School heads discuss red flags to look out for when choosing a school

We interviewed leaders of several private and independent schools on the topic of red flags to look out for when searching for a school.

Below find highlights from the discussion. You can also watch our video (and read our curated transcript) of school heads on the topic of choosing the right school.

Other resources you may find helpful include: Our Kids step-by-step guide, experts, parents on choosing a school, pathways to finding the right school 


Highlights from the discussion

“I'd be nervous of any school that guarantees their students going to universities. That's not a guarantee any school can make. Obviously, we prepare them the best we can and we have a high success rate of doing so. But you can never guarantee what's going to occur. So I would be nervous of that as an administrator, because I have seen how some schools handle their admissions process. That would be my main consideration as a parent.” 
—Phil Davies, Secondary Principal, Bond Academy 

I think given the kind of work that we do, I would want to make sure that there's clinicians available for therapy, for guidance. And I would want to make sure that the teaching staff and the EA staff are well versed in mental health issues, not just academics, but being able to create an environment that is compassionate and forgiving because these kids often do things that you'll need to forgive them for and that's the only way that you can carry forward. So I'll be looking for those kinds of qualities and staff—that they're compassionate, that they're caring.” 
—Terry Stevenson, Head of School, Applewood Academy 

“You know what, if they don't greet you warmly and kindly—I don't mean they have to fall all over you and roll out the red carpet. But if people aren't taking time to greet you properly when you come to their school for whatever reason, and they're not welcoming you and looking you in the eye and shaking your hand, I'd be worried about that. I think every single person that ever comes to our school, I want them to be treated warmly and respectfully, and no matter who they are, who they're looking for, whether they're a future parent or not. So I would see how you're greeted and treated and go from there.” 
—Shawn O’Donnell, Head of School, The Sacred Heart School 

“I think the red flag is parents who are pushing something on their child that the child isn't on board with. The kids need to be on board to do this and to be in the environment. It doesn't mean that they shouldn't be anxious or nervous about it. That's normal. It's super normal to be like that. But if kids are pushing back strongly and really they may not be ready for boarding school, they need to be ready.” 
—Joanne Carruther, Associate Head of School, Stanstead College 

There are approaches out there that are not kind to children. They are not helpful in their long-term development. It would be my second goal in life to ensure all families knew what kind of choice they had when it came to the approach of teaching their child and understanding that learning is not about memorization. Learning is about encouraging and thinking and relating with others and building on their communication skills.” 
—Trillian Taylor, Co-Founder, and Director, Oakwood Academy 

“I think if I was a parent and I felt I was at any point being pressured or cajoled or maybe over-promised, I would worry about that, because what you might also end up finding is a school that's willing to do any of those things may not be the school that will stick to its foundational principles down the line.” 
—David Huckvale, Director of Admissions, Country Day School 

“Are the kids engaged? Do they appear to be happy? Are they in groups? Are the fields active? Are the classes active? So if you were to walk into a school and you didn't feel that, you didn't see it, you didn't experience it, that would be a red flag.” 
—Stuart Grainger, Head of School, Trinity College School 

“And so I think that from the first point of connection, be attentive as a parent to how that person is valuing the relationship. And what are the questions? What are the questions that that person in that school is interested to ask you? Because that's also an indication of how the relationship is likely to develop between you and the family and that school.” 
—Catherine Mission, Principal, Havergal College 

If they appear to be disinterested or not actively listening, not asking you questions about what you know, that's a flag. It shows that perhaps they're not interested in your young person, as a young person, as your daughter or your son, but as perhaps just another student that might wander the halls of their building. And so I would watch for that.” 
—Ilona Davidson, Principal, Whytcliffe Agile Learning Centre 

“As parents who all have instincts, I think you just want to follow those instincts. And if it doesn't feel like a good fit, don't try and force it to be a good fit." 
—Erin Corbett, Head of School, Montcrest School 

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