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How do parents rank their private school options?

When choosing a private school, the options can be overwhelming. Each school has its own qualities, strengths, and philosophies. Comparing them is difficult. Parents instead should judge schools with their own criteria. But how do they do that?

Choosing a school involves the whole family

How to Rank Private Schools

There is a natural tendency to make a decision according to someone else's predetermined ranking system which can differentiate between the "best" and the "worst" schools, but parents need to understand how to factor in their family's priorities. With such diversity among private schools—between coed or single gender, day or boarding, special needs, arts, sports, language, faith-based, academically focused, Montessori, or alternative schools—how do parents compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges?

Elizabeth Moore, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of British Columbia, recently spoke at Our Kids' Vancouver expo, about decision-making priorities for parents unsure of how to rank their private school options.

"There is a real richness in independent schools because they're so different, so parents have the maximum choice for the right school for the child," she says. "A formal ranking system basically relies on academic results, but that's just one factor. It doesn't take in child's needs, or the parents' needs."

Throughout her career in private and independent education, Moore has come up with her own method of ranking schools that she recommends to parents. She has even used it to choose the right school for her own children.

Moore breaks down the ideal ranking factors for parents choosing a private school:

  • Proximity: Does it work within your family logistics?
  • Tradition: Has your family been attending the same school for generations?
  • The child's needs: For instance, does a child require a program targeted towards giftedness, ADHD, dyslexia (or other learning difficulties), autism, or Asperger's syndrome (or other developmental disabilities)?
  • Friendships and social networks: Will the child have their friends and peers around them?
  • Culture of the school: What is the school community like? Is the student population multicultural? Does it feel like a family, or is it more academic? Does it represent a certain religion?
  • Programs: Does the school have a particular program like IB or advanced placement courses you're looking for?

Moore then suggests parents decide what their priorities are from this list, and distribute a total of 100 points among them depending on their importance. For Moore herself, for instance, she places about 50 points on family logistics, 10 points on a warm atmosphere, and 40 on her child being with close friends. This breakdown, of course, will vary from family to family.

"The most important thing is to look at what is important to your family, and you've got to dig quite deep for that," she says, and adds that every factor in the decision-making process should be up front and transparent for all involved—parent, teacher and child. But it's also important not to get wrapped up in the task.

"I always say to beware of the variables, but go with your gut," Moore says. "No decision is irreversible. If it doesn't work out it can be rectified. But after everything is weighed and balanced, as a parent you know inside yourself what is going to work."

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