Every school has its own “personality” and visiting a school is an invaluable way to get a first personal impression about the atmosphere and ask questions and get documentation about the school. Lately I participated in a writing contest on expatsblog, and am proud to say that my article was one of the winners. It consisted in two parts: one was an updated list about the International Schools in The Hague area and the other one was a questionnaire, a list of questions parents can ask while visiting a school for their children.
This list was quite general and I found some more questions to add and a better subdivision of them. Some of the questions are specifically for frequently moving families, but most of them are universal.
1) To make your child(ren) feel comfortable:
- Does the school have planned activities to assist your child in a positive start to school?
- Do the students seem happy at school?
- Do the students look actively engaged in learning?
- Does the school assign “buddies” to new students?
- Do the grades interact, and if yes, how and when?
- How big are the classes, how is the student-teacher ratio?
- Does the school allow parents to volunteer in the classroom?
- Is the approach child-centered and challenging enough to develop each child’s strenghts and love of learning?
- Are the course offerings extensive enough to meet your child’s needs?
- At what age are students offered modern languages?
- What is the daily, weekly, monthly schedule like?
- How much movement or multisensory experiences are built into the curriculum?
- How much homework is there?
- How many co-curricular activities (arts, sports, clubs etc.) are offered? Are they included in the school fees?
- To what extent can you be a partner in your child’s learning?
2) General questions about the school
- How many years has the school existed?
- Is the school board run by parents who are elected?
- What is the reputation of the accrediting institution(s)?
- What is the duration for the current school accreditation?
- Was the annual report with budgets available for you to inspect?
- Does this schoo have a particular educational philosophy or mission?
- What are some of the school’s greatest accomplishments? What are some of the biggest challenges this school faces?
3) Reachablilty and safety
- How long will it take for your child to get to school?
- Is there a bus service available for this school? What kind of bus service (door to door or other)? Is your company going to contribute in the expenses of the bus service?
- What security precautions are forseen by the school? Is the campus a safe, supportive, and nurturing environment?
- What is this school’s approach to student discipline and safety?
- Does the school have a nurse? If my child has severe allergies: what are the school policies (nuts allergies etc.)?
- How does the school manage bullying (on the playground and cyberbullying)?
4) Teachers / staff
- Are all the teachers certified, including ESL, SEN, PE etc. teachers?
- Are the language teachers certified teachers?
- What are the expectations for staff about students of high ability, special needs, ESL and other areas?
- How long on average does the school retain its teachers?
- What percentage of teachers has earned advanced degrees?
- Does the school support professional development, so teacher learn and apply “best practices”?
- Is time dedicated for teachers to meet as teams to jointly plan curriculum and assess each child’s needs?
- Does the staff seem happy?
- During your visit, are teachers available and friendly?
- What is the “feeling” or “tone” of the staff? Are they friendly and professional?
- How frequently will you receive information concerning your child’s progress?
- What types of standardized tests are offered, and how do the students perform?
- Is the curriculum broadened with “best practices” around the world, so students can be well prepared for their next school?
- How is technology used to support teaching and learning at this school?
- If your child has ‘special learning needs’, how will the school meet these?
- What strategies are used to teach students who are not fluent in English (or the language lessons are taught in)?
- What types of field trips are available for students? Which are compulsory?
- How do the arts fit into the curriculum? Is there a school choir, band or orchestra? A school play? Art classes?
- How does this school support students who have academic, social or emotional difficulties?
6 a) For elementary schools
- What are some highlights of this school’s curriculum in reading, math, science and social studies?
- What criteria are used to determine student placement in classes?
- How does this school keep parents informed of school information and activities?
- Is there an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA)? What other types of parent involvement take place at this school?
- Is child care available before or after school?
6 b) For middle schools
- How does the school guide and prepare students for major academic decisions that will define their options in high school and beyond?
- Are foreign language classes (French, Spanish, German etc.) offered to students? Are they part of the curriculum?
- Do they offer language classes in minority languages? Are they part of the curriculum?
- If the school is large, does it make an effort to provide activities that create a sense of community?
6 c) For high schools
- What student-support services are available for individual student counselling and university placement?
- What programs are in place for drug and alcohol prevention?
- What programs are in place to prevent bullying (incl. cyberbullying)?
- Does this school have a particular academic focus, such as science or humanities?
- Does this school have any school-to-work programs or specialized academies?
- What kind of emphasis does the school place on college preparation?
- Does the school have a good selection of Advanced Placement classes?
- What percentage of students takes the SAT ? Where do students go after they graduate? How many attend four-year colleges? What kind of degrees are possible? (In Europe: A, B, AB, IB, EB etc.)
- Does the school offer a variety of career planning options for students who are not college bound?
- Are counselors available to help students make important decisions about classes and post-graduation plans?
- What percentage of students who start at the school in ninth grade graduate?
- Does the school staff set high expectations for all students?
- How do students get to school? Is there a parking lot, and are buses (public or district-provided) available?
- Is this school accredited?
- Do classrooms look cheerful? Is student work displayed, and does it seem appropriate for the grade level?
- Do teachers seem enthusiastic and knowledgeable, asking questions that stimulate students and keep them engaged?
- Does the principal seem confident and interested in interacting with students, teachers and parents?
- How do students behave as they move from class to class or play outside?
- How well are the facilities maintained? Are bathrooms clean and well supplied, and do the grounds look safe and inviting?
- Are all the facilities like playgrounds, libraries, IT etc. state-of-the-art and well maintained?
- Does the school provide different facilities, such as libraries, cafeterias and sport areas for different grade levels?
- What kind of library resources are available for students?
- Does the school provide warm meals/catering service?
- What facilities are open to family members?
- What is the quality of air, water and noise around the school?
- Is the community surrounding the school residential, commercial or inner-city?
Last but not least:
- Were all questions answered in a straight-forward manner with documentation readily offered?
Excellent articles about this topic:
- “My instructor provided meaningful feedback” (studereducation.wordpress.com)
- Children who learn languages with schools like UIC London enjoy more opportunities (prweb.com)
- Is It the Teacher or the System? (thereadingzone.wordpress.com)
- Ideal Learning Environment (educationalissuesandhelp.wordpress.com)
- Parents start their own school after city closes one down (fox59.com)
- About International Schools in The Hague area (expatsincebirth.com)