I have followed with great interest recent media coverage on the issue of whether all independent schools should be inspected by Ofsted. The proposed change has prompted an outpouring of differing opinions on the subject. Parents and heads of fee-paying schools alike will be keen to hear the outcome of the government consultation, which is due to be announced later this year.
Also hitting the headlines is news that an alternative to the current school league table is planned for publication this autumn. The new table is expected to include details of pupils' achievement in subjects such as music and sport, with the aim of giving parents more information about the range of opportunities a school offers, rather than its exam results alone.
Families will always seek out information, and many will undertake detailed research, when they are choosing a school for their child. An inspection report or league table may help, but most parents recognise that they can only ever provide a snapshot of the education on offer. Good schools know this too - that's why more and more of them are becoming incredibly data savvy.
Getting the fuller picture
If you follow the football league tables or the stock market, you know how often the picture can change. It can be a similar situation in a school. Last year's exam results will not necessarily be a true reflection of the quality or breadth of education a school is delivering today.
If asked, some of the independent school principals I know could produce the latest facts and figures about their pupils' attendance, achievement, conduct and involvement in co-curricular activities with a few clicks of a mouse. They know what is going on in their school - whether it's exam results, how many county cricketers they have produced, which Year 7s have got a grade 6 in piano or the number of times the school has triumphed in the inter-schools poetry competition.
Good schools make great use of the information they are recording on children's attendance and achievement - both inside and outside the classroom. They might track their pupils' subject choices at GCSE to ensure they have the specialist staff or classrooms they need to teach most effectively. They will often monitor the popularity of after school clubs so that they can be sure children are offered a wide variety of different opportunities and have access to the appropriate facilities to encourage success.
The way teachers in these schools use the information available enables them to flag a child who is starting to fall behind so that they can step in to get them back on track. And many schools are top of their game when it comes to communicating the success their pupils' achieve.
Research has shown that skills gained from doing sports, such as learning to focus and to improvise, could improve academic performance. And employers are increasingly looking to recruit young people who have more than a string of exam passes to their name, placing a high value on those who have developed an interest in the world beyond academia.
As parents, we naturally want to know that whatever school we choose will support our child in achieving all that they are capable of. Inspection reports and league tables offer a point of reference, but most parents will also invest time in getting to know a school by visiting the head, looking around, understanding its values and ethos. They will take the time to talk to teachers, other pupils and their parents and ask questions. It is this that helps us to make an informed judgement on the success of a school - beyond its performance on inspection day or ranking in the tables.
After all, whether a school appears at the top, middle or bottom of the league tables, it's all about finding the right place for your child to learn and grow.
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