Choosing a school

You may think you have plenty of time to decide what you are going to do about schooling, your little one may only be six months/one year/a toddler. Think again. If you don't already have your child's name down at the school of your choice you may miss out. Carol Fallows has put together a checklist of things to consider when choosing a school for your child. 

Most of us have some idea of the type of schooling we would like for our child - often based on our own experiences. Some parents decide that their children will have the same schooling they had and put their children's names on the waiting list of their chosen school even before they are born, but many of us are not so definite.

Before you choose a school for your child you need to decide on the following:

Do you want your child to go to a school close to home? 
A check of the schools in your area may reveal that there are some that are new to you? Other parents are often the best source of information - ask on the EB forum, or when you next visit your baby clinic or playgroup about schools in your area.

Going to school close to home has the advantage that your child's playmates will generally live nearby and this will make organising play dates and birthday parties much easier. It will also involve your child and your family in the local community as many local schools hold fundraising events that involve local businesses and join with local community fairs and festivals. There is the added bonus of being able to share lifts to sporting and other events with nearby parents and of joining a babysitting club if one exists. Some parents choose to send their children to the local government school for the first three years principally for these reasons.

What type of school you want your child to go to? 
Are you happy with the government system, do you want your child to go to a private school from day one, or are you considering alternative education such as Steiner, also known as Waldorf, or Montessori? Maybe you want your child to go to a school whose religious values are the same as your own.

You will find information on independent schools at www.isd.com.au - the internet schools directory which claims to include every non-government school in Australia.  It will allow you to search by age, sex, locality and type of school.
 
If you are not happy with the schools in your area then you have three choices:
1. You can plan a move to an area where there are schools you like before your child's school days start. Other parents are often the best source of information - ask on the EB forum, or when you next visit your baby clinic or playgroup about schools in your area. 
2. You can put your child's name down at a school outside your local area, if that is allowed by the Education Department in your State, and hope that you get in.
3. You can opt for a fee paying school.

Having located the schools you would like to consider you need to make contact. 
Many schools have a prospectus or a website that outlines their fundamental philosophy. You will find out more if you make the time to take a tour of the school, go to an open day or both. Be sure to have a list of questions handy when you visit.

Many schools have a prospectus or a website that outlines their fundamental philosophy. You will find out more if you make the time to take a tour of the school, go to an open day or both. Be sure to have a list of questions handy when you visit. 

Be aware that a school's reputation may not be up to date. A school is generally only as good as its principal and when that person changes so does the school's approach to everything from education to discipline. In order to be sure that you agree with the school's culture you need to visit the school, ask questions and 'get a feel' for the school community.

Here are some suggestions for questions you might ask:  
- What facilities does the school have?
- Do I feel comfortable with the school atmosphere?
- Are the staff welcoming?
- What are the school's goals for their students and do I agree with them?
- What are the school's policies on discipline and homework?
- Does the school offer other services such as out-of-school hours care?
- Is the school involved in community activities? If so, what are they?
- How involved is the parent body in the running of the school?
- The year before your child starts school your child will probably be invited to spend part of a day at school where they will meet the teachers and find out about the school. Ask if the school has such a program.

Is your child ready for school?
Each state has a policy about what age your child must be before they can start school and what is the oldest age they can be before they must start. You can find out more from the Department of Education in your state.

If you are undecided about whether you child is actually ready for school you can ask yourself some questions such as:

-Can my child go to the toilet alone? Can he dress himself in a t-shirt without help?
- Does she know her full name? Does she know her parent's first names?
- Can he hold a pencil properly and cut with a pair of scissors?
- Does she know which way up to hold a book? Does she know where a story starts in a book and where it ends?
- If I tell him to put his puzzles away does he know where they go? And does he do it? If I ask him to put rubbish in the bin does he know what to do?
- Can she answer a simple question, such as 'what is a car?'; can she speak and be understood in English?
- Does he know how to listen without interrupting?
- Does she know how to share? Will she be able to share pencils and books?
- Does he know how to talk and play with other children without squabbling?
- Can she throw and catch a ball? Climb on a climbing frame?
- Is he able to wash and dry his own face and hands?
- Does she know her home phone number or your mobile number? 

For information on starting school:
The Step into Prep. A guide for parents a publication of the Department of Education, Employment and Training, Victoria, that is 'designed to assist parents to prepare their child for school'.
Time to Start School. A parent's guide to starting kindergarten a booklet available from the NSW Department of Education and Training and available on their website at To find out about State schools in your state go to:

ACT Department  of Education and Training
New South Wales Department of Education
Northern Territory Department of Employment, Education and Training
Queensland Department of Education
South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services
Tasmanian Department of Education
Victorian Department of Education
Western Australian Department of Education and Training

Carol Fallows is the author of a number of parenting books including The Australian Baby & Child Care Handbook (Penguin) and the Parents When-To-Worry Book. (Doubleday). She was the editor of Australian Parents magazine for 18 years and has three adult child.

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