Behaviour & Emotions

Choosing a school for your child

Parenting Place choosing a school

So, your child is starting school or moving to intermediate or high school. There's a lot to think about, right? I recall many months of emotional turmoil and over-thinking when I first chose a primary school for my eldest, and now I am in the thick of it again as we look at intermediate school options that feed into high school. Just this morning I dropped my son off for a trial day at a school we are interested in.

While lots of kids attend their local school and the decision-making process around where they’ll go next is relatively straightforward, education is not one-size-fits all and choosing the right school to best meet your family’s needs can be complex. Different enrolment and zoning schemes can restrict or open up options for your family, so it is worth looking around at what is on offer in your area.

My husband and I have a child who is a 2e (both gifted and dyslexic) learner, and another child who has no learning needs but is a bright spark, so there are a few things for us to consider in relation to their schooling. Here are a few ideas that have helped me on my journey.

Gather your intel

When I was growing up, my mum didn't have a lot of choice when it came to my education – I just went to the local school in the various places we lived. But the city my family live in now offers so many options and considerations.

Word of mouth is a great way to glean information about schools, especially from parents who have had a child at a school you are interested in. Keep your ears open to this type of chatter at kindy or daycare drop-off and ask questions of other parents and the ECE teachers.

This morning when I dropped my son off at school for a trial day, he was feeling pretty shy so before the bell rang, I asked some kids in his class if they wanted to play handball with us (I was a 90’s kid, I'm basically a pro at handball, marbles and roller-skating). They all jumped at the offer. I hovered around (I know, but my son is 10 and still thinks I'm cool) and asked the kids a few questions about their school experience as we played. I got some handy insights.

Keep in mind that the ‘intel’ you’re gathering in these contexts is likely to be opinion-based. Reading a school's ERO and BOT reports will also be helpful. This information will tell you things like:

  • A profile of the school or service, including the roll, the number of staff and dates of previous ERO reviews

  • Findings about the quality of education received by the school

  • Identification of good performance areas, as well as areas where the school needs to improve

  • Recommendations for future action

Keep in mind that the ‘intel’ you’re gathering in these contexts is likely to be opinion-based.

Memory bank

Okay, now I know this next tip could come across as a little intense, but my memory is lame (can I still claim baby brain?). Since my eldest was young, I have created an excel spreadsheet to document all our intermediate and high school options and the strengths and weaknesses of each. This is where I’ve stored all that intel I’ve gathered, including information I’ve gleaned from school tours and meetings with principals.

While this level of data-storage might not be so applicable to your family’s situation, it has been helpful to us in our quest to find schooling options that best suit our kids.

Visit schools

You can gather all the intel and conduct all the online research you like, but nothing beats going into a school yourself and seeing the inner workings in action.

Book an appointment with the principal to find out more about the school and get answers to any specific questions. Stay curious on visits and observe the dynamics of students as they wander around school and engage in classes. I was a high school teacher, so I put this lens on whenever I'm at a school. Tuning into the school environment and general vibe will go a long way. If your child is able to have a school visit themselves, that can be an even better way to decide.

Focus on the needs and desires of your family – don’t be swayed by what everyone else is doing.

Things to consider

  1. Top of the list of considerations is your whānau, specifically the needs of your child. Consider what you’d ideally like a school to be able to provide for your child. Maybe list factors in order of priority, as you might not find a school that ticks all the boxes. Some compromise might be necessary. The point here, however, is to focus on the needs and desires of your family – don’t be swayed by what everyone else is doing.

  2. For many people, it is important that the school values align with their own values. Perhaps a Montessori school best aligns with your family values, or maybe you’re after a bi-lingual or full immersion school. Perhaps your preference is for a faith-based school, a Steiner school or a nature school. Your values might also lead you to choose between private or public, single-sex or co-ed.

  3. The location of a school is a valid consideration. For some families, having a school near home or work is essential for ease of pick-ups and drop-offs. Public transport and school buses might be another factor to consider.

  4. Understand the learning environment of a school. Some kids don't cope with open learning spaces, for example where three classes are connected. Is device use the norm for all schoolwork or is there a variety? Is the school focused on academics, or does it lean more towards cultural learning or sporting achievement? Consider also the social environment, including factors like whether your child has friends going there, what co-curricular options are available, does the school have a uniform and what subject options are available at high school level.

  5. Consider any special or learning needs of your child and whether the school can meet those needs. Do your research to understand what help is available for your child, whether it's an RTLB (Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour), a teacher aide or an enrichment programme. Are teachers trained to teach neurodiverse learners? The principal will be a good gauge on this, so ask these harder questions to see how they respond.

  6. At the end of the day, you don't have to send your child to school at all! Homeschooling and unschooling have become increasingly common in Aotearoa, particularly through Covid, with some parents moving away from the mainstream system to educate their child in a less traditional way. Homeschoolers can follow a curriculum guided by the Ministry of Education, create their own curriculum or teach through a child-led method.

Apply now

Unfortunately, deciding on the best school for your child isn’t necessarily a ticket in the door. If you want to get into a school that isn't your local public school, get your enrolment application in early and double check you have included all your paperwork. If it is a ballot situation, being organised could make the difference between getting in or not.

If your child needs to go through an interview process, try not to put too much pressure on them. It's important a child doesn't feel burdened with ‘performing,’ and worried that if they don't get in to the school, it's all on them. Most often the school just wants to get to know a child in the interview context, so if you over-prep them, they might be stiff and awkward and unsure of what to say. Ideally your child can just relax and be themselves.

Where to send your child to school is a big decision, but you have the smarts to figure out what's best for your child. So, take your time to make sure you have all the information you need to make the best decision you can, and trust your gut.

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR Specialist, Writer and Presenter for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences. Holly is co-founder of

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