What A Parent Faces In Finding A Private School

Now shift scenes and look briefly at a reasonable formula for evaluating a private secondary school. Some points are quite similar to those suggested for inquiring into a public sixth form college.

If you want to get your youngster into a private school in London City, remember that the pressures are difficult. To get the child admitted you should start a campaign - rounding up information and personal contacts--a good year to two years in advance. In most of the other big cities, the demand isn't so intense. Admissions are tight in Washington, Reading, and San Francisco, but elsewhere there shouldn't be too much difficulty in placing a youngster.

Wherever you are, finding the right private school will require careful screening of the schools, planning for admission, plus a sizable outlay of cash. You'll find that two basic trends are current in top quality day schools and boarding schools alike:

They no longer have mutually exclusive "traditional" or "liberal" labels. Today, the best ones have hit a balance between the conservative, formalistic approach to education and the highly flexible, liberal approach that stresses elective subjects and limitless "broadening" experience for students. Don't depend on past reputation alone to fix the character of schools today. They have changed a lot in the last few years. Note, too, that many top schools now may be coeducational - the private schools are here following the lead of the schools.

There's a lot more community consciousness among the private schools. The strictly "WASP" approach is dying out, and you'll find varied racial and religious backgrounds among students at most of the top schools. Along with this, private school students are getting more and more involved in community service projects - working in hospitals, tutoring disadvantaged children, and so on. The shut-in, sanatorial atmosphere has largely faded away except in a few diehard, snobbish schools.

The curriculum is one sure guide to quality. For example, a good private secondary school should offer four years or more of study in such languages as French, German, and Spanish, and maybe a year of Russian or Chinese. In science, you should expect the basics, but look also for electives in such subjects as advanced physics, oceanography, astronomy. Some front-rank schools now have courses in environmental science. One way to judge a strong math program: It should offer a full-credit course in computer science - and, like the quality public sixth form college, five years of math. Senior students should be able to get five or six advance placement courses for school credit, and top students should be able to take school courses in summer.

Check the school's library. If it's musty and seldom used, there's something seriously wrong with the school's program. The library should be an active study centre - with films, tapes, and perhaps electronic information-retrieval equipment. This doesn't mean that it has to be housed in a fancy new building. In fact, the physical layout at many private day schools is quite modest, and a parent should not be put off in the least on this account.

Ideally, 50% of the school staff should have advanced degrees. But stability in the faculty can be more important than having a sprinkling of PhDs. If a school replaces as much as 20% of its faculty each year, you'd be wise to find out why. Classes should have 10 to 20 students (or 30 to 40 in lecture sessions), and the student-faculty ratio should be 10 to 1 (though up to 15 to 1 is acceptable).

Again, no school will score 100% when judged by all these standards. But if too many points fail to check out, start screening another school. Apart from looking over the curriculum and the faculty, take a measure of the headmaster. His personality and viewpoints tend to give the school its atmosphere and direction. An informal chat with him will give you some insights.

Costs at private schools vary widely within cities and among them. For day students, the range now goes from £1,000 to £2,600 a year - plus fees for extras. The parents of boarding students pay fees on the school level - £3,500 to £5,000, with total costs sometimes higher.


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