All parents are not looking for the same thing from a senior school. But how should you consider which one is best for you and your child?
There is no one answer to the question ‘why do parents send their children to private school? One could cite the poor state of public schools, which seem to exist to serve teachers rather than children, but that is not a complete answer. As active education consumers, parents have demands of a school. Research carried out abroad with the intention of finding out why parents go private came up with the following reasons, which are listed in the order they were ranked:
Small classes are often a requirement of parents. They are usually equated with that other requirement, more individual attention for the child, but they do not necessarily go together. Private schools can often provide more individual attention because the teachers are required to stay longer hours and provide extra support outside mainstream classes. They may also have better training. This is the kind of individual attention that parents expect when they are paying school fees.
Parents expect better discipline from a private school and it is usually delivered. That is because private schools are able to pick the students they want and weed out the ones they don’t want if those students are disruptive or step out of line. This does not happen at public schools because if students in the state sector get excluded from one school, they only end up in another one. Students in private schools have to meet the required standards of behaviour.
Better learning environment
When teachers are competitively recruited (in stark contrast to public schools which hire graduates indiscriminately) and expected to work long hours to meet the learning needs of their students, it usually makes for a more dynamic and interesting result in the classroom. Sometimes private schools can offer a broader curriculum and better teaching resources as well. But when the teaching is not good and parents are not happy, private schools are often quick to change things around and sometimes get rid of teachers that prove less than capable or do not have parental support. Essentially, it is the quality of the interaction in the classroom that determines the quality of the teaching and learning. Sometimes this happens best in schools that do not appear on the surface to have the best facilities. But parents should be able to choose a school based on the aspects of education that they value most.
Student safety may not be the hottest issue in Cyprus education, although it clearly was an issue for parents that were surveyed in other countries. This may be becoming a concern in Cyprus. Parents of children in public schools are constantly demanding more security measures and although the safety problems are exaggerated there are signs that it could become an issue, while some private schools have stepped up security on campus.
When it comes down to exercising choice, private education gives parents what they want. Sometimes what they want is a highly competitive, exam and results driven environment. Sometimes it is something quite different – extra literacy support and the chance to take drama or art as a serious subject – or just better sports facilities.
And for many foreigners in Cyprus, it is the opportunity for their child to learn in English and get A Levels or IB with extra support to get into a UK or US university. The point is that not every school will meet the needs of every child. With private education, parents have a choice. To make the right choice, though, parents must decide what constitutes value for money for them.
Nothing should be taken for granted. For instance many parents believe that small classes are something worth paying for. Often private schools do have much smaller classes than state schools. This is a good thing. While it is clearly not the case that bad teachers can suddenly teach just because the classes are small it does mean that good teachers can give your children more time and individual attention.
However, just because you pay for education, it does not guarantee the school employs only good teachers. There are good teachers in state schools and bad teachers in private schools. But it seems it is a lot easier to get rid of bad teachers in private schools than it is in the state sector, in which teaching unions are all-powerful. It is interesting to ask private schools how they support poor teachers and see if they admit to ever having had any!
There is also the matter of academic results. Schools these days are very open about their exam results and usually display them on their website. But this is not necessarily a great way to judge value for money. Many private schools select the pupils they want in the first place and only take those they consider academically able. So sometimes students in the less selective schools actually do better academically, even though this is not always obvious from the results. Nor will the results reveal how many parents at the school are paying for private lessons on top of school fees. In which case you might ask yourself why would you pay for both?
There is no guarantee that your child will do well academically in any school, no matter how much you pay. However, one thing that private schools can do well is monitor progress and communicate with parents on a regular basis. Especially if the school has a parent portal, a virtual learning environment and a good website. It is reassuring to know that you can walk into school at any time and teachers are always willing to talk to you or reply to emails. So it is useful to ask how quickly any kind of underachievement will be picked up on and how long the school would wait to get in touch.
The social mix of the school and its culture is something a lot of people think is worth paying for. Some private schools in Cyprus offer an international environment with opportunities for the students to interact with and learn from other students from all around the world. The student population of some schools is mainly Cypriot and there are parents that prefer this.
High academic achievement is always of paramount importance, but sometimes it could be at the expense of a broader education and the development of a love of learning. A parent could prefer a school that encourages students to pursue other interests by offering a range of extracurricular activities as well as subjects not deemed ‘academic’ such as music and drama.
This is the most valuable thing a good private school can give you, freedom to choose from any number of activities, an interest in everything and the confidence to achieve what you are capable of. Good private schools should be advising their pupils to take the traditional exam subjects and supporting high achievement in them. But those that encourage the broadest range of interests, and pay the most attention to your child’s individual needs are the ones doing the best job.