There are many different things to consider when inspecting potential schools for your child.
Firstly location- do you want your child to go to school in their local neighborhood or are you happy for them to travel outside their area, perhaps even using public transport? It is sometimes difficult to imagine your little 12 year old getting on and off a train, but once they hit the teenage years, it becomes a part of their social life and also equips them with important life skills. Looking outside your immediate area will open a whole new choice of schools.
Single-sex or co-educational? There has been a lot of research published stating that girls do better academically in single sex schools and boys do better in co-ed schools. Of course academia is only one aspect of any school and you need to consider how your child is situated socially and with their peers.
When looking at schools you will across a huge difference in school population or size- smaller schools with numbers as low as 200 or 300 through to large schools with that many students in one year level. Many schools also have multiple campuses so children may start off in one suburb and then have to move to another once they reach senior school. Sometimes this can be a positive, as some students leave the school at this point and head off on a different pathway.
Think about your child’s specific interests and keep this in mind when looking at schools. Some schools offer more sports and outdoor activities; some have wonderful visual arts programs and drama centres. Saturday sport is another factor to consider as many independent schools have this as a compulsory part of their curriculum.
Look beyond year 7 when thinking about potential schools. Find out what pathways are available to students beyond year 10- is there an option for a TAFE pathway, VCAL, VCE.
Most importantly for students experiencing learning challenges, ensure that the school has a dedicated student services/ special education/ learning enhancement department and/ or coordinator. This shows that the school is serious about supporting children with diverse learning needs. Ask about what modifications and accommodations the school makes for children with learning difficulties. Get a sense of the school principal’s attitude towards dyslexia and learning disabilities, as well as their attitude to the use of assistive technology within the classroom.
Don’t be swayed by the glossy prospectus and fancy grounds and facilities- you will be able to tell a lot about a school by seeing the students in action, the way teachers interact with students and each other, and the general attitude and warmth of the principal. Go out and visit schools, take a list of questions with you, ask the students what they feel about their school. Good luck- do your homework and make an informed decision.