Nothing can replace a visit to a school in terms of learning about the school’s environment, its attitudes and daily life there. School open house events are an excellent opportunity to tour the school and meet teachers, current and prospective students and parents.
If a school is not having an open house, request a personal tour — schools will welcome your inquiry. Plan to visit the school during school hours and look at how students and teachers interact. Bring along a list of questions to ask so you don’t forget what’s important to you.
What you need to know at the start
- School’s philosophy or vision: How does this translate in the day-to-day life of the students?
- School leadership and governance: Is it accredited by the Ministry of Education? Is it governed by a board or an owner-operator? Is it non-profit or for-profit?
- School environment: What is the “feel” of the school? Is it a welcoming place? Is it clean, well lit and secure? Is public access limited?
- Facilities: Is there a gymnasium, library, playing field on-site or nearby, music room?
- Tuition: What’s included and what’s extra? For example, uniforms, books, technology, extracurricular activities . . .
- Curriculum: Does it follow, meet or exceed the provincial education guidelines? What happens if your child switches to the public system down the road?
- Classrooms: Is there a maximum class size? How do teachers interact with students?
- Teachers’ qualifications: What kind of professional development are they offered? Are they professionals in their field or qualified teachers? Do you prefer one over the other?
- After graduation: Where do students go for further schooling? In the case of a high school, what percentage of students goes on to university and do they get accepted to their first choice?
- Entrance requirements: What, if any, testing is done? How much emphasis is placed on the results? Is acceptance only granted in certain years?
- Student life: Do students seem productive, engaged and happy? Can you picture your child in the setting?
- Parental involvement: Is there a parent council or certain expectations?
Additional tips for your visit
- Ask for an outline of the school’s curriculum and to look at textbooks and other teaching materials.
- Ask for the names and numbers of current parents or alumni, whom you can contact as references.
- Try to speak with the principal or head of school and teachers. Don’t limit yourself to just meeting the admissions officer.
- Ask if your child can meet other students. Ask for a student to take your child on a tour of the school.
- Ask to observe a class or other activities.
- Ask what bursaries or other financial support may be available.
You might like to print out the following list of specific questions
- What is the school’s philosophy, vision? Does the school have a code of conduct?
- What kind of leadership and governance does the school have? Is it governed by a board or an owner-operator? Is it non-profit or for-profit?
- What does tuition include? Are other items extra—uniforms, books, technology, extracurricular activities?
- What curriculum does the school use? Does it follow, meet or exceed the provincial education guidelines? What happens if your child switches to the public system down the road?
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio? Maximum class size?
- What are the teachers’ qualifications? What kind of professional development are they offered?
- Where do the school’s graduates go? In the case of a high school, what percentage of students go on to university? Do they get accepted to their first choice?
- Is there an entrance test? What type? How much emphasis is placed on the results?
- How does technology fit into the curriculum?
- Ask about their approach. How is this sensibility reflected in the school program and setting? How does this mesh with your values?
- What is the school’s approach to discipline?
- Does the school provide daycare or have extended hours?
- Is there an endowment fund? To what extent does the school support families in need?
- How willing is the school to involve parents? Is there a parent council? How much parental involvement is expected?
- What type of student is the school looking for?
- How does the school measure individual achievement and progress?
- How does the school respond to a child who is not meeting academic expectations or who has gaps in knowledge?
- What is the school’s homework policy? Is there homework help?
Private Education School Expos
The Our Kids Private School Expos provide a wonderful opportunity to meet with a number of private schools in a relaxed environment. Speak with more than 100 of Canada’s leading private and independent schools at these one-day events, meet with education experts and consultants, and attend the information seminars on choosing a school and how to get in. Expos take place in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Halton-Peel. Please register today to get your admission vouchers.