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Options in choosing a school

Cathy Wylie

Useful checklist for parents.

Choices about schools often take a number of different features into account. Sometimes there's a perfect match between your preferences and all the features of a school. More often, we like the "package" as a whole. We are prepared to make trade-offs between features, like going to a school that's a bit larger than we hoped, but offers an exciting programme. Here are some of the main school features students and parents take into account when they make their choices.

« The size of the school.

Overseas research indicates that it's harder to maintain a sense of community and individual attention if schools get too large. Some large schools create "schools within a school" to counter this. On the other hand, small schools may not be able to offer a wide range of subjects.

« Coeducational or single-sex.

Academic achievement is generally unaffected by whether the school is coeducational or single-sex. Girls often do better than boys overall, whether they attend a co-ed or single-sex school.

« The age-range covered by the school.

Research doesn't show any one "best" age-range.

« The programmes offered.

Having a wide range of subjects is less important than having subjects that suit the student. Some schools offer more specialisation than others. Art, music, and sport, for example, can all make important contributions to children's progress and capability.

« The organization of learning time.

Some schools teach through projects and modules rather than daily allocations of 45 or so minutes throughout the year. Some schools also group students by their interests and progress, rather than their age. Some schools also offer the chance to learn in other settings, such as workplaces or polytechnics. With technology, it's also possible for students to share lessons and project work through computer work at home; the Correspondence school is the only "virtual school" so far in New Zealand.

« Fellow students.

Research shows that schools which include students from a balanced range of backgrounds have a generally positive effect on student achievement overall.

« Uniforms.

Overseas research has found that uniforms make no difference to student achievement.

« Other features that can make a difference to your decision are:

- the chance to be taught in te Reo Mäori

- how comfortable you feel in the school

- how close the school is to your home

- where friends are going, and

- the support available for any special needs you have.

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