Villager, Trudie Nel Robertson, has moved around, (a lot!) due to work. She’s become an expert interrogator of school principals, as a result. We were so impressed with her checklist of questions, that we asked her if we could republish it here.
Enjoy and use well!
” I always interview the headteacher. He/she sets the tone of the school
My typical questions;
What they think the strengths of their school are. Their weaknesses
How do they manage bullying / social media / technology (anyone that denies there is bullying is scrapped off the shortlist immediately – it means their heads are in the sand over the issue). Prefer my heads to be technologically- confident – they usually have more realistic approaches to technology in school & accept it as a tool (like a pen) not the vehicle to prove their modernity/cutting edge approach.
I also ask what their philosophy on education is – any educator should have a philosophy/educator they admire and subscribe to.
Their views on sport – variety & how “deep” the teams go. In other words – ensuring its not rugby-only focussed & that team participation is possible (& encouraged) for even the most uncoordinated
I enquire about the staff turnaround rates. Why staff leave when they do. (If pregnancy/marriage – are they only hiring younger/“cheaper” staff – do they reward their teachers adequately to retain them etc)
Do they routinely ask poorly performing children to “leave” prior to big “league table” exams (you will be surprised how often this happens – a deeply unethical approach in my books)
Where do their leavers go – is there an alumni facility. I find schools that are a bit economical with what they share & lack transparency are usually not “good bets” either
On the whole I prefer “not for profit” schools – their hiring decisions are not clouded by profitability but rather by best fit or most qualified.
Qualifications of their teaching staff matter to me too (Though to be fair that’s more a “high school” consideration)
I ask to be taken around the school by a pupil – where I can have candid conversations – they are sweet & deeply revealing. Any school that refuses is also struck off the list (though to be fair no school ever has & it’s absolutely standard practice in the U.K. )
Look at the playground. Are kids relaxed, happy? Are there spaces for the energetic to burn off energy & are quieter kids welcomed into the library over break etc
Do they have a “special education needs” department Even academically selective schools should have one – 14% of any population has “special needs” – high IQ does not preclude (and to be fair that number is probably under-reported in anycase). For example, Schools that are “dyslexia aware” generally teach with better approach too (less copying of lists off a board, task preferably broken down & more practical engagement with subject matter etc
It’s a big emotional & financial commitment- so I would rarely engage such a decision without some due-diligence & any school that balks at my request for a “chat” (no good school ever has) is usually not worth pursuing If there is little regard for yoyr enquiries now prior to you being a fee-payer, there will be even less regard once you are fully ensconced
And lastly – dont be swayed by reputation only – some schools trade on that card only – which means you are getting very poor return on your emotional & financial investment. “