Choosing The Right School
by Simon Porter
In many respects, choosing the right school for your child is one of the most important yet daunting decisions a parent would ever have to make. This is especially the case here in Doha where there are so many schools jostling for attention, all seemingly boasting unique features, and many that brand themselves as “international”. But, hopefully, this article will help make this process easier by giving you insight on what to look for to make the best choice.
President Bill Clinton’s advisors had famously helped him focus on what was most important during his presidency by reminding him “it’s the economy, stupid”. Now, for parents searching for schools, “it’s the teachers”!
So, for the international school you are considering, ask yourself if the teachers there come from a wide range of countries and find out where they got their qualifications. For example, Ireland, in particular, has a reputation for producing excellent international teachers. Other questions to ask are: what professional development opportunities does the school offer teachers? For instance, does it sponsor teachers’ Master’s degree courses? And, do teachers cooperate with teachers in other schools or even other countries?
Other points to consider are whether the school allows you to talk to teachers when you are being shown around and whether you are allowed to watch classes at lesson time. Plus, do the teachers’ own children attend this school?
Research shows that university admission tutors believe that the International Baccalaureate (IB) is the best curriculum for preparing students for university. Firstly, IB students are less likely to drop out. Plus, universities see them as well-rounded candidates who have the organisational and academic skills to cope with the jump to university education.
However, many students find A-levels better suited to their needs. This is especially the case if they have skills that lie in one particular area, such as science or mathematics. So, does the school you are looking into offer both options so that your child is able to find what suits them?
Does the school truly believe that all children can succeed with support and hard work, or does it just pay lip service to this? The acid test is to ask whether it has a system of placing students into sets according to “ability” in mathematics. If it does, then it does not truly believe every child can be good at mathematics. Plus, most research suggests that “setting” doesn’t work. In fact, it has been shown to harm the progress of most children. Find out how ambitious the school will be for your child.
Does the school have links with other organisations to enrich their curriculum? Does it have a vibrant music programme? How about STEAM projects—do students have the chance to display and enhance their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics? Is it on the cutting edge of these developments? Many schools will say that they are committed to these aspects, but look for the evidence to support these claims.
Does the school have a diverse range of students from a variety of backgrounds and countries? If you are looking for an international school, how “international” is it in terms of its students and staff? Does it have an international, inclusive curriculum such as the International Primary Curriculum, IB, or international A-levels?
Providing that the facilities are at least adequate, this is the least important aspect to consider in your search. Many parents are blinded by state-of-the-art facilities, only to later find out that the school they have chosen does not develop its teachers or labels their child, stunting their potential as a result.
Look beyond the gloss and marketing, and try to understand how the learning experience could affect your child. In the end, it is how the teachers work with the students that will determine whether aschool is successful, not bricks and mortar or concrete and glass.
Simon Porter is Head of Secondary School at Compass International School’s Themaid Campus here in Doha. He has been named as a Times Educational Supplement “Subject Genius”. To find out more about Compass International School and Simon, visit their website at cisdoha.qa.