Pangbourne College Senior Deputy Head Samantha Greenwood on what to focus on at open day events

Open days are essential when it comes to choosing the right school for your child. They give you a flavour of what goes on and provide an opportunity to look beyond the gloss of the prospectus and website and the dry facts of the inspection report.

At Pangbourne College, we recommend you attend any open-day event with an open mind.  You may have already formed an opinion based on what you’ve heard from friends and acquaintances but try to set these impressions aside.  Remember that every child is different, and you are seeking the school that best fits your needs, not someone else’s.

It is always helpful to come prepared, especially if you are attending a variety of events at different schools. This will make life easier when it comes to making a shortlist, as you will be able to reflect back on the pros and cons of each of the schools. Our key tips for making the most of each event are:

Attend as a family.  It’s particularly important that you and your child attend, if possible, as each person will notice different things and have a different set of criteria when it comes to what is important to them.

Come with a list of questions. You will usually have the opportunity to speak with current pupils and they will (hopefully) give you a true insight into what life is like at that school. Ask them about their routines, experiences and aspirations for the future. If current parents are on-hand to answer your questions, so much the better.

Take the tour. This is important for getting a sense of the life of the school. On some open mornings you may be able to select how you tour the school – self-guided or pupil-led. There are advantages to both.  A pupil-led tour would give you that perfect opportunity to ask lots of questions, but you may be restricted to the route the pupil takes you on.  If you are on a self-guided tour, you will have the freedom to explore at your own pace. This also allows more focused time in the departments that you are of most interest to you and your child.

Pangbourne College on your open day strategy
Taking a school tour is essential for getting a sense of the life of the school as well as checking out facilities

Create a wish list. What are you looking for in a school? Consider giving each priority a ranking so that you can easily compare schools before and after your visit. Criteria might include standard of sports facilities, quality of pastoral care, and range of co-curricular activities.

Attend the Head’s presentation. The Head is the figurehead of the school and should clearly represent its ethos and culture.  Ask yourself if their perspective aligns with your own values and aspirations? Culture is also a broader question to consider when you speak to other staff, parents and pupils.

Look beyond academics. We all know that academic results are important when choosing a school but it’s also important to look outside the classroom and consider the wider offering. Questions you might like to ask are: How do you promote personal development? How do you support mental wellbeing? How do you prepare young adults for life beyond education?

Be mindful that open events are there to impress potential parents and pupils. If you like the look of the school, it is a good idea to arrange a follow-up visit during a ‘normal’ school day. This will give you a truer sense of the day-to-day environment and atmosphere – reassuring you that the open event you attended has been a true reflection of the school.

Pangbourne College

Further reading: Colchester Royal Grammar School on changing schools at sixth form