While it’s important to do your online research, you also need to visit the school and meet staff before you can make an informed decision about your child’s future. And, with UK schools remaining closed until at least March 8 (and there likely to be strict social distancing rules after that), schools are using virtual tours to offer families the next best thing.
There are 360-degree tours where you can ‘tour’ facilities such as the sports hall, library, playing fields, science lab and theatre, to help you make a decision without stepping foot on campus. Schools also offer one to one video meetings with admissions managers and principals, Zoom information sessions and webinars, and online open days with live Q&A sessions to help manage the applications and admissions process.
There are some pros to virtual tours. They allow you to include all your family members in the decision-making process from the comfort of your living room. But there are cons, obviously. It can feel a bit impersonal and lacks the same experience as an in-person tour; you won’t be able to see if children seem happy and engaged in lessons, or personable and presentable; and you may not be able to tell on a pre-recorded virtual tour just how well maintained a campus is.
Read on for WSA’s top questions to ask during a virtual school tour.
• Can I have a one-to-one meeting with the principal?
• How can my child be assessed online while the campus is closed?
• If my child joins while the school is still temporarily closed, how will you manage their first day/week at school?
• How are you currently delivering distance learning?
• Are you offering any fee waivers or discounts?
• What curriculum does the school follow?
• How does the school encourage and monitor students' progress?
• How is technology used to support teaching and learning at the school?
• How do the arts fit into the curriculum? Is there a school choir, band or orchestra? A school production? Art classes?
• How does the school teach modern languages?
• What is the school’s homework policy?
• How does the school support students who have academic, social or emotional difficulties? Does the school have a well-staffed learning support department?
• What extra-curricular activities are available? Can students play competitive sports against other schools?
• What is the school's approach to children’s behaviour and safety?
• Is there an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA)?
• How does the school keep parents informed of news and information regarding the school faculty?
• Where do most of the students live?
• How many children are in each class?
• How many different nationalities of children?
• What are the nationalities of your staff?
• How do you recruit your staff?
• What is your staff retainment rate?
• Is the school well maintained? You should always be looking for a tidy, clean and well-maintained school that focuses its efforts and its funds on the education of the pupils rather than the latest gadgets or modern interior design.
• What outdoor facilities are available for learning and play?
• Is it a large campus? If so, are the breaks and lunch staggered? Are the younger and older students separated from each other?
• What are the school start and finish times, breaks, and academic calendar?
• Does the school offer hot/cold meals, or do students need to bring a packed lunch?
• What is the ratio of applicants to acceptances for students?
• What are the age cut-offs? This can vary between schools offering different international curricula, so do check.
• If visiting a primary school, where do students continue their secondary schooling?
• How far away is the school from your home?
• How do children travel to school? Is there a bus service?
• Is there adequate parking?
• How are pick up and drop off times managed?
And finally… trust your gut instinct. It is usually correct, so if you feel comfortable with the school, trust your intuition and go for it.