There's a lot to be said for research when looking at schools for your little ones and as parents, we all know that, right?! Finding a school for our children is possibly one of the biggest decisions as parents we can make so, no pressure... However having said that, can we go a little overboard? Can we ever do too much searching? And can we ever be too emotional in our 'quest for the best'?
When the decision is not limited to catchment areas, it can become an overwhelming task of trying to find the 'perfect' choice for our children. When the onus is completely on our shoulders, instinctively we want to absorb as many schools into our search as possible - for fear of missing 'the one'.
Now, it is important to start with: No school is perfect. No matter how hard and long we search, there will always be something that we feel they just aren't getting 'quite-right' and that is OK as long as what they aren't getting right isn't at the top of our priority list! For example, if communication is important to you and is something that sits firmly at the top of your wish list as a parent, the school you choose should reflect this. Many schools have brilliant ways to communicate with parents; from online interaction spaces to traditional 'handover' books; a question you should make sure you get answered is 'How do your teachers communicate with parents and how often' - frequency is important.
Anyway, I digress.
My next point would strongly be: meet with your Headteacher prior to starting your school search. From that meeting you should have an insight to where your child should apply, where they sit academically, and how they perform in class. Essentially where do their strengths lie? This will naturally begin to limit your choices and with the end goal being to place your child in a school that is right for them, it is a fundamental aspect of any school search. It is never too early to request a meeting, and your headteacher will always take the time to talk through senior options with you - even if your child is a little way off leaving!
With this in mind, it can be tempting to 'follow the crowd' and to make applications to schools which may not be suitable for your child because it feels as though the majority of the class are applying there. However, in the words of a large co-ed public school admissions director:
"We would expect 4, 5 maximum applications per prep school, per year. We do often get some schools sending us 10 or more, which is just unhelpful in the selection process as we like to mix our year groups and keep them diverse - especially in a boarding environment". The bottom line should be where will YOUR child thrive, and which school will shape and nurture their strengths; even if it means they are the only application from their year group to that particular school. This can sometimes mean that you are looking at a school where you never thought you would consider, but it may be the perfect fit for your little one and this is important.
We always advise our clients, that it is important to be clear on what you need from a school according to what character your child has and to create a 'priority' list. This should be the focus of your search, and the shortlist should include schools that tick most of that list off - an aspect of the search that we take care of to save you hours of prospectus requesting and website browsing! We will always advise against having a list that is too long (7-10 schools) because your emotions and feelings can get muddled and blur the priority list. Again, this is when having a specialist involved can really help. When you (typically) view more than 5 schools for your child, the really important aspects of each school can become confused, therefore we would advise the final shortlist being 3 'favourite' schools with a second (sometimes even a third or fourth!) visit. When the search is a collaborative one, with information from headteachers, your knowledge of your child as parents and our knowledge of schools as experts, the school search tends to be a smooth one with a happy child being placed in the right school at the end of it.
So, in our opinion, yes you can search too much and you can look at too many schools but with the right guidance and information your shortlist of 3-5 schools should be the perfect starting point for your school search.
If you need any help creating your priority list or shortlist, please do contact us