At beijingkids, our secret weapon (or maybe it’s not so secret as they are featured at the front of the magazine every month) is our group of dedicated parent board members who we meet with monthly over lunch to discuss things ranging from life in Beijing to which schools are doing a great job or really ruffling people’s feathers. We rely on these amazing individuals to help us stay up-to-date, and they just so happen to be a fun bunch to grab a bite with.
For this particular meeting, we decided to focus on what are some of the right questions to ask if you are looking at schools for your child. Picking a school can be a very difficult decision, especially if you are fresh off the boat and also have a million other things to consider when first adjusting to life in Beijing. As our parent board is well versed in both life and education in this city, the discussion was very heated! What you’ll find here are some highlighted questions and tips for things to ask potential schools that many newcomers might be unfamiliar with, so that you can move beyond the standard “how far and how much” kind of questions that we primarily consider when selecting a school.How does your curriculum or educational philosophy differ from other schools?
When picking a school, you want to know what they are doing. What is the approach? Are they just a free-form curriculum and will they let your child run wild or do they have a more structured program? So one key distinction is what is the program and how structured is that program, and to what extent does that fit with your educational philosophy and what your child needs.
For a non-English speaking family, language and a curriculum that supports that language can be super important. For the people that come and go after three years, they also need to consider where they will be learning after China. For example, the French School uses the French program, so after your child can go to any French school around the globe to complete their education after you and your family leaves China. The same applies to International Baccalaureate students and any other curriculum that is internationally recognized.
How would you define your campus culture?
The cultural mix of the students and teachers at the school is an essential consideration. While living in China, you want your children to study with Chinese students, because that’s essential when it comes to the experience of immersion and learning the Chinese language and culture. But alternatively, there’s the recognition that if you have an uneven number of Chinese and expat students, this can change what happens in the classroom academically and also make it more difficult for your child to make friends. Finding a balanced classroom and a balanced curriculum (one not centered on test scores) can be a challenge for many new families.
What’s included in the price?
This varies from school to school and can be a source of a headache for many parents. Some schools include transportation and lunch, while some schools don’t. Some schools include the price of uniforms and school trips, while others don’t. This is worth doing your research to determine whether or not the prices you are given are the actual price or there will be other things eventually tagged on. One way to check for this is by looking at our listings in this School Choice Guide, where all costs including the application fees are carefully listed to make sure that you are getting an accurate idea of how much you will eventually be charged.
What’s the school’s current availability?
Beijing is one of those cities where people come and go in equal measure. This can lead to varied class sizes, and if you have multiple kids that you want to attend the same school, availability at the school of your choice needs to consider before applying (and paying the application fees). One child might get in while the other child’s class is at capacity, so make sure about this before you move forward.
What kind of learning support does your school have?
It’s important to see if your school has programs for extra help for learning disabilities and if it comes free with tuition or at an additional charge. This is a hot topic at the moment. Sadly, learning support for children with difficulties is not always available at Beijing international schools leading to many families having to go out and seek support privately. This being said, regardless of whether or not your child needs this sort of support, this question can tell you a lot about a school and how they make both their curriculum or facilities more accessible to those with difficulties.
How good is the school at communicating with teachers, administrators, and parents?
How a school communicates can be a complicated thing to work out before enrolling but taking a look at their website is a good indicator of how might will be. If they are not communicating well in the public forum, then it is likely that they are not going to be successful communicating within the school community. But, this isn’t always the case and should be taken with a grain of salt. Not every school has the money or resources for large marketing departments and must depend on their academic reputation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. To determine if this is the case, we suggest you also ask other parents. Ask if there is an active parent community or if there are WeChat groups that you can get connected with to learn more about how the school manages the flow of information between the classrooms and parents.
Photo: Kipp Whittaker
Check out the beijingkids School Choice Guide 2019-2020 for more helpful Beijing international school info