Choosing a school? Do your homework first

Your choice will have a huge impact on the formative years of your child's life.

The Dolphin Coast and wider KZN offers a huge variety of schools, but which one is right for your child?

Schools differ radically on everything from academics, art, and the sports field to the school’s ethos and culture.

Your choice will have a huge impact on the formative years of your child’s life and will, to a large extent, influence their character and circle of friends and will decide whether or not they excel in their giftings and improve in their weaknesses.

We spoke to Brettenwood-based clinical psychologist Tarryn Kihn and Ballito educational psychologist Felicity Tonkinson for their advice on this weighty matter.

“Too often parents stress about whether their child will be accepted, instead of interviewing the school on their suitability for their child,” said

“It is not enough to say that you and your father attended that school. You need to be asking whether the school suits the personality of your child and whether it caters to their strengths and weaknesses.

Major factors to consider

School ethos

“Is the school in line with your beliefs, values and morals? Some schools are more liberal than others, promote independent thinking and individuality. Other schools are strong in sport or academics.

“Ensure that you child’s specific talents or areas of weakness will have sufficient support, ” said Kihn.

Tonkinson recommended asking yourself: Which school would get the best out of my child so that he would make progress and achieve his potential?

“Your child’s character and emotions should play an important role in your decision,” she said.

She suggested looking at the school’s philosophy and whether it fits in with your family values.

“Ask the school what type of child they expect at their school. Attend open days to get a sense of the school’s ethos.

“See the school in action during a school day to try to get a picture of the school as it really is and trust your gut instinct. Is there a sense that relationships are warm, that children are engaged and learning? Are the principal and teachers approachable, genuine, and trustworthy?

“Take your child with you and listen to what they say.

What are other saying

“Speak to friends about their preferences and chat to children of parents already placed in schools about their experiences.

“Look closely at the pupils – their manners, relationships, approach towards their teachers and their teachers’ approach towards them.

“Look at the school’s website, is it informative? Look at the school magazine, the headmaster’s report, pupil’s writings, art, clubs and sports,” said Tonkinson.

Look at the relationships between pupils and teachers at the schools you are considering.

Boarding vs day scholars

There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Kihn said some children thrive at boarding school, while others would do better to be closer to home.

“It depends on your child’s personality. Boarding provides a structured environment and discipline.”

Travelling distance

“If the school is far away remember that your child’s circle of friends will be outside of your area. If you are not prepared to drive your child to social events on the weekend then they may become isolated.

“Weekend sporting commitments also come into play.”

Kihn said travelling distance will place pressure on the family, and the child, especially as the child gets older and the workload increases.

Also consider:

  • Teacher to pupil ratio/class size?
  • Single sex vs co-ed?
  • Is the school a feeder facility for your preferred primary/high school?
  • Proximity to your home?
  • Which schools are your child’s peers attending?
  • The school’s relationship and communication with parents
  • Remedial facilities



>> Find the best school for you or your child in our Schools & Education Feature.

>> Meet the top players in the North Coast property industry. See our Property People feature.

Lesley Naudé
News Editor

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