Principal and mother-of-four, Lynne Taylor-Gooby, offers words of wisdom
Selecting a school is one of the most challenging decisions a parent will ever make and for many, the experience of entrusting their child to the care of an organisation is certainly testing.
One significant aspect will give a school its defining characteristic: size. Having raised four children and been a teacher for over 30 years, I find that smaller is more beautiful. Children benefit not just from the increased opportunities in every class, but also from the personal relationships and homely atmosphere that can only thrive in a smaller community.
When I moved to my current school from a large state school sixteen years ago as a part-time English teacher, I could not believe how many interactions I had with every child in every lesson. It took me some time to make the connection between the small size and the quality of learning. Since then, my own experience has been supported by research findings which demonstrate something which should be obvious to everyone.
The more questions asked or answered by every child in every class, the more learning takes place. The more opportunities to speak up and be heard, to achieve and be respected across a whole range of activities, the greater the self-esteem and confidence that will grow. Emotional security equals maximum brain output. However, it is in the contentment of both pupils and staff that this quality is most visibly seen.
We are now entering the new season of school open days and it is important that parents know the questions that they would like to have answered: the location and facilities of the school may be as important as its academic credentials. Every family has its own particular interests and the value that they put on sport, creativity and an international environment will vary. Some parents go round with a notebook in hand and interrogate each teacher and as many pupils as they can, while others prefer to go with their gut feeling and trust their instincts instead.
All of this information may prove useful, but it overlooks the most important aspect of any school experience. The real question should be: how are the relationships between the staff and pupils? This can easily be observed from watching their interactions. Do the staff know their pupils? Do they speak encouragingly? Is there humour as well as learning? If the pupil likes the teacher they will almost certainly like the subject. If they like the subject they will work hard in it and maximise the outcome.
What is true in so many other situations is absolutely true at my school: it is not the kit but the people who count.
Lynne Taylor-Gooby is the Principal of The Royal School in Surrey | royal-school.org