Nothing can replace a visit to a private 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.
Here are some issues to consider and questions to ask:
. School's philosophy or vision: How does this trans-late 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?
On your visit, also be sure to:
. 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.