“We encourage you to do your research in order to make an informed decision,” says Cathie Ireland, Head of Junior Secondary School, Methodist Ladies’ College. “Go to open mornings, go on tours, and speak to students on these days if you can to gauge whether a school’s culture is the right fit for your daughter.”
When considering schools, some decisions are straight forward – independent or government, single-sex or co-ed. But some decisions may be overlooked.
Look long term
“You have to remember that secondary school is a journey,” Cathie says. “It might be hard to imagine your daughter as a student in Year 11 or 12 if she is currently 8 years old. It’s important to look at the pathways, subjects and opportunities that will be available to them in their later years. Parents should always look at the long term, not just think that they will figure it out later on once their child is in Year 9.”
Particularly for independent schools, Cathie recommends applying for a place by grade 3 or 4 as secondary school offers are usually sent out during Year 4. “It’s reassuring to have a known pathway ahead,” she says. “However, if you have not yet organised these applications it is still worth investigating your options, or join a waitlist.”
It’s easy to be dazzled by flashy new buildings or impressive academic scores, but don’t lose sight of how the school will help your daughter to grow as a person, as well as co-curricular opportunities, programs and outdoor education.
It is also important to remember that a shorter geographical distance doesn’t always mean ease of access – for instance, a school further away may be easier to travel to on a direct train line. “Consider public transport routes, as your daughter will want to be independent,” says Cathie.
Bring your daughter along to a school tour so she can familiarise herself with the surroundings, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. While it is important that your daughter is involved in the decision making process, especially in later secondary years, Cathie says choosing a school ultimately needs to be the parents’ decision.
“At this young age, you know your daughter best. You know her strengths and interests and you know where she will thrive,” she says. “Don’t be swayed by what your daughter’s friends are doing or pressure from the schoolyard chatter. Make a decision based on what you know about your daughter and where she will flourish, and don’t be afraid to be different,” says Cathie.
“You’ve done the research, so you have to back yourself as a parent.”