Some valuable advice about choosing the right school for your child.
Public school intakes in Western Australia follow a zoning system, allowing you to apply for a school place based on your home address. In some locations, your address may fall into the zone for more than one school, but for many areas there appear to be very limited options.
Choosing the right school for your child can be a challenge
We have recently travelled on a journey of discovery to find a new public school for our Pre Primary son. Along the way, we have had many discussions and faced difficult decisions in our quest to ensure he is enjoying his education. The public school system is not set up to give parents wide choice and it was a struggle to navigate our way to a new school. We knew that we wanted to find a better fit for our son that offered more opportunities for play based learning and a less formal learning style. As a typical five year old, he is very active and particularly enjoys construction activities. He can sit and concentrate for 30-60 minute activities but is still developing emotional and social skills, and finds it exhausting to control his body and his behaviour all day in a strict classroom setting.
His previous school adopted a school-wide policy of direct explicit instruction with no play based activities - like a home corner or bricks - in the classroom at all. Except for recess/lunch times, he was expected to sit and focus on worksheet tasks - many aimed at Year 1 level - for extended periods of the day. I didn't feel that this was developmentally appropriate for a child who had just turned five, and I do believe its part of a wider cultural shift towards formal learning too soon for many of our vulnerable youngsters. He was coping - just - but I didn’t feel it was the best setting for him to thrive. After harbouring some concerns privately, I decided to describe the setting in a post on a Facebook parenting group. More than 100 comments quickly convinced me that I didn’t need to accept this school setting - there could be another way!
Colouring and plenty of play based activities make school fun
As I began my research into a new school, I found that the 5 schools within our NOR suburb kept strictly to their zoning and were unable to even consider a child from further afield. I scoured school websites looking for information about the learning approaches of schools further afield but found it really difficult to access information about the style of teaching. The wonderful parenting mentor, Maggie Dent, has compiled a list of WA schools which offer play based learning opportunities and this gave me a few pointers.
Eventually I came across a small rural school, 20 minutes from home with spaces in Pre Primary. The drive is well worth it! The classroom is huge and the outdoor space extensive, with play based activities everywhere you look. I am so thankful to the teaching staff and the friendly school community for making the transition seamless for my son. I’m amazed by how adaptable he is and have no regrets about making the move. I hope that sharing a little of our story can encourage others to make the change if they are unhappy with their child's school.
Top tips for choosing and changing schools
1. Do your research - ask as many people as you can for their input and scour the net for information about schools in the area. Don’t limit your search to NAPLAN results available from the Department of Education website.
2. Don’t be afraid to upset your child - they are not old enough to understand the complexities of why you believe in a different school so its often best to explain the transition in very simple terms. We simply underlined that the new school was going to be “a lot more fun.”
3. Join the P&C group online (most use Facebook).
4. Ask about secondhand uniform - some schools have a shop or parents sell outgrown items online.
5. A simple letter of notice is all that’s required to withdraw a child from the previous school. You don’t need to stick to term dates.
6. Make the effort to accept and extend invitations to playdates and parties to get to know parents and children in your new school community
7. Don’t rely solely on opinions and online info - ask to visit a prospective school and meet the principal or attend an open day to see the teaching at first hand
When do I apply for Kindy and Pre Primary? NOW! Advance applications to enrol in kindy or pre primary at WA government schools usually close at the end of July for the following year, but schools can accept applications at any time, subject to numbers.