Choosing the right school for their child is one of the most important decisions parents can make. It can also be one of the hardest. Often, the choice will be based on multiple factors, some of them intangible.
Surveys by Independent Schools Victoria, in which parents are asked their reasons for choosing a school, shed interesting light on some of those factors – and on parental preferences.
Importantly, and perhaps surprisingly, the surveys consistently undermine the view that a school’s academic results are the first priority for parents when they agonise over which school is best for their child.
In the most recent survey, parents with children at an independent school last year were asked why they chose the school.
The most common reason was the school’s focus on the development of sound morals, values, beliefs and attitudes. A similar number said the school best suited their child’s needs. Next came the school’s reputation, then the school’s education programs and its educational philosophy.
The school’s academic results were sixth on the list.
ISV’s research is mirrored by a survey published in March this year by Independent Schools Queensland.
In the What Parents Want survey, 1000 parents from 67 independent schools gave their top 10 selection attributes for primary and secondary independent schools.
For primary schools, parents ranked academic performance at tenth place, behind factors like education and teacher quality, class sizes, school environment and values.
For secondary schools, academic results had moved up the list to fourth place, behind education quality, a disciplined environment and career pathways.
What’s clear from both surveys is that parents not only make choices, they embrace choice. And in making a decision, academic results, though important, are not the only factors they take into account.
The Queensland results also confirm what many of us know from person experience: that, when looking for a school, our friends, family and colleagues remain influential sources of advice. So are school visits and school websites.
For many parents, the My School website is an important starting point in their search for a school, and the NAPLAN test results published on the site will be one of the resources that influence their decision.
But it’s clear that parents are discerning enough to know that the value and definition of an excellent education – one that best suits their child – can’t be simply reduced to crude tables of standardised school tests results.