Don’t discount word of mouth
Making the right educational choices starts early. The names of hundreds — barely in kindergarten — will go down on several waiting lists and, for some parents, the saving begins in earnest to secure a spot, usually for more than one child.
It’s not a bad strategy. Schools that consistently produce results and have a proven track record — a combination of academic, arts and sports programs that have nurtured some of the State’s best politicians, artists, athletes, designers, actors and scientists.
Last year, close to half of those which made the top 50 WACE and ATAR rankings were independent schools. More than a dozen in the top 20 were high-fee schools.
However, Valerie Gould, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of WA, argues word of mouth is just as good as rankings, if not better, when trying to find the best schools — and there’s a school to suit every family and every budget, she says.
“The tables should be just one consideration and it’s one of many, ” Ms Gould said. “Academic performance is important but the culture, the environment and the teachers on the ground are just as important.
“The best marketing a school can ever hope for is word of mouth. When parents are talking around a barbecue, at dinner or on the footy field, conversations always include some talk about people’s experiences with schools.
“In those situations, parents are speaking from the heart and other parents will gain so much from listening to the experiences — good and bad — of others. All of the glossiest brochures in the world can’t replicate that.”
Parents should examine their own values and competing priorities — such as proximity to homes and workplaces — before making a list of schools that might suit, while doing some thorough research on each, she said.
“Go and see the classes in operation, it will give you an idea of how the school runs every day, ” Ms Gould said. “Read the newsletters, find out about the types of camps and out-of- school activities the school offers.
“Some very good independent schools have fees of $4000 a year or less and a handful charge minimal fees. High-fee schools make up 10 per cent of the 155 schools in the sector, so there is a school out there to suit all.”
Couples should sit down and talk about the type of faith, discipline, sporting programs, vocational programs and life skills that are important to them. In some cases, they might choose different schools for each child in the family, or opt for non-faith schools.
“The important thing is to find a balance between the needs of the student, the family and the school and keep communicating, ” she said.
© The West Australian
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