Head's Update - Week beginning 28th September 2020
I have enjoyed talking to a number of parents about future school choices this week. The timing of these discussions vary for our families, and different schools have different requirements. Parents will often ask about the right time to start considering the next step, and I do appreciate it can be a difficult decision to make. The reality is the narrative amongst the children regarding their future school can start quite early. I have previously had parents contacting me a few weeks into their Mowden school career horrified that their child has already started talking about where they are going next. This response is completely understandable, and it can be reassuring to know that these discussions are often prompted by younger siblings who have a very clear path ahead of them.
It is a privilege to be a Head of a truly independent prep school, and I love that we send our children to a wide range of future schools - state, boarding, day, single sex and co-ed.
I have been fortunate to visit a huge number of schools over my career. Given that a number of our families may be starting to think about this, I thought it may be useful to share how I approach school visits.
These are important to me, on two levels:
The quality of the initial communication is an excellent indicator of how a school operates. Is communication prompt, welcoming and efficient? Is the school helpful and considerate towards visiting families - are you informed about parking? Are you given a timetable? Who conducts your tour? Who do you meet? Do you feel welcome?
I always pay attention to my initial reaction (gut feeling) to the school. For me, this is through observation of the people - all of them. I will specifically watch for how the pupils interact with me as I walk around - my expectation is for them to engage in some way, eye contact and a smile would be my baseline. Anything less than this and I would have concerns. I never want to feel a sense of ‘them and us’ between the children and the adults. I also look for how the staff (not just teaching staff) and pupils communicate with one another - this tells me a lot about the ethos of the school - I am looking for relaxed but respectful. Perhaps ask yourself ‘Can I picture my child here?’. I often find myself thinking this about specific pupils as I look around.
Sometimes my first impressions do change. I have visited schools and been completely seduced by the facilities and ‘shine’, but I am careful to see if this response is still valid by the end of my visit. I am always impressed by staff/ pupils who have the confidence to tell you about areas of the school that could be improved - one Head deliberately showed me the least inviting classroom, and this open and honest approach appealed to me. No school is perfect, and any who try to present themselves as such are probably best avoided.
As we say to our children… it is always beneficial to do your homework. Ask questions, challenge stereotypes, scrutinise provision. You need to know that the school you choose is the best fit for your child and your family. What do you want from a senior school? If possible, I always ask questions of the pupils - my expectations regarding behaviour are unashamedly high, and so this is something I always aim to get a sense of, because it is important to me. What is important to you? Have this clear in your mind as it is easy to get lost in the moment during your visit.
Should you wish to discuss future school options, do please contact Mrs Rooney to arrange an appointment.
It is (sadly) a sign of the times that I feel the need to include a Covid update in every communication. Accordingly, we are mindful of the increasing rate of infection in our area. We have therefore performed an internal Covid drill to ensure we are properly prepared should a member of our community receive a positive diagnosis. To confirm, this drill was primarily an administrative one - the children were not involved or aware.
Mrs. Kate Martin, Head