Open Days: 8 top tips
Looked around a school and still can't judge if it suits your child? Jacky Shackel, head of prep at Lingfield College, gives her tips on what to see, do and ask.
Some schools do Open Days well. And sometimes a couple of hours herded around a school with dozens of other parents is not a lot to go on when you’re trying to find the right school for your child.
So, how to make these Open Days count a bit more, how to read between the lines, or expose potential issues? Only one thing for it – ask a head.
Thank you to Jacky Shackel, Head of Prep at Lingfield College for the past 13 years, and also an ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) inspector, for her insightful advice on what to ask, look out for and do.
1/ Talk to the pupils
Talk to kids of all ages throughout the school – particularly if it’s an all-through school. You’ll get a different response from a young child in the prep school to the children further up the school. If they’ve journeyed through the school from the prep school to the sixth form, you’ll also get a good feel for what your child could become. If a pupil is taking the tour, it’s a good idea to ask why their parents chose the school. And if they’re in the prep, ask if they’re planning to continue into the senior school – and if not, why not.
It’s important as a head to recognise that a school is not one-size-fits-all. Ask the children what the school could do to improve. And if they could wave a magic wand, what they would have at the school but don’t currently have.
2/ Pastoral care
It’s important to find out how children are supported through challenging times, but also ask how the school will support the parents and families. There should be a close relationship between the school and the families – we go through a divorce or a bereavement together.
Bullying is a common concern for parents – and it’s important to ask about a school’s policy on bullying. No school should tell you they don’t have any bullying within the school – if they do, they’re lying. But how a school deals with bullying is important, and there should be support for both the perpetrator and the child who’s being bullied.
4/ Academic support
What happens if a child is struggling with a particular subject? Ask the question. What support or help will your child be offered by the school?
5/ Social media and devices
Parents are often concerned about the use of mobile phones and, in particular, social media and cyber-bullying. Find out about the school’s policy on the use of devices at school. Is the policy the same in the prep school as it is in the senior school? Social media is fast moving, so it’s also important to find out how a school keeps on top of that.
6/ Are the staff happy?
While it’s important to ask about the pastoral care of pupils, the wellbeing of staff is also important. Ask about staff turnover. What percentage of staff come and go each year, and why? Happy staff equals good lessons. If staff are happy they’ll stay at a school which means there’s not a constant upheaval created by the turnover of teachers.
7/ Destinations of pupils
Ask not just where the school’s leavers go on to, but also the processes that in place to support the pupils and their families in making the decisions that are best for them.
Fees are an important consideration for parents and quite a commitment, so ask what the school is doing to ensure there won’t be a huge increase in fees. This particularly pertinent right now when schools are having to consider an increase in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Ask how schools will manage this. Will they put fees up, or will the money come from another part of the school’s budget? Or, will they scrap the TPS altogether?
Read our full Lingfield College review here. The Nursery and Prep Open Day at Lingfield College planned for Sat 21 March has been cancelled.
Lingfield College, Racecourse Road, Lingfield, Surrey, RH7 6PH. Tel: 01342 838153