Questions to ask when choosing a school

In Education, School options, Special Educational Needs (SEN) by Carole Hallett Mobbs7 Comments

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Choosing a school overseas

If you are able to visit your new host country prior to your move, you are in a prime position to visit schools in order to help you decide which one is best for your child and yourself. Select your preferred schools, phone each one and make an appointment to visit.

Even if you are unable to visit in person, these questions will help you work out how well your child will fit into the school.

Go with a list of questions as it’s easy to forget specifics. While the answers to many of your questions can be found on websites and in the school’s prospectus you do need to be aware of the carefully composed advertising literature.

Prioritise your questions in order of importance to you and your child. For example, if your child particularly interested in a specific subject such as science, sport or music then you need to ensure that school has good facilities and enthusiastic teachers in that area.

Updated 8th June 2019 to include valuable comments below in the body of this article as they are relevant to choosing a school in France for a Special Educational Needs child.

Some questions to ask when you choose a school

Admissions criteria

  • Is there a place available for my child? If not, how long is the waiting list and when would they realistically be able to start?
  • Are there any admissions tests?
  • Is there a policy to admit siblings?
  • What is the nationality and diversity of their students?
  • Does the school advocate and work hard towards inclusivity?

Education

  • How many children are in each class? And how many per year group?
  • What is the teacher to pupil ratio?
  • How are students “streamed” for ability?
  • How is diversity of ability dealt with in the class room, at both ends of the spectrum?
  • Are measures in place to assist those with special educational needs and those who are gifted and talented?
  • What is the staff turnover at the school like?
  • How much homework can be expected?
  • What subjects, sciences and languages are offered as exams in the later school years?
  • What focus is there on life skills?
  • How is religious education taught, if at all? How does this fit in with your personal belief and preference?
  • What incentives, rewards and discipline systems are in place?
  • What do they do if you have a student who is smart but is not performing?
  • How do they identify students who need extra help?
  • What do they do if a student isn’t coping with the workload?
  • How do you help a student who is struggling?
  • Where do the students go after leaving this school? Is further education facilitated by the school?

Pastoral care

  • How often do parents meet with teachers?
  • What contact methods are there between school and parents?
  • How do they help new kids settle in?
  • What do I do if I have a concern about my child?
  • What are the mobile phone, internet and social networking policies at school?
  • Are parents involved immediately in issues such as bullying, behaviour or other issues?
  • How does the school handle bullying? If any staff member says there is no bullying, be suspicious. Either they are lying or they are unaware due to failures in the anti-bullying system.

Extra curricular activities

  • Which sports are available and where do they take place?
  • What extra music tuition is available? Where and when is it held?
  • What other activities are available? Lots of extra-curricular activities indicate that teachers are enthusiastic and prepared to put in an effort.
  • Are the extra curricular activities free, or do they have to be paid for?
  • Are there regular school trips?

Facilities

  • Are the buildings and facilities in good condition?
  • Do students need to leave school grounds for any activities such as sports? If yes, how is this handled?

Extras

You may be surprised at some of the extra money you have to fork out. School trips, excursions and school uniform are expected expenses but can be costly in some cases.

However, we were horrified to discover at the last moment that we had to pay for all of our daughter’s stationery. Each subject specified certain items, and lots of them. I think we have eleven folders in total; each with precise paper requirements, special (expensive) pencils for art, portfolios, countless pads of paper, notebooks etc.

Current students

Chat to the current students. The school will probably draft a couple to show you and/or your child around. If the school tries to keep you away from the pupils, consider what they might be trying to hide.

Ask them questions such as what do you like about school? Who do you go to if you have a problem? What do the teachers do if you have a difficulty? Take into account the school will have chosen particularly good representatives to show you around.

A good question to ask is, “What was your favourite lesson this week?” A good answer would demonstrate enthusiasm and engagement as that that generally means the teaching is great. But if the reply is “Dunno.” Or “English – we watch videos all the time!” you may want to rethink your choice.

Your gut feeling

Hard to quantify, but you should be able to get a feel for the atmosphere in the school and have an idea whether your child will be comfortable there. And remember, your child is not you; the sort of school you would have enjoyed attending isn’t necessarily the same as the one your child will fit into best.

See how the teachers interact with your child; if they only talk to you and ignore your child then that is not good.

Of course, each school is different and your child may need you to ask questions specific to them. Hopefully this list will give you some ideas to start with, though.

Addendum June 2019

Schools in France, especially if your child has Special Educational Needs

From commenter Sandra Burke 28th May 2018

Food for thought when making the decision to move your family to France with your special needs child. Our experience includes ADHD, Aspergers.

We are English speakers, and moved to Saint Martin D’Uriage August of 2017 with an 11 year old son and boy/girl twins aged 9. We installed them in the local school, Les Petites Maisons. Our older son has an IEP for learning difficulties posed by ADHD-Asperger’s.

Both of the CM1 teachers, for the twins, accommodatingly amended the CM1 curriculum to include them and to educate them. They even created a class for after school for both, twice weekly, to help them with french language.

The CM2 teacher, upon meeting older son, yelled at him “I am in charge!”, “It is I who command!” She had never met him before. Our oldest sat in the seat astounded, not understanding, fearful. Then the CM2 teacher turned and yelled at the director (also in the meeting) that she “I will not occupy myself with him!”

And she does not. 8 months have passed.

Our oldest son sits in the middle of the class room reading English series after series.

This, while I scramble for admissions elsewhere, which, you must know, is impossible.

Either you have your child enlisted for the following year, at minimum, 9 months in advance or you will need an act of God to install him into a school. There are lists and diligent parents are filling in applications years in advance.

Many articles from supporting friends back home appeared on my Facebook page after citing our experiences as I have stated above. Each article concluding the same, that France is 40 years + behind the rest of the world in accepting, recognizing and accommodating special needs children.

Note: Before moving here, we applied for ULIS and AVS, these are special services in France, to help our son in school. This was in early August of 2017. It is May 28, 2018 and we still have not received word, much less services.

Further, the social medical system quite literally blocks continuation of imperative medications for management ADHD-Aspergers. To see a pediatric psychiatrist who prescribes and manages dosages of your child’s medications you will wait up to a year to receive an appointment. Again, we moved here in August 2017, our son’s appointment was made shortly thereafter, our appointment is February of 2019.
Most of the medications for ADHD-Asperger’s are tightly controlled. Please note that if your child formally took Adderall, you will not find it in France or in Europe at all.

France is simply not equipped to help juveniles with special needs, in any way.
When you read an article that supports this claim, believe it, it is true.

My intent in sharing my story is not to disparage France in any way.
It is a beautiful culture and country.
Rather, please use this information to make informed choices for your special needs child(ren) and for the wellbeing of your family.

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution. Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.

It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child. Now available on your local Amazon.

Buy from Amazon More detail on the book

 

I can help YOU with YOUR move abroad

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Comments

  1. Admissions in schools are very typical in today’s era, parents and students are very frustrated about nursery school admissions process and they don’t have enough knowledge to there child admitted easily. So this article helps them to get enough information of there queries. Thanks for posting.

  2. We moved into the area last fall.
    This is a good list of questions. I always divide my questions into categories- homework, curriculum, extracurricular clubs and activities, textbooks/exam papers, learning styles, and school policies. I also have questions on mealtimes and facilities too. I am inspecting a school on Thursday afternoon.
    I also have thought of some questions on parental impressions. I plan on talking with the shopkeepers to find out their opinions of the local schools and showing unexpected during lunchtime. I also use newspaper articles as a source of information. Other parents are a good source of information on schools too. I want to find out as much information as I can possibly get.
    Also visit the website of the school. It is a excellent way to learn about the school as well. Don’t only rely on the inspection reports, or the information provided by the school. Talk to the pupils and insist on a tour of the place. Make sure your questions are answered.

  3. Food for thought when making the decision to move your family to France with your special needs child. Our experience includes ADHD, Aspergers.

    We are english speakers, and moved to Saint Martin D’Uriage August of 2017 with an 11 year old son and boy/girl twins aged 9. We installed them in the local school, Les Petites Maisons. Our older son has an IEP for learning difficulties posed by ADHD-Aspergers.

    Both of the CM1 teachers, for the twins, accommodatingly amended the CM1 curriculum to include them and to educate them. They even created a class for after school for both, twice weekly, to help them with french language.

    The CM2 teacher, upon meeting older son, yelled at him “I am in charge!”, “It is I who command!” She had never met him before. Our oldest sat in the seat astounded, not understanding, fearful. Then the CM2 teacher turned and yelled at the director (also in the meeting) that she “I will not occupy myself with him!”

    And she does not. 8 months have passed.

    Our oldest son sits in the middle of the class room reading english series after series.

    This, while I scramble for admissions elsewhere, which, you must know, is impossible.

    Either you have your child enlisted for the following year, at minimum, 9 months in advance or you will need an act of God to install him into a school. There are lists and diligent parents are filling in applications years in advance.

    Many articles from supporting friends back home appeared on my Facebook page after citing our experiences as I have stated above. Each article concluding the same, that France is 40 years + behind the rest of the world in accepting, recognizing and accommodating special needs children.

    Note: Before moving here, we applied for ULIS and AVS, these are special services in France, to help our son in school. This was in early August of 2017. It is May 28, 2018 and we still have not received word, much less services.

    Further, the social medical system quite literally blocks continuation of imperative medications for management ADHD-Aspergers. To see a pediatric psychiatrist who prescribes and manages dosages of your child’s medications you will wait up to a year to receive an appointment. Again, we moved here in August 2017, our son’s appointment was made shortly thereafter, our appointment is February of 2019.
    Most of the medications for ADHD-Aspergers are tightly controlled. Please note that if your child formally took Adderall, you will not find it in France or in Europe at all.

    France is simply not equipped to help juveniles with special needs, in any way.
    When you read an article that supports this claim, believe it, it is true.

    My intent in sharing my story is not to disparage France in any way.
    It is a beautiful culture and country.
    Rather, please use this information to make informed choices for your special needs child(ren) and for the wellbeing of your family.

    1. Author

      Sandra,
      Thank you so much for sharing your shocking information. I truly hope your children get the education they deserve soon. This must be so stressful for you.
      I am thinking of ways I can share this comment for better visibility, but for now, I shall add a note to the article to make sure people scroll down to read.
      Wishing you all the very best for the future,
      Carole

  4. Pingback: Questions to Ask When Choosing a School for Your Kid - Globiana

  5. Great list! One major issue which you haven’t included is whether
    parents are encouraged to help at school and if there is a social life
    for the parents based around school. This can be a make-or-break support
    network for accompanying spouses. If your children go to an
    international school, there will almost certainly be organised
    activities and parents will be asked to help. Local schools may not be
    so welcoming, but if you’re lucky, this mayl be how you make your local
    friends as you help together at school. Parental participation is often
    easier with younger children; as they become older and more independent,
    you may be asked to help less and less, so it does depend on the age of
    the children, too.

    Also remember that what you
    consider normal or preferable may not be what is normal in another
    culture and educational system, especially if you’re looking at local
    schools as opposed to international schools. Compare local schools with
    each other, not only with your expectations. In the Netherlands, for
    example, although children start school aged four, they spend two years
    play-based learning, and the 3Rs don’t start until the third year. If
    you’re used to the British and American style of teaching, which pushes
    children to read and write early, even more so in recent years, this can
    be a huge shock. There’s also not much emphasis on homework, unless
    your child is behind, and here schools and individual teachers do differ
    widely.

    In my experience, admittedly only in the
    Netherlands and Germany, the proximity of the school is one of the major
    factors; if a child has local friends it is easier for them to play
    with friends without you having to ferry them everywhere or drive across
    town to pick them up. If there’s any chance of staying for a few years,
    local friends are very important. Again that’s a disadvantage of
    international schools where the turnover may be and it’s sad to be
    abandoned once again as your friends move on. As always, it’s all swings
    and roundabouts, and as long as your child can make a few good friends,
    they are more likely to do well academically, whichever school you
    choose.

    Sarah Turley, @IntegratedExpat

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Thank you so much for your comments which are so good I shall incorporate them into a separate post.

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