Some of the most important criteria you have to take into account:
- Does the school have a good reputation? Does it belong to a recognised body for private schools such as the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools? How long has it been established? Is it financially stable?
- Does the school have a good academic record? For example, what percentage of students obtain high marks in the ACT and SAT examinations and go on to top universities? What subjects do students do best in? All schools should provide exam pass rate statistics. Parents of children who aren’t exceptionally bright may prefer to send them to a school with less academic pressure.
- What does the curriculum include? A broad and well-balanced curriculum is best. Ask to see a typical student timetable to check the ratio of academic to non-academic subjects. Check the number of free study periods and whether they’re supervised.
- Do you wish to send your children to a single-sex or a co-educational school? Some parents believe that children make better progress without the distractions of the opposite sex (although their ‘social’ education may suffer as a result).
- Day or boarding school? If you’re considering a day school, what are the school hours? If you’ve decided on a boarding school, what standard and type of accommodation is provided?
- Do you intend to send your children to an elementary or secondary private school only, or both?
- How many children attend the school and what is the average class size? What is the teacher-student ratio? Are student numbers increasing or decreasing? Check that class sizes are in fact what they’re claimed to be. Has the number of students increased dramatically in the last few years (this could be a good or a bad sign)?
- What are the qualification requirements for teachers? What are the teachers’ nationalities?
- Are you required to pay for extras? For example, optional lessons (music, dancing, sports, etc.), lunches, art supplies, sports equipment, school trips, telephone calls, clothing, insurance, textbooks, stationery and parking.
- Which countries do most students come from?
- Is religion an important consideration in your choice of school? What is the religious preference of the school, if any?
- Are special English classes provided for children whose English doesn’t meet the required standard? Usually if a child is under nine, it doesn’t matter if his English is weak. However, children over this age may not be accepted unless they can read English fluently (as printed in text books for their age). Some schools provide intensive English tuition for foreign students.
- What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects? What facilities are provided (such as a language laboratory)? If you wish your children to learn foreign languages, you may need to send them to a private school or pay for a private tutor.
- What is the student and staff turnover?
- What are the school terms and holiday periods? Private school holidays are usually much longer than those for public schools, e.g. four weeks at Easter and Christmas and ten weeks in the summer, and often don’t coincide with public school holiday periods.
- What sort of discipline and punishments are imposed, and are restrictions relaxed as children get older?
- What are the withdrawal conditions should you need or wish to remove your child? A term’s (semester’s) notice is usual.
- What examinations are set and in which subjects? How do they fit in with your child’s education plans?
- What sports instruction and facilities are provided?
- What are the facilities for art and science subjects, e.g. arts and crafts, music, computer studies (how many computers?), science, hobbies, drama, cookery and photography?
- What sort of excursions and holidays does the school organise?
- What medical facilities does the school provide (e.g. infirmary, resident doctor or nurse)? Is health and accident insurance included in the fees?
- What reports are provided for parents and how often? How much contact does the school have with parents?
- Last but not least, unless someone else is paying, what are the fees?
Draw up a list of possible schools and obtain a bulletin or prospectus from each (some schools provide a video prospectus). If applicable, obtain a copy of the school newspaper or magazine. Before making a choice, visit the schools on your list and talk to the head, staff, students, and if possible, parents and former students. Most parents find it helps to discuss the alternatives with their children and, if possible, allow them to make the final decision.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in America. Click here to get a copy now.