How do I choose the most suitable school for my child?

Private or public school, Montessori or Freinet pedagogy: if your child does not thrive in a traditional school setting, it may be better to turn to another environment. Here are some tips to find the establishment that best suits your needs.

“At 8, Manon already seemed totally discouraged by school because of the grades. However, she was rather gifted but the teacher systematically returned the copies in order, from the best to the worst result. If she got a 7 out of 10 – and ended up in the last – it was the end of the world,” recalls her mother Deborah, who eventually changed Manon from school to a structure offering alternative pedagogy with unrated learning.

“Often, the child is forced to adapt to the school demand. If he can’t do it, he’s labelled as a bad student, unsuitable or in difficulty. As a result, he suffers from a feeling of exclusion,” analyses Rebecca Duvillié, clinical psychologist, former teacher and author of the book Taming the School, the academic failure in question (ed. Marabout). But what if it was the school that wasn’t sufficiently adapted to our child?

Signals to be spotted

Whether he is agitated, early or even dyslexic, every child must be able to benefit from a school system that suits him. To achieve this, it is important to learn to identify signals in order to help them overcome their deficiencies and feel as comfortable as possible in the school environment,” says Rebecca Duvillié.

Listening to him give his impressions, talk to us about his fears and expectations will allow us to better understand his needs. Is he happy, sad? More like arriving early or late? Does he take care of his school equipment? “Observing his attitude in his report to the school will also provide us with some elements of analysis,” emphasizes Michel Neumayer, educator member of the French Group for New Education (GFEN) and author of Evaluer sans noter, éduquer sans exclure (éd. Chroniques sociales).

Falling results, a child who complains of having difficulty keeping pace, manifests behavioural problems, whose teachers suggest repetition or reorientation are warning signs.

To detach oneself from one’s own experience

Unconsciously influenced by our own school past, we sometimes erect mechanisms of resistance to the institution. This makes choosing a school even more complicated. This is the case of Pauline, 31, who enrolled her daughter Billie in a private school, a little reluctantly.

“I went to a very strict private school all my schooling and I don’t remember it very well. So I wanted Billie to go out to the public but her school was the best in our area and located a stone’s throw from the house. Looking back, I really don’t regret it,” says Pauline.

To overcome his reticence, Michel Neumayer advises to let himself be guided above all by a central question: “What is my educational project as a parent?” By taking a step back, we can sometimes realize that our child is very happy in an environment that we did not like at all at his age.

Cost and proximity are to be taken into account

Other criteria, this time pragmatic, are to be taken into account in the choice of school: its cost and its distance from the family home. “It is desirable not to choose a school too far from home because it is not necessarily good to add physical exhaustion to school work which is already in itself a source of fatigue, attention and early awakening,” insists Rebecca Duvillié.

Similarly, tuition fees are to be taken into account in the family budget, especially if you choose a private school. Aren’t they too high in relation to household income? Pauline and her husband were apprehensive, and then finally, as they did their accounts, they realized that Billie’s private school was not so unaffordable. “A small sacrifice on our budget but savings on travel time,” says Pauline.

Better understand the values of the institution

Despite a sometimes draconian selection in some private schools, it may be a good idea to visit them. “The idea is to dialogue with teachers to better understand the values it conveys,” suggests Michel Neumayer. Is it rather discipline-oriented or attached to the child’s creativity? Does it focus on homework or classroom work? Are the grades the benchmark for success according to the teachers?

“Evaluation is very popular in society, but a grading and competition system does not correspond to all students. In this case, enrolling your child in an establishment offering another pedagogy such as Freinet or Montessori will undoubtedly be a more fulfilling alternative,” notes Michel Neumayer. This was the case with Manon. “She is much happier in this new school where she can study without feeling in perpetual competition,” says Deborah.

Favouring well-being over prestige

What about the establishment’s label? Will enrolling him in a prestigious school be a guarantee of success and well-being for the child? “It’s not necessarily good to be trapped by an establishment‘s reputation. You can very easily access a great career after leaving middle school and fail despite attending a prestigious school,” recalls Rébecca Duvillié.

“It’s all about choosing a school, taking care not to ask the child too much, at the risk that he won’t be able to follow and reject it,” says the specialist; this is precisely what was happening to Manon, but “by leaving her class dominated by the race for good marks, she has regained a taste for school,” her mother says.

Reaching a consensus

There is a life outside the school and parents can take advantage of it to open their child’s horizons in a different way and make up for any shortcomings outside the classroom. “Theo was struggling in mathematics when he entered college. I gave him private tutoring for a few months. It allowed her to fill in the gaps,” says Lida.

“We can also compensate for his deficiencies by sports that will keep him healthy or by music, theatre and dance that will give him confidence in himself,” concludes Rebecca Duvillié. Identifying the personality of your child, his needs, trying to adapt as much as possible to them should thus allow us to find the most harmonious educational mode for our offspring.

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