How to find the perfect independent school

With more educational options than ever, here’s a list of criteria to consider when choosing a school for your child.

Where your child will attend school is one of the most important decisions you can make as a parent. Early education moulds a child’s later academic life and his or her growth as an individual. Fortunately, there are more choices than ever before.

While private schools are generally for-profit organizations, independent schools differ in that they are not-for-profit institutions that are accountable to a board of directors. 

One of the main reasons for considering independent schooling is your child’s individual needs. These schools often offer better tailoring to the needs of children, stricter discipline and smaller student-teacher ratios, which means more one-on-one instruction.

Extracurricular programs are an important part of children’s education. These programs build personality, help develop skills, nurture talents and interests, open young people’s eyes to different possibilities and allow them to try new things. Independent schools can offer a bigger variety of programs than public schools, and they are more equipped to do so.

In a time of cutbacks, where the first things to go tend to be extracurricular activities, independent schools have the resources to run orchestral music and fine arts programs, athletics, drama clubs, dance education and to organize optional student exchange or travel programs.

If you are considering independent school education for your child, here’s a list of things to consider in order to find the perfect school for your family.

1. Keep in mind that each school has a distinct mission, vision and philosophy. When looking at a school, ask to see the school’s strategic plan and code of conduct and consider whether its mandate works for your family.

2. Consider what type of school it is. Independent schools can use a Montessori approach, traditional or progressive. Does it offer religious-based training? Is boarding an option? Is it single-gender or co-educational?

3. If you’re looking for an independent school that will foster a particular talent or interest, consider the reputation of the school. You will want to speak with graduates and their parents about their experiences there.

4. One of the reasons to seek out independent schooling is smaller class sizes. Ask how many children are typically in each class.

5. If it is important to you, ask whether the school provides hands-on learning experiences. These include field trips, extracurricular activities, leadership training and guest speakers.

6. When you know what you want from a school, research potential schools that fit your criteria online with your child (if he or she is old enough to understand). Read pamphlets and get testimonials from other parents.

7. If you’re taking the time to research independent schools, you’re likely the type of parent that wants to be very involved in your child’s education. Ask whether the school has opportunities for parents to get involved, whether it’s working in the classroom for younger children, volunteering in the library, chaperoning on class trips, or helping out during assemblies and other special events.

8. Plan to attend an open house or arrange for a school tour for your top choices. This is a good way for families to check out a few schools at once.

9. If a particular school stands out for you and your child, make an appointment with the admissions officer. Come armed with questions – now is your

10. Ask about scholarship opportunities. Schools that have a particular focus may offer financial gifts or bursaries to children who excel in those areas, as this will either encourage attendance or raise the profile of the school. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

With a bit of research and legwork, you will likely find a school to meet your family’s educational needs and goals.