Open Days – Question Time

It’s that time of year again and some of the most important dates for your diary are school open days coming up this autumn. Schools fling open their doors to prospective parents and children and it’s the best chance you have to make your mind up as to whether the school is the right fit for your child, or not.

If we are still in pandemic mode then Covid rules will apply: small bubbles/ family groups, staggered departure times, mask-wearing, one-way systems, possibly even vaccination certificates to be shown. At the time of writing however, most schools were determined to go ahead as there really is no substitute.

Some school open days are highly orchestrated, with strict and tight timetables, and you will regret not turning up on time; while others have a more relaxed schedule where you are more free to wander around unfettered and soak up the atmosphere. In short, how the open day is run, in terms of where and who you can access during your time there, will speak volumes. “Don’t be duped by window dressing,” is how Newton Prep’s Susannah Frieze sees some school open days. She adds: “Having children as your guides ensures honesty!”

Nonetheless, open days are an important opportunity for you to ascertain the feel of a school as well as ask searching questions about school life, academic and sporting choices, facilities, logistics, and extra-curricular opportunities.

You’ll want to know about the school’s academic prowess, leaving destinations, the size of classes, the teaching style, the after-school clubs, whether the school lays on a school bus, any payment plans to ease the sting of annual school fee payments, details of any scholarships and bursaries, the entry requirements, the skillset of the teachers and, most importantly, what chance your child has of getting into the school. Find out how long the waiting lists are and what percentage of pupils are normally offered a place.

Moreover, it will be important to sit and listen to how the head and senior school leaders present their school. These first- hand impressions will help build a picture of the school that no brochure or website can ever match.

Warning flags are no-go areas around the school, not being able to talk directly to pupils, and the Head scurrying off after a presentation and not hanging back to answer one-to-one questions.

Woldingham refers to their pupils as the “school’s best ambassadors.” They believe that their enthusiasm, eloquence and the pride they show about being part of the school community “can speak volumes.”

Of course, pupils are prepped before being let loose on a group of potential new parents. Nonetheless, they will give a good indicator of the sort of pupils that particular school nurtures and develops. You can ask yourself whether this is how you would like your child to turn out.

Alleyn’s Registrar Louise Mawer offers this advice: “Make the most of open days – wander around, notice how staff and pupils behave, and listen to talks by senior leaders and students. Importantly, make sure you don’t leave with unanswered queries – pick your moment and take a staff member aside for questions if you need to.”

Open days are often augmented by Taster Days and private tours so check the school’s website as to whether you can see more of the school this way. You will often get one-to-one time with the Head on private tours, which will give a real insight into what matters most to them.

It’s crucial to do your homework before any visit to a new school. James Allen’s Girls’ School advises: “Most school websites offer a pretty comprehensive profile of school life, so get a sense of the school before your visit.” This may enable you to create a more realistic shortlist of schools worth visiting. After all, if a school doesn’t cater to your child’s passion for a particular subject or sport, or the logistics of travelling to the school make it untenable, there is no reason to waste your time on a visit.


• Do your homework: make sure that you know what the school says about itself.
Browse their website and read reviews. Do you like the tone and feel?
• Plan what you want to see and do: an Open Morning is a big event and schools are keen to show off their wares. Plan your visit around the things that matter to you and your child
• Ask questions: most of the key questions will be answered on the website, but there will be others that matter to you personally
• Listen to the Head: do you agree with their ethos and approach? Are they new or likely to leave soon? What’s the staff turnover like?
• Try to picture your child dressed in the uniform at the school: if tradition and formality matter to you, a school with relaxed rules/uniform may not be the best fit
• Look beyond the obvious: talk to staff and pupils about the things that matter to you eg. discipline, class sizes, clubs, wraparound care
• Ask pupils for their views on the best and worst things about the school: they’ll be honest!
• What state is the school in: does it feel loved and cared for or is the paint peeling? It could signal neglect and despair, or that money is simply focused on teaching
• Is IT integrated into the curriculum? Most schools have interactive technology in classrooms – how is it used in lessons?
• Trust your gut – how does the school make you feel – is this your sort of place?

Source: Northwood Schools

Latest From Instagram