Getting The Most From School Open Night

January 2019 and it’s the month of the school open days and nights for the P7s and P6s.

In essence, this is a relatively, small window of opportunity for you to take in all the aspects of the ‘big school’ and to make a judgement call on its suitability and likeability, so I trust the following tips will help you along in the day or evening and make it as productive as possible for you.

Tip 1. Make an effort to take the P6 child

Many parents feel that their P6 child is still too young for the whole process and there’s plenty of time to be worrying about changing schools, but trust me, take the time now and enjoy some school open nights. In reality the child will be going into P7 in 9 months and then may be working towards their transfer test so having early visibility of their future school could be very motivating for the child. Also, after the test and before the results there is a short window for visiting schools and often there are clashes with two potential schools happening on the same day and you could find yourself stuck.

Tip 2. Make a list of all schools to visit

If your child wants to do the AQE / GL test and go to a grammar school, that’s great but they’ll have to do well in the test to gain a place.  Consider these grammar schools as your plan A and my advice is to also visit schools in your area that do not rely on an AQE / GL score and they actually might surprise you.

Tip 3. Do your research before the visit

The internet has a wealth of information, so have a nosey around the school’s website, their Facebook Page, their Twitter link and even Google, to see what comes up. This will start to give you an early feel for the ethos of the school and may also give you some questions to take with you to the open night. Also, have a look at the school’s admission criteria in advance so you know what they will consider when allocating their places.

Tip 4. Don’t overdress with layers

The school open nights can become very crowded so you can keep the layers to a minimum and you’ll probably still be quite warm. The last thing you want to do is be carrying around your extra jumper and coat all night.

Tip 5. Try to leave siblings behind

Whilst there are no rules which will exclude younger kids from attending the event, they are likely to cause you a distraction so my advice is to try to get a babysitter or leave one parent behind to give the other parent and child a better chance to explore the school and not be distracted.

Tip 6. Be early

You would be surprised how long it will take you to navigate a large school that you have possibly never been in before and to get around all the departments that you want to, so it’s best to make sure you are on time and can take the visit at your leisure, rather than feeling rushed and under pressure.

Tip 7. Open your ears and trust your instincts

It’s all well and good having a pre-set number of questions prepared and getting satisfactory answers, but the open night is much more than fact finding. Look around. Take in the atmosphere. Do the pupils look happy and content at the school? Are the teachers nice? Really take a minute to stop in the craziness, sit back (metaphorically and actually), absorb the surroundings and reflect on whether you think this would be a good school for your child.

Tip 8. Make an effort to listen to the Principal’s Address

The principal is the leader of the school and like any organisation or business the leadership qualities will often set the tone for the rest of the school so you are likely to judge the principal’s charisma as well as what he says during this address. Often the principal will provide an overview of the school, highlighting all the best qualities, the prospect of change and importantly for the potential students, he will probably cover the school’s admission criteria in detail. In my opinion, this is well making the effort to attend so do pay attention to the timings provided (if they are) as once the address starts, some schools will not let parents enter as this would only be disruptive to other people.

Tip 9. Hit the most popular joints first

A lot of first timers will turn up and take each department in their stride but as the evening goes on, some departments always prove popular with the masses and become quite crowded.  Therefore, if you’re there early, I would suggest seeking out and exploring the HE department (they are usually baking – yummy!), the Science areas where fun experiments are usually taking place along with the Maths and Technology departments. It makes sense to get to these when there is more space so you son or daughter can join in with the activities.

Tip 10. Accept a pupil guide and have a chat

Most schools will choose the best pupils to be ambassadors for their school and if offered a pupil guide, accept their invitation kindly as you will have a chance to hear about their experience. Ask the child about their experience – how did they settle in, what’s the thing they love best, is there anything they don’t love, any good clubs they would recommend etc. and you’ll probably get very open and honest answers. But I believe this is more than the chance of being able to interrogate an innocent, this is a real opportunity to get a feel for the type of students that attend your child’s future school and in my experience this has always been very sweet to witness a child stepping up to this responsibility.

It’s typical that one student is assigned to one family so it’s quite a personal experience but don’t feel you have to be toured all night and when you feel you have the hang of it, you can tell the child that you’re ok and they are move on to another group to offer their services.

Tip 11. Figure out the lunchtime arrangements

This is always an important one for parents and children, so find out if the school offers school meals and if they do what level of variety if provided. Also, with regards to payments, you may want to discover if the school uses a cashless system, dinner tickets, cash or a combination of all three.

Tip 12. Transport to school

The school open night is a great opportunity to talk to pupils and students and explore the best transport links from your local area to the school. With a little hope, there may be dedicated school buses laid on, or on the downside it could make the school seem less appealing if it means a very early start for your child. This can be an important factor in school choice so take the opportunity to figure this out.

Tip 13. Think about future exam choices

I’ve heard people say in the past, “It doesn’t matter what school a child goes to because they all do the same GCSEs anyway” and whilst this may have been true in the past, things do seem to be changing. You may also think that 4th & 5th year are too far off, but time flies so when you’re choosing a school, really step back and think if you child is an academic who likes to revise and do exams, or are they happier doing practical work with coursework.

Following a parents’ GCSE information session at a Lagan College recently I was blown away by the great choice that they offer to all kids, both the pure academics and the more hands-on type child. For the academics, they offer the pure GCSEs in Further Maths, History, Geography etc (the traditional side) but for the kids who are not so keen on exams (and not everyone is) they offer a significant number of BTEC courses in Business Studies, Media, ICT & Technology etc., which allows children who prefer a more hands-on approach a greater chance of happiness, engagement and success.

So, during your school open nights, jump forward a few years in your mind and ask questions about what the school offers in terms of GCSE or BTEC options and try to select the best fit for your child.

Tip 14. School Fees

Compared to primary schools, where parents are usually asked for a small fee per year, grammar schools’ fees and costs can be (but are not always) significantly higher. So, whilst you’re out exploring,  find out about the  the school fees (both the compulsory and the voluntary amounts) and if there are any additional costs e.g. ipad, extra-curricular sports, extra-curricular music. During these conversations, if you find these costs are high, you may also want to ask how they are paid e.g. money up front, quarterly payment options or direct debit.

Tip 15. Try to respect closing time

Although you may be having a ball and still have a question list as long as your arms, just be mindful that when the time pushes on and everyone else has left the building, it’s probably time to wrap up and let the teachers go home. 🙂

Tip 16. When it’s over capture your child’s opinion on paper

If you ask a child what they thought of the school, they’ll probably say “Yeah, it was good.”  This isn’t going to be much help when trying to weigh up the options at a later date, so I would suggest a more formal approach with open questions and ratings. So, grab a piece of paper and ask the child some pertinent questions and get them to score or answer. This might even be best done when you jump into the car after the open night when the experience is still fresh. You can do the same as a comparison.

  • What did you think of the buildings? Answer between 1-10 (10 being best)
  • What did you think of the other pupils – did they seem happy? Answer between 1-10 (10 being best)
  • What did you think of the teachers? Answer between 1-10 (10 being best)
  • What did you think of the after-school clubs? Answer between 1-10 (10 being best)
  • What did you like the most about it?
  • What did you like the least?

Tip 17. Don’t think you can do two open nights on the same day

If two of your potential schools are on the same day, don’t think you’ll be able to squeeze them in and do them both. Take your favourite and spend some quality time at the open night and arrange a private appointment with the other school to have a look around (most schools offer this if the open night time was unsuitable) during the normal school day.

 

Hope this has reached you on time and helped. ?.


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