor education, extra-curricular activities, community service and other challenges.
How many students to each class?
Certainly ask the question, but be very cautious about immediately favouring the school with the smallest number of students in each class. Provided it doesn’t get too high (I’d suggest a maximum of 22 to 24), a healthy number of students in a class (and indeed the school as a whole) can have a very positive impact on the group dynamics, friendships, the number of subject options, the range of extra-curricular activities available and more.
How will this school improve over the next few years?
A school will almost certainly try to impress you with its visionary plan to upgrade its facilities. Dig a little deeper to test how likely those plans are to ever see the light of day: talk is cheap, new facilities are not. And don’t stop your probing at facilities: find out what the school has in place both to recruit high calibre teachers and ensure that those already on campus grow and develop as educators and role models.