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How To Find The Right School For Your Child

South Africa has some excellent schools, writes Frank Rumboll, principal at Cedar House in Cape Town. But how do you find the best fit for your children?

We live in a country that offers some exceptionally good schools. These rank among the best of what could be offered at school level globally. However, choosing the right one is no easy task.

My advice is to carefully consider your family’s values and to reflect, brutally honestly and in collaboration with your child, on what sort of educational environment will result in your child flourishing to the highest possible degree.

All good schools offer good academic programmes and, to a large extent, quality teachers. When considering, it helps to keep these questions in mind:

  • What is the school’s evidence and track record of being committed to individual students flourishing?
  • How does the school in question define enduring flourishing for individual students? In other words, what particular qualities would the school attempt to encourage as evidence of its commitment to this weighty human project?
  • Does the school offer, support and encourage uptake of students into Advanced Mathematics and English programmes for academically aspirant students?
  • Does the school offer and focus on more (much more, hopefully) than good Matric results? What does it define as ‘good’ Matric results?
  • What does the school look for when appointing and interviewing new staff members? What does it tell prospective teachers about its key institutional values?
  • What matters most to the particular school? This will help you to determine whether this matches what matters most to your family and your child.
  • How have previous students from the school fared once they have entered tertiary study options?
  • How is the school demonstrating a commitment to developing South Africa, to upholding the constitution, to creating bold thinkers, and to creating a conscience around equity, redress and change?

It is so tempting to believe that if the school we went to worked adequately for us in the 20th century, our 21st century children need something similar. Sometimes we are tempted to believe that if the school we send our child to is similar to the school we attended, everything will be safe and okay.

Our children’s worlds are just too different for this to be the case. Be wary of a school that clings too proudly to a traditional way of working and is not engaging with 21st century imperatives. It must be noted, though, that many good, traditional schools are acutely aware of this and are embracing change, but not all are necessarily acknowledging how crucial this is.

We want our children to be comfortable with the future, with rethinking, with innovation, diversity and difference. A school that is too disconnected from these requirements might not help our children to live fully and happily in the future.

A school’s hidden curriculum is all that it offers and prioritises beyond the usual academic curriculum. These extra excursions, parent meetings or mentor systems are telling. A helpful way to determine what they are is to ask for a copy of the school’s calendar and determine what is on offer.

Children are becoming increasingly diverse, with different demands, values, family backgrounds, socio-economic contexts, and so on, and schools that are best suited to managing this are the ones that carefully consider levels of choice. Difference is an acceptable and embraced notion at these schools. Providing children with a high level of comfort in the context of a range of differences will certainly assist them in managing their future more assertively
and successfully.

I would urge potential students of schools to ask their prospective school’s heads of interviewing staff what the school would define as a successful human being. The answer will assist you in predicting where you want your child to attend school.

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