Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions a parent makes. And so as thousands of pupils start new schools in September there will, understandably, be an air of anxious anticipation on the part of the adults as much as the young people. What then makes a good school? Parents will undoubtedly have studied countless performance tables, read prospectuses from cover to cover and attended a clutch of open days before reaching their decision.
If they are wise, they will have consulted their child at every point in the process and chosen a school that looks and feels right. ‘Look’ is important: a track record of success in public exams, good facilities that support a wide range of curricular subjects and extra-curricular activities, staff that are both competent and caring and a leadership that has a clear vision for the school. But ‘feel’ is equally important because schools are, when all’s said and done, a community of individuals forming a multitude of relationships on a number of levels. Schools are every bit as much about developing character and confidence, providing an investment of time and talent which will repay over the course of a lifetime, as delivering good academic results.
So perhaps above all else, parents should ask ‘Will my child be known? Will they be nurtured? Will they be valued?’ If the answer to these questions is yes, then chances are that both parents and pupils have made the right choice of school and so begin a partnership that will deepen and blossom over time. A good school will value this relationship and welcome the support and input of parents in addition to providing advice, information and wise counsel in difficult times as well as good. And there will be ‘bumps in the road’ even for the brightest, most enthusiastic of students. These are the times when the stronger the relationship between school and home, the easier the obstacles will be to overcome and the more likely that small issues are nipped in the bud before they become major incidents.
Ours is a Quaker school founded in 1699 and, as such, is based on the values of the early Friends who were instructed to ‘walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.’ Today it is a multi-cultural, ethnically diverse school community welcoming students and staff of all religious backgrounds and, indeed, of none. Yet this philosophy of responding to the good in all is a wonderfully optimistic basis on which to run a school. It strikes at the very heart of the human condition – throwing aside cynicism and suspicion – and concentrates on what unites us, what excites us and what challenges the boundaries of conventional knowledge as a springboard to the boundless possibilities of creativity. A new school year, at whichever school, offers just that opportunity to discover all manner of things: information, skill and, perhaps most importantly, insight and self-awareness. Not a bad way to fill the time from September to July!
IWK – September