What you can find out at a school’s Open Day
It is the time of year when most UK schools host Open Days to provide prospective families the opportunity to visit, explore the facilities on offer and meet current staff and pupils. Attending a school Open Day is comparable to interviewing a school. This is a good approach to take when using Open Days as research when considering a school.
Think about what it is you are looking for in your child’s school and come armed with relevant questions to ask and things to look for. You would not select the right interview candidate if you did not know which qualities the ideal candidate would have. Just as it is hard to find out the life story of an interview candidate from a 30 minute interview – you cannot decipher what it is like to be part of a school, or whether your child will thrive there, until they attend for a normal school day.
That said, Open Days are a fantastic opportunity to gain an insight to life at the school. You can wander round classrooms and facilities, learn about the school curriculum and browse physical examples of the students’ work as well as talk to the current teachers and pupils in person. In this post we outline the best questions to ask and what to look for at your school Open Day.
Speak to current pupils
Schools have a very credible resource to display as evidence of the calibre of staff and pupils – the pupils themselves. The pupils there are likely to have been selected to meet people at the Open Day so they will probably be particularly well behaved and bright. Schools showcase the best that their staff, pupils and facilities have to offer at their Open Days after all. But that does not mean the pupils you meet will provide a dishonest account of school life – far from it in fact.
Asking these pupils lots of questions can be very revealing. Ask them about their achievements and if they have made progress from year to year. You do not need to pay attention to the details of their answer but the manner with which they respond will give you an idea of how they view their work and whether they feel encouraged and supported at school. Ask about their favourite subjects, class size, whether they are taught in mixed-ability classes and what their favourite part of the school day is (excluding break times!).
Take your child with you
Ultimately choosing a school is about finding the right match for your child. Take your child to the Open Day and gauge their reaction to the environment and facilities. This will give you an indication of whether this is an environment in which they will thrive or not. Include them in the decision process: what would they like to see most, what do they think will be their favourite subjects and so on. It is important that you do not ask your child much whilst at the Open Day. In doing so you may influence their thought process and attitude towards it. Let the visit sink in before chatting to them about it in the comfort of your own home.
The Head Teacher
Behind every great school there is a brilliant Head Teacher. As the head figure and ambassador of the school, they lead the staff and the pupils. They will have a big influence on the school as an educational institution – what are their core values, what the school aims to achieve and provide for its staff and pupils. How they interact with adults and children and their confidence when speaking in public is important. Staff and children are unlikely to respect and be inspired by someone who is not able to deliver engaging and eloquent speeches. These are key aspects of great leadership – strong communication skills and a high degree of finesse. Similarly, someone who lacks a genuine interest in and passion for education is not likely to give their job their all. You can get a feel for the head’s approach to education by talking to them face to face as well as listening to their talk (if they give one).
Great leadership is certainly key but it is probably the other teachers who will have the most day-to-day impact on your child. Make sure you speak to them as well because they will be setting your child’s homework and projects if you do choose the school in question. The amount that Head Teachers are directly involved in teaching pupils varies from school to school. Perhaps this is something you are keen to know? If so, ask the head and the other staff about it.
Go on a tour
If sports facilities, music rooms, interesting outdoor spaces or pleasant dining halls are important to you – make sure you visit or find out about these during your visit. Due to time restraints and finite numbers of guides, the school is unlikely to be able to include the entire site in the regular tours (depending on the size of the school). The facilities you see at the Open Day may also not be the ones that your child would end up using. So it is important that you see as much of the facilities as possible both old, new and planned for the future.
Save the date
Finally, if you and your child like the school that you visit – the most important thing is to make a note of when application forms and any other supplementary forms need to be submitted by. The more popular and higher sought after the school, the more likely it is to be highly subscribed. The application process may also be more competitive.
During Open Mornings at Cranmore, senior pupils will be delighted to show you around. There is a crèche available for those too small to tour. Staff will be available to discuss all aspects of life at Cranmore and the Headmaster will give a short talk and introduce members of the senior team. To find out more about our independent prep school, book your place at our upcoming Open Morning.