by Alexia Bolton
Headmistress, Pennthorpe Preparatory School, Rudgwick
All quality independent schools offer Open Days as an ideal opportunity to allow prospective parents to see their school in action and for parents to gain an indication of whether it is the school for them and (most importantly) their children.
As a parent, I would always strongly recommend that any parent ‘shop around’ and visit a number of schools as a comparative exercise once they gauge the type of school they are looking for. Aside of a parents own educational experience which can either encourage or deter a preference, parents should consider whether they are seeking single sex or co-educational, day or boarding, selective or non-selective and the logistics of distance to travel. And you thought this was going to be simple?
Websites and school prospectuses are a wonderful tool to gain an initial feel for a school, their culture and purpose and where their strengths lie. Matching these to your own values and your child’s interests is reasonably straightforward and should enable you to shortlist a group of schools to visit. However, beware the beauty of effective marketing and be mindful that school websites are predominately created and written by expert companies who spend hours creating enticing lines and the perfect photos while using Google analytics to entrap you on the first page of your web search. Does the website truly reflect the school?
In order to find out, you have to visit to make full use of your own parental gut instinct. Again, beware the Open Day show where you are greeted in the car park by exceptionally well-groomed children, holding clipboards full of things they have to tell you and the manner in which they have to be said. Enjoy a tour of the school but ask to see the areas that they haven’t got listed on their route and ask to see more than the multimillion-pound new facility they have just built. Ask the
children the questions that you truly want answers to and watch the way the guides respond, not only in terms of what they say but how intuitive and instinctive they are.
Finally, before making any decisions, always make an appointment to see the Head to discuss your child individually. Any Head worth their salt will want to meet you and if they don’t have the time at this point in the process, this is highly indicative of how much you will see the Head on a daily basis. The Head is the devisor of the vision, the person sailing the ship with all of its passengers so if you don’t like the Head, consider carefully the school. Finally, take a tour on a normal school day. A day when the glamour and glitz are removed and when you can see what the children and teachers are really like.
All parents have a gut instinct the second their child is born; utilise it to full effect when choosing a school. It’s like a house purchase, find the one that gives you the feeling it’s absolutely for you!
Pennthorpe is a truly independent co-educational Prep school nestled in the West Sussex countryside on the Surrey/Sussex border.
With an innovative curriculum and a talented and passionate staff, Pennthorpe seeks to discover each child’s spark and ensure all children experience excellence
hand in hand with happiness.
Alexia Bolton MEd MA has been Headmistress at Pennthorpe since 2017.