How do we know what the right school for our child is when they are barely talking, barely walking or perhaps not even born yet! How can we be sure the educational path we set them off on is the right one when education bares no resemblance to our own school days.  Let me try to ease the pressure and make it simpler for you. 

There is no doubt that the world we live in today is rapidly changing and often as parents we can find it challenging and hard to keep up! We are constantly exposed to social media offering us advice on what we should and should not be doing so that we can provide the best possible start and a secure future for our children.  This bombardment of information can at times be enough to send our heads spinning and our anxiety levels soaring. If this is how we feel as parents we can understand how this new world, this digital world that our children face can impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Recent awareness campaigns have led to a call for action to promote the social and emotional wellbeing of our children. Reputable charities have reported that on average 3 pupils in every classroom nationally is suffering from a mental health condition such as stress, anxiety, depression, grief and fear. A common factor being that children do not know who or how to ask for help. 

So when choosing the right school for your child let me start with this one word- LOVE!

What our children really need is love-unconditional love. This is truly the most important thing that we can give them in life. We can show and feel love in so many ways but at the core of the love we give to our children should be Time, Attention and Noticing- really noticing, not one eye on them and one eye on a screen- don’t worry we’ve all been there but we can try to do better.

Anything we can give them after this is just a boost and a nudge in the right direction. We will make mistakes along the way and so will they but they will be okay because they have LOVE.

One of the hardest decisions a parent can make is choosing the right school for their child. Moving house and earth to get in the right independent school or the right local school catchment area is not unheard of. 

What drives parents to go to such lengths to get their children into these schools- what’s the carrot?

From my many years in education parents primarily tell me that they made the decision based on things like academic performance records, inspection reports, and facilities.  These things are indeed principal elements but let’s just put that word love back into the equation. 

Why? – because your child will spend the most part of their childhood in an education setting and the government tell us that education is nothing without wellbeing and we know that wellbeing starts with love. Therefore, I would recommend that you apply the following equation to your school search.

Wellbeing + (academics + facilities) = best academic performance 

I always knew that my daughter was going to go to her current school even before she was born. When I made the decision, I knew nothing about the schools past academic achievements and I was unaware that the future would bring the amazing facilities that the school has today. The reason I knew it was the right school for her was because when I first visited the school for an interview in the safeguarding and medical department I had my wellbeing radar on.  I was searching for signs of love, a sense of belonging and a feeling of security and I found it in the smiles, the laughter and the energy of the children and staff that I met. 

So, what’s the secret ingredients? For me, a school that places the happiness and safety of the children above all else is a loving and caring school, a school that has a strong pastoral ethos and a wellbeing education strategy imbedded in the curriculum. A school that recognises the ever-changing wellbeing needs of its children and responds appropriately with staff training and pupil education and support. A school that has systems in place that the children are familiar with should they need someone to talk to for support or help and a school that opens a supporting community to parents.

How will I know if the ingredients exist? This should be the easy part as any school that is proud of its wellbeing strategies and pastoral care will be taking every opportunity to celebrate it. If the Head has not mentioned it to you during your visit to the school just ask “what initiatives have you introduced to support children’s mental health and wellbeing education,” “What pastoral support systems do you have in place,” “Who would my child talk to if they had a worry,” “How would they know who to go to for help.” Most schools will give you a tour of the school before you register your child, my advice would be don’t get too over excited about the things that you see, remember that you are not the potential pupil. Try and see things through the eyes of your child and look again! There should be plenty of sign- posts around or observations that you can make that will leave you feeling reassured that on the day your child has a wobble (let’s face it we all have ups and downs, not every day is perfect) they will feel loved and will have the ability to bounce back, thrive and achieve.

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