Choosing a school for your kids is one of life's big decisions.
Do you go private or public – and are you happy for them to attend the school that's local to you now, or do you look further afield – or even more dramatically, move house to ensure you're in the right catchment?
It can have a major impact on family life, depending on what you decide, and to add a little bit of extra pressure, a new study has found that a whopping 40 per cent of parents actually regret their school choice.
The study, by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), polled over 100 parents from public and private schools and found that high on the list of parents' priorities were location, exam results, facilities, and how a school meets their child's specific needs or interests.
It also found that, for most parents (53 per cent), the major source of their information was word of mouth.
The big question the study posed was: would these parents choose their school again if they had their time over, and an alarming 40 per cent said no, they wouldn't. Notably, that number was down to 30 per cent in the Catholic school system, and 32 per cent in the independent school system. State schools had the lowest satisfaction rate, with 43 per cent saying they would change schools.
The study's author CIS research fellow Glenn Fahey pointed out that this level of dissatisfaction is something we should be deeply concerned about, stating "if that kind of customer satisfaction ranking were in any other industry, it would not take long to go out of business."
He says that schools should be providing parents with more information and resources to allow them to make an informed decision about what's best for their child.
Owner and founder of Personnel Relocations Robyn Vogels agrees that information is power in this situation, as is knowing your child. Having spent 15 years living and working around the world, her business has helped thousands of families move to Australia since 2008 – including the crucial task of helping them choose a school for their children.
Vogels says that parents should consider "first and foremost, what makes their child tick".
"If sports are an attraction for your child, then consider a school with great sports facilities," she says. "This will keep the child motivated to go to school and enjoy it and we all know how much easier it is to do something you enjoy."
Relying purely on data on comparison websites such as Better Education or MySchool can be a mistake, says Vogels, because it doesn't provide the entire picture.
"These websites can provide some really helpful information, however many parents fail to understand them correctly or could use them in better ways," she says.
"Let's consider MySchool. Parents flock to the website to read all the Naplan statistics, they might take one look and decide against a school because the current results are poor. "
Rather than dismissing the school, Vogels suggests parents study the trends.
"Have the Naplan results improved over the years?" she ask. An upward trend can indicate the school is working hard to improve, or has a new principal who is making a difference.
"My School website has a lot of information presented in a concise manner that helps parents to compare schools quickly," adds Vogels. "[Parents] really should look at the school population, the teacher-to-child ratio, girl-to-boy population and the percentage of children who perhaps don't speak English at home. These statistics can really start to build a picture and help to compare schools easily."
Vogels says school websites and rankings should only be used to build a picture to short list schools, not to make a final decision. After that, it's a matter of visiting the school and seeing if their values align with yours, and if it feels like a good fit for your child.
And if you do regret your decision, Vogels says the best place to start is having a conversation with your school to see if it's something that can be worked out.
"All too often, we as parents have higher expectations than the child has, so we feel let down, however, the problem might not be as bad as we think," she says.
"In any instance, request a meeting with teacher, head of year level or even the principal and discuss your expectations to see if the school is even capable of reaching your expectations."
Vogels also reminds us not to pass on our stress about choosing the "perfect school" to our children.
"As parents we plan, predict and worry about long term goals," she says. "Children are not like this, they don't plan that far ahead. Children want here and now, today, maybe next week. 8
"Don't let our long-term goal seeking stress ripple down on them during this decision-making processes. It is amazing how children pick up on parents' stress, so while you are worrying about them making new friends and settling in, they could perceive it as an immediate concern because they are not planning as far ahead yet."