6 things for parents to consider when selecting private education for primary aged students

I have been teaching for almost two decades and worked within several schools. Despite potential of limited scope I believe that I have observed enough to understand how school fees are and aren't utilized in primary school classrooms. From my personal discoveries I have uncovered six things to consider when looking for a new school. Ultimately parents are needing to consider the value of their investment to guarantee they receive "bang for their buck". Here are six things to consider;

1. Extra Curricular

What opportunities are made for students in way of dance, instrumental lessons, singing, drama, debating and community service programs?

These activities can be catered for within primary schools and are not limited to the performing arts programs and extension opportunities of High Schools. Talent must be fostered from a young age and it is worth making a few investigations into the enrichment programs on offer. Ensure photographic evidence is provided as proof that programs are in operation and an ongoing culture and history have been developed. Most schools provide music programs and one must question to what extent the learning horizons of The Arts have been expanded.

2. Swimming Lessons

Are students provided with swimming tutorials and how often?

It is worth inquiring which year levels attend swimming lessons, how often and for what period of time. I've known schools that stop lessons at Year 3 yet host a 4-6 Swimming Carnival. It seems almost like giving a test without teaching the skills and content. The amount of drownings occurring in Australia soil is sky rocketing and educational institutions have the responsibility to address safety concerns. Parents must ensure adequate water safety and swimming is provided. Ask the school in question what year levels receive swimming lessons and how the program is managed and students taught.

3. Teacher Assistants

How many Teacher Assistants are there and how often are they allocated to help within the classrooms?

Parents should inquire about teacher assistants within the classroom. It's also advisable to ask how many hours home teachers receive the support of teacher assistants. The qualification of support staff is important as within some schools basic training has been complete while in others teacher assistants have B.Ed., B.Teacher or even M.Ed. Sometimes schools advertise that classrooms receive full-time teacher aids. On closer inspection it is often revealed that this is limited to Foundational Years and Prep. From my experience I went from receiving approximately two or three hours each week to now being allocated eleven hours. A fundamental difference!

4. Educational Technology

What is being done to cater for twenty first century learning needs?

School must do more than simply provide access to technology and call it a day. Placing a laptop, iPad, Android or Windows tablet in a student's hand doesn't equip them to learn. Support, education, training and coaching are key. Trends in education are focusing on twenty first century skills through provision of Maker Spaces. One must ask how devices are being used beyond the drudgery of content consumption. More importantly how are tools being used to create, collaborate, code and innovate. It is worthwhile asking what steps have been taken to provide opportunity for students to engage in coding, computing, Lego robotics, engineering and electronics. These tasks are not limited to High School. Schools failing to provide this needed service have misinterpreted the meaning of modern education.

5. Leadership Visits

How often would Head of Primary or Principal visit the classroom?

I taught within a school for approximately 16 years and the principal didn't visit my classroom once. In contrast, the principal of the new organisation I work for has visited to talk with students, sing 'Happy Birthday' to different children while playing the guitar and conduct lesson observations of my practice. Head of Primary or Deputy Head of Primary need to visit classrooms regularly and until this year, I had seen more comets in space. These scenarios demonstrate the value of people verse the value of dollars. People are important and the presence of leadership and their routine visit within classrooms should not be underestimated. Parents need to ensure the school where their child is enrolled cares for each member of their family and isn't simply wanting to reach quota to make budget. 

6. Specialist Lessons & Resources

What lessons are specialized and how are these curriculum areas timetabled throughout the week?

In order to cater for learning needs educational materials  need to be made available. Access and provision of concrete materials are essential and personnel are an even greater commodity. The provision of specialist staff to teach Art, Music, Drama, Languages, Technology and Sport are fundamental for development of the whole child. Home teachers cannot be experts at everything and expertise in aspects of Australian Curriculum is needed. Unrealistic expectations are established when home teachers are required to teacher a plethora of subject offerings. Sometimes schools cut costs and usually support staff are made redundant first with the expectation for classroom teachers to "fill in". In recent experiences I went from having several specialist lessons to having a range of lessons conducted by specialist staff. Parents should expect quality education to be provided by specially trained staff.

You should never judge a book by its cover and schools should not be judged by their appearance. Beauty may be found in the eye of the beholder but love is found in truth and honesty. Christ Jesus is recorded to have used the phrase "white washed tombs" when referring to certain people. He was describing certain individuals as having a nice external appearance and an internal emptiness. Schools can also be the same. Occasionally schools appear magnificent; however, underneath the surface have bland culture. Unfortunately culture needs to be experienced and often the true essence of a school is not known until the tricky questions have been asked.

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