Parents Going Back to School: Top Tips for Open Days

The American magazine, PDF version

For American families relocating to the UK and looking for private schools, the UK education system can be deceptively different from its’ English-speaking cousin across the pond. Our guide will help you navigate your way through open days to find the best school for your child.

What is an Open Day?
Open Days give families the opportunity to tour the facilities, to meet the staff and pupils, and to ask questions about the education and school life they offer. These events are designed to show the school in its best light, so you may want to come back on an ordinary school day to confirm your decision.

Can I meet the Head?
The Head may make a speech to parents about the ethos of the school, the academic expectations and discipline policies.  Don’t miss an opportunity to hear this to reassure yourself that the person steering the ship shares your values.

Will I meet pupils who attend the school?
Pupils often conduct the tours and they are generally happy to give their honest opinion.  Ask them what lessons they most enjoy, how quickly they settled into the school, and about the lunches which is always a popular topic with pupils!

How will my child learn at the school?
Ask the teaching staff about how they support the different needs of children in their classes, and if they enjoy working there. Find out if there is homework, and if so, how much.

Does my child need to be in full time school?
Children in the UK start school in the year they turn 5. It can be a shock to a child to manage a full day at school, when they have been part time at Kindergarten so ask if they can stagger entry with a few half days to build up their stamina for a five-day week.

Do you know what grade your child should be in?
In the UK the Reception class is the first year of full time school, followed by years 1 to 13.  As a result, if your child is in Kindergarten in the US they would join Year 1 in the UK. If you are unsure, the Admissions team can help you work out the UK grade equivalent for your child.

Will my child have to sit entry exams?
Some schools require entrance exams, others are non-selective and rely on school reports (transcripts) and a reference from the previous school. Ask the Admissions team about assessments and interviews, and how you can prepare your child for them.

Do I have to purchase everything on the uniform list?
Compulsory uniform is an additional expense for parents who are used to sending their children off in jeans and sweatshirts. Schools will expect pupils to be fully kitted out so ask if they run a uniform shop with good quality second hand items to make substantial savings.

How does the school help manage the transition?
Moving to a new school and country may be challenging for families. Check if you can meet their teacher in advance and is there an open-door policy in case of problems once your child has started school? Ask if the school can put you in touch with parents with children of the same age, so you can forge links even before you arrive in the UK and to understand the breadth of parent to parent support at the school.

Simon Fitch, Director of Admissions at TASIS reminds us ‘strong support from the parent body can be instrumental in enabling children and their families to flourish whilst in the UK’.