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How to Choose the Right School for Your Child

Some time back, I wrote about choosing a good school for my boys and I noticed that there it generated quite a strong response in the comments from parents expressing their disappointment, disapproval, and dissatisfaction with a lot of schools they have encountered. If you’re interested, the posts are here:

It is about three years since I wrote the first post and although it is only a short time, I have found that a lot of what I think and believe now has changed significantly since I first started searching for a school. If I were asked now what’s the best school to choose for a child, my answer would be this…

Choosing the Best School for Your Child

Firstly, we need to dispense with the idea that there is a “best” school. In all honesty, I do not believe that there is a perfect school – or even a perfect system, if any school could truly follow it to the letter – out there. Not even a homeschool is perfect. Although I think you can get pretty close to it by homeschooling because you have significant control over the direction of your child’s education compared to a conventional (or even non-conventional) school. Let’s just accept the fact that there are going to be some education ideas and practices that every school will have that you aren’t necessarily going to like or agree with. Even if there aren’t, there will be teacher-friction, classroom  interactions, or a whole host of other issues that will gnaw at your idea of perfection.

The most you can do is choose the best school for your family – not the family in the house across the street; not your best friend’s family; YOUR family. It will be different for everyone because of the myriad of factors that contribute to the makeup of each family. Some children require more freedom in their learning environment, while others need order and structure for direction. Only you can be the best judge for what is right for your child.

choosing schools

Researching the School

Every parent has different ideas on what they want out of a school. Sit down with your partner to discuss what are some of the features of your ideal school. Chances are you’re not going to find a school that has everything that you want so decide what are the “must haves” and what are some of the features you can compromise on. If you’re not sure what factors to consider, here are some pointers for discussion (some of these will require a visit to the school to observe):

  • Curriculum content – what do you feel is important and should be an essential part of your child’s education? Is it mainly academic or more all-rounded? Does it include music, art, physical education, etc.? How often?
  • Teacher-directed or student-directed – does the teacher direct the learning or do the children get to decide what and how they want to learn?
  • Individual or Collaborative – do the children work mostly by themselves or in groups?
  • If you have younger children you may want to consider whether a play-based or academic environment might be more appropriate for your child.
  • Education environment – highly structured or open and flexible? Is the learning passive, where the teacher is lecturing, or is it active, where the students are manipulating objects and engaging multiple senses? The latter is important if your child learns best by doing.
  • Support system – what’s available for special needs children? This is not only relevant if you have a special needs child but what if your child is ahead or behind? How does the school deal with it?
  • Education approach – Montessori, Waldorf, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats, IB (International Baccalaureate), IPC (International Primary Curriculum).
  • What’s the teacher-student interaction like? Do the children brainstorm to get their answers and think about them or does the teacher tell them? What kind of learning does the teacher inspire – open ended or closed? Are the children excited and enthusiastic about learning?
  • Student work – worksheets or projects? Creative and inspiring or run-of-the-mill?
  • Social issues – how does the school address this?
  • Character development – what qualities does the school encourage in the students? Creative thinking, resilience, open-mindedness, effective communication, social responsibility, etc. How do they encourage the students to develop these qualities?
  • Discipline – how do the teachers handle disciplinary issues? This is a big factor to consider especially if the school practices corporal punishment and you don’t.
  • Homework? Do the students get homework? How much? What are the expectations? Do you agree with them?
  • Student evaluation – how are the students evaluated? Exams, projects, homework, assignments? Are they given letter grades or is a point system used? Consider whether this method motivates your child or not.
  • Teacher to child ratio and class sizes – if class sizes are large, does the teacher have an assistant? How does the teacher manage with large groups?
  • Staff turnover – if teachers are coming and going too frequently, it can be disruptive especially to the more sensitive children.
  • School resources – what is available for the students? Library? Is there a good collection of books? Are students encouraged to use it? Sports grounds? Does the school offer extra-curricular activities?
  • Travelling – how far is the school from home? Even if it is a great school, it may not be worth it if you have to travel hours a day to get to and from school.

The importance of each factor will depend on what matters most to you. Some you may disregard completely and others may make or break your decision about the school.

Theory and Practice

Even when you find a school with an education direction and philosophy that agrees with everything you believe in, just like every other business organisation, the school is only as good as its teachers. If the teacher doesn’t believe in the school’s philosophy, or worse still, doesn’t follow it, then it is really no different to having your child attend a school with a different set of educational goals. The best way to find out is to go to the school for a visit.

Update: Notes for selecting preschools

Infants have been found to remember better when the learning environment is positive. I would keep this in mind when selecting a preschool.

See also: Early Learning – Be Happy, Be Positive



Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

3 thoughts on “How to Choose the Right School for Your Child

  1. Hi Shen-Li, I have read a number of your articles and very much appreciate your efforts to share not just your experience but your in depth review on the subjects. Glad to spot this new update.

    You started by saying your opinion has changed a lot since, could you pls elaborate in more detail, for eg by following the list of factors given? I am sure you have thought of these factors at your initial research too, I mean, your so call change of view certainly does not mean before this you did not realize to consider these factors.

    Lastly, I thought the IB, or even the IPC, suits my expectation of the type of curriculum for my son who is turning 3 soon. What is your view on this vis-a-vis the BC? Sadly only fairview and nexus whose fees are at the higher end offer this, is there any other you know of, and if it is well worth the fees?

    Look forward your advice, thx!


    1. Ho – it’s more to do with my priorities of what I want the boys to come away with through their school education. I began with an academic intention but now I do not feel that is as important. For me, the priorities are:

      – character
      – socialisation
      – thinking abilities
      – love for learning

      So for me, my concern about the curriculum is:

      1. does it foster a love for learning?
      2. does it encourage learning?
      3. does it encourage thinking? Because I don’t want rote learning.
      4. does it encourage creative thinking?
      5. does it impart skills to the children that they can use later in life?
      6. what does it teach the children aside from knowledge acquisition?

      Knowledge acquisition is important but even more important is the ability to acquire knowledge on their own.


  2. Thanks for your detailed reply. Precisely, teach one how to fish! Given the speed and volume of information we received each day, can’t think of how next generation could cope with this trend further. Hence the best and least we could help is to impart them the skills and aptitude for ‘learning how to learn’ from a young age.

    Having said this, do you mind to pin point which schools that particularly meet your list of ‘revised’ criteria today? Of course, based on their current situation and to your best knowledge.

    What kind of info should we ask from a school that would address these concerns? Hopefully your advice could serve as my guide to the coming international school expo at midvalley in july! Many thanks.


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