Simon Porter, Times Educational Supplement “Subject Genius” and Director of Quality and Staff Development at Compass International School Doha gives parents a few tips on choosing the right school for their children.
In many respects, choosing the right school for your child is one of the most important and daunting decisions that parents have to make, especially here in Doha where there are so many schools jostling for attention, all apparently having unique features, and many calling themselves “international”. I hope to help parents in their choice by focussing on the most important features to look for.
Bill Clinton’s advisors famously helped Bill focus by telling him “It’s the economy, stupid”. For parents without a doubt the most important thing to focus on is “It’s the teachers!” Are the teachers from a wide range of countries? For example, Ireland in particular produces excellent international teachers. What professional development opportunities do the school offer for teachers? For example does the school sponsor teachers to do Masters Degrees? Do teachers cooperate with teachers in other schools or indeed teachers in other countries? Does the school allow you to actually talk to teachers when you are being shown around? Do you get to see inside actual classes during a lesson? Do the teachers’ own kids go to the school?
Research shows that University admission tutors believe the International Baccalaureate (IB) is the best curriculum for preparing students for University. IB students are less likely to drop out and are seen by universities as well-rounded students who have the organisational and academic skills to cope with the jump to university education. However, many students find A-levels are better suited to their needs, especially if they have skills that lie in one particular area, such as Science and Maths. Does the school you are looking at offer both to best suit your child?
Does the school truly believe that all children can succeed with support and hard-work, or do they just pay lip service to this? The acid test is to ask whether they set by “ability” in Mathematics. If they do, they don’t truly believe every child can be good at Mathematics. Incidentally, most research suggests that “setting” doesn’t work, and in fact harms the progress of most children. Ask how ambitious they will be for your child.
Does the school have links with other organisations to enrich their curriculum? Do they have a vibrant music programme? Do the students do STEAM projects highlighting skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics? Are they on the cutting edge of these developments? Again, many schools will say they include these aspects, but what evidence is there that they are acting on this?
Does the school have a diverse range of students from a variety of backgrounds and countries? If you are looking for an international school, how “international” is it really in terms of its students and teachers? Does it have an international, inclusive curriculum like the International Primary Curriculum, IB or international A-levels?
Providing that the facilities are at least adequate, I believe this is the least important aspect. Many parents are blinded by state of the art facilities, and only later find out that the school they have chosen does not develop teachers, or labels their child, thus stemming their potential.
Look beyond the gloss and the marketing and try to understand how the experience of learning will be for your child. At the end of the day it is teachers working with children that make a school successful not bricks and mortar or concrete and glass.
Simon Porter is Director of Quality and Staff Development at Compass International School here in Doha.