An Easy Way To Know Which School Is Best For Your Child

By Stuart Adams: Dad, Teacher, Careers Advisor, P&C President and Director of Top of the Class Tutoring Sydney.

If you have a child that is about to start a new school (whether it be primary school or high school) the task of deciding which school is best can be very worrying. Many parents are content to send their child to whichever school is closest. That’s fine, but we all know what impact our schooling lives has on the direction we take in life, so yes; it is a big deal, and it’s okay to be a bit stressed over it. It just means that you want the best for your child, as every parent should.

Whilst it is common for parents to want to know which school is best for their son or daughter, it is very difficult to know for sure what a school is like when you’re on the outside of it. Even if you went to that school yourself when you were younger, schools can change enormously over time.

To know which school is best for your child, the first question you need to answer is this: what is it that you’re looking for in a school exactly? To go even deeper, what is it you’re looking for in a child?  Hang on – did he just say what is it you’re looking for in a child?

If that just gave your nervous system a bit of a jolt, then good. As protective and caring parents, we want to do more than just protect our child, we want to mould them. Chances are, we want to influence their surroundings so that it will influence them, and in the process, mould them to be the way we want them to be. We like the idea of designing our children’s lives. Not so that we can create ‘designer kids’ as though they were fashion accessories either (although I’m sure you know of parents who think like that).  We know the world is a harsh place, where survival is tough and there’s a lot of bad influences. We want to strengthen our children’s foundation so that once they are all grown up and off on their own in this harsh world, they will have what it takes to lead happy, successful and fulfilling lives.

Whilst I’m sure that we can all agree about wanting to influence our children’s environment and know which school is best to provide them with a happy and fulfilling future, the way in which that is done best is perhaps the fork in the road where parents might disagree. So this is where I am going to ask you to think very carefully about what attributes you feel make for a happy and fulfilling future, when deciding which school is best.

You may believe that getting high marks and a good ATRAR is the magical recipe for a happy life. Your child must after all get into the RIGHT university course, otherwise they might as well go jump off the gap right? Whilst no parent in their right mind would actually agree with this last statement, the reason I worded it so harshly is because if you put too much pressure on your son or your daughter to get into the ‘right’ university course, the unconscious message that a vulnerable and insecure young mind will perceive is actually not too dissimilar to the exaggerated version I just worded. Never being able to live up to mummy or daddy’s expectations, no matter what degree or career path you take, will ever result in a happy fulfilling life.  Moreover, the ‘never quite good enough’ mentality will only spill over onto your grandchildren, great grandchildren and become a never-ending cycle. I see it a lot. No one ever looks back on their life and feels content knowing that they contaminated their children with the ‘never quite good enough’ virus. Remember that.

Having said all this, university entrance is important. Achieving the best one can achieve is also important. Having the right environment is very important. So what makes for the ‘right’ environment then? Is the right environment one where the kids wear ties and have strict discipline? Is it where they have a bigger lap pool than the ‘competing’ schools? Is it having the right quantitative statistics to ‘prove’ their success? Is it the one that the other parents will be jealous of when they hear about it down at the tennis club?

Well, if appearances and superficiality is what you value (and therefore want to inject into your children’s personality) then yes. Whilst I could be wrong, I don’t personally believe that superficiality is an important ingredient when putting together a recipe for a happy life. In fact, to me, it only steers a person around in circles chasing after a goal that will never bring them what they’re really searching for. But that’s just me.

In fact, I can’t tell you what attributes you should or should not be looking for to mould in your child. That’s up to you. Just remember that the culture of the school will ‘rub off’ on those who attend it. So whatever personality characteristics you want to mould in your child, look for a school where those same personality characteristics are present in the people there. That won’t be found on a website. It won’t be found in graphs or numbers. It won’t be found in a sales pitch, a uniform, a school motto or the number of trophies displayed in the admin office either.

My personal belief is that a good school is made up of good teachers and good students. A good school is therefore good because of the people who go there. The goodness of a person can never be determined by something that can be calculated or printed on a piece of paper either. It’s something that must be experienced.

The ideal situation would be to send your child to a few different schools, observe what goes on for a few days, and make your decision that way. Unfortunately, that’s not an option. If you want to know about what a ‘people’ are like without being able to interact with those people much, then remember the golden rule of the behaviours of human culture; followers are like their leaders.

If you want to know what the teachers and kids are like at a school, observe the principal and the parents. Observe the way they communicate. Observe their body language, their tone of voice, their facial expressions, the things they talk about and the way they talk about them. Observing the unconscious communication of the leaders in any group will give you big clues about what everyone else is like.

The best way to observe this communication of course is to attend the schools P&C meetings. Attending the schools P&C committee meetings can give you opportunities to ask questions of the schools leaders and observe their reactions. Then compare those reactions between the different schools. It won’t tell you with 100% certainty which school is best, but it will give you an ‘insider’ insight that won’t be gained any other way.

Once again, I can’t tell you what you should be looking for when you make these observations – that’s up to you. Whatever you’re looking for in a school (and in a child) however, then attending a few P&C meetings is probably the best strategy for finding out which school is best for meeting your personal criteria.

For more advice, tips, resources and assistance for parents, see Top of the Class Home Tuition Sydney


Private School vs Public School – Some Inconvenient Truths

By Stuart Adams from Top of the Class Professional Tutoring Sydney

Which is better – private schools or public schools? This is one of the most common questions parents ask me. The answer depends on numerous variables, but two factors come to mind more prominently than others. The first is that it ultimately comes down to the individual school(s) in question. The second is: better in what way?

Private schools are, statistically, more likely to pump out students who go to university than government schools. So if university acceptance is the goal (or at least the most important goal) then the private school must be the better selection right? Not necessarily. Children who attend private schools are also more likely to come from homes where a university education is considered an expectation. This does not mean that the private school is the causative factor in the equation.

There is no statistical evidence to suggest that the same child who attends a private school is more likely to get into uni than the exact same child would had they gone to a state school and had every other circumstance in their life the same with the exception of their school. Children who attend a private school are more likely to want to go to university as well.

So if you decide to send your child to a private school with the intention that it will affect their decision whether or not to attend university, then fine. If however they want to go to uni regardless, then the private school selection may not make them more likely to get in. In fact, culture and location are actually more likely to determine the probability of a child going to university than whether or not their high school was private or public.

Children from families in more affluent areas of Sydney for example are more likely to decide to go to university. In fact, one might even argue that sending a child to a public school in a more affluent area may result in a higher probability of them attending university than if they were to attend a private school in a lower socioeconomic area of Sydney. In fact, because the current NSW state school system allocates teaching positions based on an accumulation of credit points, by sending your child to a public school in a more affluent area, you will be guaranteeing your child is more likely to have teachers with an average greater number of years experience than what would be found among schools in the western suburbs.

Yes it does seem hardly equitable, especially given that education is the part of the cycle where intervention can occur when it comes to the low socioeconomic populations health and welfare problems. Don’t question it too much however; the Teachers Federation likes to maintain their tree hugging leftist image, and if anyone realised that the current system is anything but equitable, I think they’d strike until we shut up and go back to ignoring that. So we’ll leave that delicate little unpleasant part of the state systems reality, and move onto the next issue.

The greatest determining factors as to whether a child goes to university or not is how much they want to. If a child has a keen passion to expand their education, then they will – whether it be with a private or public school background. So why bother with private schools at all?

Other than religious influences, private schools are typically populated by children whose parent’s can afford their fees. Not all private schools have exorbitant fees however, but it basically means that the more you pay for your child’s private school education, the more they will be surrounded by other rich kids. So if having your child be surrounded by children from wealthier backgrounds is the goal (or perhaps just sheltering them from the poor kids) then yes, a private school education may be the way to go.

Private schools tend to be strict when it comes to behaviour related policies as well. So if you want to keep your son and or daughter away from the naughty kids – then yes, perhaps private is the way to go. Perhaps you just want to make sure your child is educated within a religious culture. That’s fine too – religious schools will definitely help with that. Some of the more affluent Christian schools will help you knock over multiple birds with the one stone there, as evidently in those schools, God loves all the children – except the ones who can’t afford more privileged conditions or those with behavioural difficulties.

So if it is your goal simply to manipulate the sociocultural environment that your child is exposed to throughout their schooling years, then perhaps selecting the appropriate private school will indeed help you achieve that goal. If having more experienced teacher’s is the goal however, then moving to a richer area will ensure that your child is privileged with more experienced teachers in the supposedly equitable state government education system. If your child is bright and you want them to be among other high achieving kids, then the schools with the highest rate of university entrances are actually selective schools, which are government schools by the way, and won’t cost any extra.

Whether or not you want to control the crowd your child knocks around with at school is up to you, but if you’d like to invest in your child’s academic future, then by far the most valuable use of your money is in private tuition. Above all, the absolutely best causative association between family decisions and entrance into university is the decision to hire a private tutor. Yes, Tutoring Sydney wide is more prominent than any other area of Australia, but the same is true in any city, town or suburb.

My advice for parents whose number one goal is to secure a strong educational foundation to support their child’s future is, most definitely, one-on-one private tutoring. With the right tutor, you will not only see improvements in your child’s scholastic performance, but most importantly a shift in their attitude, motivation and confidence. And if you want to know the biggest difference between kids who do well and those who do not? Three words: attitude, motivation and confidence. Children that want to do well and believe they can do well; will do well. It’s as simple as that.

For the best resources for parents on helping your child succeed, build confidence in their learning abilities and achieve a strong educational background, see the Top of the Class Tutor Sydney website.