With our eldest child nearing the end of her prep school years, my wife and I have found ourselves with the shoe on the other foot in recent months as we have been visiting senior schools as prospective parents. We have tried our best to do so as parents only. Sadly, for us, we keep being spotted as the Headmaster and Registrar at Old Buckenham Hall!
Nonetheless, it has been an educational experience in many ways as despite both having taught in senior schools for many years – and having been involved in prep schooling for eight years – our insider knowledge of what makes a good school has completely gone by the wayside. Our intended objective approach has been taken over by the school offering the experience that has won our hearts and minds; the school where we can see our child being happy and where we trust the words of the leadership.
This poses a series of questions for me. For example, when parents are choosing a prep or senior school, how are decisions made when 90% of what schools do – at least if you follow the jargon on a website – appears to be the same? I would challenge anyone to name me a school that doesn't state they have happy children, strong pastoral care, and high academic standards. There are many other questions that could be asked.
If 90% of what schools propose is the same, what is the other 10%? I consider this the magic 10% and for me it is the bit that parents should really focus on. In this 10% can be found the culture of the school. Culture is important because this includes where the priorities lie for your child; where the focus on character development is; how important is boarding (or not); how strong a leader is the Head; how well governed is the school; how much focus is there on compliance; where does academia stand in relation to co-curricular opportunity (they are not mutually exclusive). Together these and other related elements create the magic that you will fall in love with, or not. It is the magic 10% on which your decisions should be made.