School Open Days: make sure you ask the right questions

How should you approach school open days in order to make the best decision for your child's education? Adrian Kearney from the International Baccalaureate offers advice on making the most of the day.

School Open Day
School open day season is upon us and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by such a monumental decision as choosing a school for your child. Your choice will shape their future, so it's important to find out as much as you can and approach the decision from an informed perspective.Visiting a school and meeting the staff, students and other parents will be helpful – go armed with a list of probing questions and you'll come away with valuable insight into the school's ethos, approaches to teaching and learning, ambitions for its students, and qualifications your child will have the opportunity to study for. Adrian Kearney, Regional Director Africa, Europe and Middle East (AEM) at International Baccalaureate shares some of the questions he believes you should be asking heads and teachers as you look around their schools:

What is the academic focus of the school?

Schools should aspire to develop well rounded students, who respond to challenges with optimism and an open mind. They should provide students with opportunities to develop the knowledge, attitudes and skills they need in order to manage complexity and take responsible action for the future. So, while academic achievements are important, they should not be the only focus at the determent of other learning and development.A school's achievements should be inclusive of children with different skill sets. Investigate the different programmes or curriculums that are available at schools nearby and assess which would be most suitable for your child.

How does your school provide a broad and balanced curriculum?

This question opens up conversations about lessons and styles of learning, perhaps through exams, creative projects and homework tasks. A curriculum's purpose is to provide learners with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to succeed later in life.As 21st century life places complex demands on students, it is essential that they are given the opportunity to develop academically while also building a raft of soft skills required in the workplace and wider society. The right curriculum should allow students to develop time management skills, think critically, write effectively, communicate and collaborate.

What curriculum is right for my child?

Consider all of the curriculum and examination options available to your child – GCSEs and A Levels are most common but many schools also offer other options, including the International Baccalaureate (IB) which offers a continuum of programmes for all key stages with its Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme, Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme. The IB is also well recognised by some of the best universities across the world and widely respected by employers.

Do your pupils learn other languages and at what age do they start?

You child will grow up in an increasingly global society, so learning to communicate in a variety of ways should be a fundamental part of their development. Schools should encourage language development from an early age – evidence shows that children who are exposed to additional languages have a greater understanding of the wider world.

What extra-curricular activities are available for my child?

Your child should have the opportunity to try lots of different activities and to pursue many interests at school; this is, after all, the time when they are learning about themselves as well as about the world around them. Look for schools that offer clubs and after school activities that help your child to explore and enjoy their interests and talents.Schools and curriculums that encourage service learning, volunteering and community work will develop students' soft skills such as decision-making, problem-solving, initiative and responsibility.

What systems are in place to monitor academic performance?

The best approach to monitoring performance is little and often – this way a school can really get to know your child and gain a full picture of how they are developing over time.

What schools, colleges or universities do your pupils progress to?

Whatever stage your child is at in his/her school career, having a picture of what they might aspire to for the future is helpful for you and for them. Look for schools that spur pupils to undertake work experience or schools that have links with industry, giving them exposure to new environments and aspirations.

For children with particular interests or a clear idea of what career they would like to pursue, choosing an educational offer like the IB Career-related Programme (CP) makes sense.  The CP provides an educational framework that combines internationally recognised courses from the IB Diploma Programme, with a unique core and an approved career-related study (i.e. a BTEC).

What’s the best thing about this school?

You can tell a lot about a school from the teachers’ responses to these two questions.  Things to look out for are enthusiasm for their subject(s), respect for the school’s leadership and ethos, and evidence that they value and care about their pupils.This is a revised version of an article that appeared on our website in October 2015.
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