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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Choosing the Right School Isn't Something They Teach in School (Yet)

If you are a young parent in New York City with the means to put your children into one of more than two hundred private schools, it's not going to be as easy as you think. Parents in Bangkok have a comparatively easier task with only 160 schools on the roster; Brussels residents, easier still, with a very modest 50, all vying for your attention and offering to provide excellence, community, and varying degrees of personalisation.

Back in 2018, Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica touched on the dilemma facing parents today in their book entitled, You, Your Child and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education

From the opening paragraph, Robinson and Aronica acknowledge that "being a parent is a challenge" and that it only "gets more complicated when your children start school." However, despite the practical advice throughout on how to support your child through the existing school system and even a chapter on "choosing the right school", the book doesn't ever really articulate the steps that a parents needs to go through to make this choice on behalf of their child.

And the reality is, as I've said many times before, most parents don't know how to choose a school any more than I really know how to choose a new car. I don't really know how a car works, so the likelihood is that I'm going to choose a car based on superfluous factors such as the colour or whether it provides a bluetooth connection to my phone.

And, as much as we try with our eye candy website designs, the reality is that most of the information that we provide parents is in a language that they don't understand because parents don't speak Education. 

Do you recognise this kind of language?

Empowering future leaders through innovative, student-centred learning, our school fosters a dynamic and inclusive environment where 21st-century skills and holistic development are at the forefront, ensuring each child's academic excellence and lifelong success. With a commitment to personalised education and a rigorous curriculum, we prepare students to thrive in a global society by nurturing critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration within a supportive community that values diversity and instils a passion for lifelong learning.


This is the response I got, a few days ago, when I asked ChatGPT to make up two sentences with as many educational cliches and catchphrases as it could find. 

No wonder parents find it daunting to choose the right school for their child. It was already like walking into a store and choosing between 200 similar looking washing machines, and then we decided to help by throwing the instruction manual at them only for them to find that each one reads almost exactly the same.

A row of washing machines

This is why we've recently launched The Parent Toolkit: Helping You Choose the Right School for Your Child. It's a series of seven activities for parents, specifically designed to lead them through a set of meaningful conversations, beginning with their own experience of school, preparing for a school tour, and finally making an informed decision. It's not necessarily perfect, but it's our best shot at scaffolding their knowledge and understanding at each stage of the process.

Now whether it's something that you end up integrating into your school's admissions journey for families is neither here nor there. But wouldn't it be interesting if we stopped and reflected on even one of the following six provocations.

  1. Parents don't know how to choose a school because they were never taught to do so.

  2. When choosing a school for their young child, most parents rely on a conceptual framework that was their own experience of school.

  3. Most of the time, those of us who work in schools are making the problem more difficult because we all say the same things. We prioritise information over a meaningful learning process.

  4. Open Days are boring. Or, if not boring, they are confusing. When parents look into a classroom, they see desks, chairs, books - all the stuff of school - and yet it's as confusing as when most of us look under the bonnet of a car. We don't know what learning looks like, so we don't know what to look for or how to distinguish between one classroom or another.

  5. Surely it would be more interesting for schools to enter the marketplace with a strong and confident value proposition: We're going to help you choose, even if you don't choose us.

  6. Choosing a school may be something that schools of the future decide to add as an elective for students, along with other essential life skills.

Robinson and Aronica talk about navigating your way to the best education. It's my belief that it's really time to move this conversation beyond just giving more information and asking ourselves what it means  to actually lead parents along this path.

Photo by Tina Bosse on Unsplash.



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