With real life open days back on, Sue Laidlaw offers some valuable advice about the dos and don’ts when parents are invited in past the school gates
You’ve done your homework: looked at websites, made a rather long shortlist and, where required, booked your places for the round of Autumn Term Open Day events. So how can you maximise the opportunities afforded by visiting school open days?
Although a few schools will grant an individual visit, most of them, particularly during the Autumn Term, will be large en masse events. Be prepared for the fact that you may well be shown around in a relatively large group where there may be limited time to talk to the present pupils. Some schools will adopt a more flexible approach to the visit, where you are given a map and are free to wander at will amongst the well organised classrooms.
When you arrive you will be greeted by a member of staff and some pupils. If you are to have a guide for your visit, this will be a (well chosen) pupil who will, hopefully, be a good ambassador for the school. Having said that, try not to be too influenced by that one specific pupil; try to speak to a few. Many a parent has left a school feeling enormously impressed or, alternatively, taken aback and rather demoralised by the child who has shown them round.
It goes without saying that every school will showcase the best of what they do – carefully chosen exercise books, wonderful choirs and gym displays, and cookery demonstrations all impress parents and show what can be achieved. Try to look beyond the obvious. If possible, poke your nose through the window of a classroom that is not on display, and look at the displays on the walls of the unadorned classrooms.
Another interesting and worthwhile observation is to look and listen to other fellow parent visitors. Are they the sort of people that could become your friends? With three children and a long teaching career behind me, I have been involved in scores of Open Days. On one very telling moment, when visiting a prospective school for one of our daughters, I was instantly struck by the group of parents in which we were amassed. One well-known personality, dressed in a scarlet suit and full of rather loud and confident questions, was amongst the group – wonderful school as it is, it wasn’t the school for our family and this particular situation seemed to be the embodiment of all our thoughts! Invariably, if you are comfortable in the school environment, your children and family are likely to feel the same way. Trust your instinct and the small voice inside your head.
Open Days provide a wonderful opportunity to explore facilities, meet staff and pupils and get a sense of a school. What is most important is to be wise about finding the most appropriate environment for your child – one in which to thrive, grow and enjoy.
Sue Laidlaw is founder of Laidlaw Education LLP, who offer educational advice, lessons and courses for children of all ages through their centres and the Laidlaw Virtual Academy. Find out more at laidlaweducation.co.uk or call 020 8487 9517