Top 10 Tips on How to Choose the right High School (incl a checklist!)

In all the Back-to-School crazy of the week one more thing struck me and I would be lying if it didn’t send me into a bit of a tizz…

I may just have written a few Back-to-School tips for First Time Parents heading off to Grade 1 but my reality is that this is the second last time I’ll be sending my son Back-to-Primary-School. He is entering Grade 6 this year, which means only 2 more years of Primary School lie before him and then it’s onto High School – a whole new minefield!!!

I don’t feel quite prepared for this!

Friends who’ve gone before me have made it clear that Grade 6 is a biggie. THESE are the marks that you apply with to your chosen High School with. THESE are the marks that COUNT.


I’m not ready guys!!!

I’ve found the whole exam season (they write from Grade 4) has always been so extremely stressful for ME. Each time it rolls around I’m a ridiculous bundle of nerves and anxiety for my child. He, on the other hand, cruises along like there’s nothing to be stressed about….. which makes me more stressed!

To be honest, I wish I had his attitude. I don’t like the mom I become during the exam period! I definitely don’t re-study all the work with him. In fact I’m quite hands off when it comes to his study methods BUT I do put on the pressure in terms of getting him to sit down and actually do some work (endless shouting might take place!) The hard thing is that I know that adding to his pressure is not helping AT ALL. But I can’t help it! Like every parent I want the very best for him and in my mind that means trying your best and getting results. (Does anyone have any tips for a Type A parent parenting a Type B?)

Anyway we’re heading into Grade 6 guys and there’s nothing I can do to stop the endless creep towards adulthood that is childhood.

It goes so quickly. Before you know it your colicy baby who needs to be held all the time is your stroppy pre-teen who begrudgingly gives you a hug when forced and then acts as if it’s an act of revulsion!

So what can I do to prepare myself and my child for the onslaught of High School? How can I prepare myself and him for it now? We only have 2 years to get our act together here!!! It doesn’t feel like enough time to do everything we can to Plan, Prepare, Protect.

But it’s never too late to start Planning, Preparing and Protecting your child’s educational journey so here I am. Doing some research and sharing my findings on how to choose the best High School. This research is primarily for myself and my child, but also to help those of you who are heading this way soon…. I hope it helps you and your family!

Top 10 Tips on How to Choose the right High School for your Child

1.Set aside your own issues

The first step for every parent facing High School for the second time is to put aside their own insecurities about that stage of their life and realise that this is a whole new start, a brand new experience for a child who has no pre-conceived ideas about High School. They are getting a clean slate by starting at a new school so don’t bombard them with stories of your own negative experiences with High School that may taint their turn.

2. Get involved 

Start having conversations with your child from Grade 5 about the importance of working hard throughout the school year. The marks count, but not just during the exams! This is something I’ll certainly be reminding my own son of as we head into Grade 6. Yes, the report results from the end of this year are the ones we apply for High School with, but it’s important to remember that these results are accumulated throughout the year so they need to put in the effort for every oral, project and mid-term test!

Chat to your child about their thoughts about High School and which ones are on their radar. Point out the schools when you drive past them, try to visit the school during a sports match and encourage your child to chat to kids and adults they know who may attend or have attended the schools they are keen on. Put together a long list of school options with your child’s input that are within your comfortable travel radius as well as your budget. We’re looking at about 6 High School options that are all in our vicinity.

3. Visit each school

It’s vital to visit each school on your long list on their Open Day. These usually take place in the first term of each year and are open to Grade 7’s and their parents (NB get Dad to go too!). Phone the school secretary in the first 2 weeks of Term 1 to find out when the Open Day is scheduled to take place or look out for details coming home with your child. I’m planning to try and sneak in to one or two Open Days this year, even though we are only Grade 6. I want to do some planning and feel the more exposure we both have to the potential schools is a good thing! When you go, don’t worry too much about listening to the head’s speech, as it will be full of exactly the same marketing speak as the prospectus. Rather watch things like whether the evening is incredibly regimented, with a non-negotiable scheduled, an endless series of set powerpoint presentations, and no opportunity for questions, then (a) that’s a fearful school run by a management which doesn’t trust its staff or students, and (b) that tells you what sort of relationship you and your child will have with that school. If you experience a much more relaxed evening with opportunities to chat to students and teachers, and explore the school, then the management are confident in their staff and students, and the school is probably going to be rather more receptive to two-way communication in the future. Choose the relationship you prefer.

How to Choose the right High School

Once the formals are over, get out into the corridors as soon as you can. Visit the classrooms – you can quickly tell whether a classroom is being proudly looked after, or utterly neglected. Also on any visit, you should witness interactions between the staff and students – possibly your own child. One emotion that cannot be faked is genuine warmth. How do the teachers speak to and about the students? How do the students talk to and behave around the teachers? Find a school with a warm and happy atmosphere, and you can’t go far wrong.

It’s also a good idea to try to visit each school during a normal school day so that you can get a better sense of what it’s really like instead of the marketing spin on a heavily orchestrated Open Day. The best time to visit is during breaktime. Look for attentive faces in class, positive teacher/ non-teaching staff and pupil interaction, happy faces in the corridors, good manners and greetings from the pupils, artwork on the walls – the quality of the work as well as the effort to display it, the behaviour of the kids at the end of a lesson, the standard of the uniform regulations being adhered to etc. Another thing to ask is what the kids who leave Matric from the school go on to do. Are past pupils going on to good universities – local and international? Ask questions of the current students and teachers. Don’t leave a school tour wishing you asked something!

4. Talk to the teachers, currents students and their parents

Is there an opportunity to speak to a few of the students on the Open Day. Many schools will use students as school guides so talk to them about their experience. Students tend to be honest – occasionally brutally so. If the school doesn’t let you near its students, that’s not a good sign!

Are the teachers enthusiastic or exhausted? Knowledgeable or clueless? Ask where the teachers in a school qualified, and whether they have degrees directly related to their subjects. Again, if the school keeps you away from the teachers, that’s a really bad sign!

After their family background, quality of teaching is what makes the biggest difference to a child in the long run.

Excellent teachers not only teach more, but they can even accelerate the rate of learning among their students. And good schools champion great teachers. Look for schools that provide teachers with mentors, instruction and discussion of best practices. Find a school where the teachers are not being treated as interchangeable, easily replaceable cogs.  Find out if they receive additional training and how often they are evaluated. Another warning sign is when teachers are moving on too quickly – or staying too long – in a school so ask them how long they’ve been teaching at that particular school if you get the chance.

The parental grapevine is remarkably useful. If you can’t find any parents with a bad word to say about a school, it’s probably doing OK, whereas if asking about a school results in parents downloading all their bad experiences on you, then you might want to think twice before signing up your beloved offspring. Parents are generally pretty sensitive to how a school is treating their child. Ask around your fellow primary school parents for those with older children in the schools you have your eye on.

5. Look out for extras

Important things to consider about a school are of course, the academics and the sport success. But remember these 2 pillars are not the only ones keeping the roof up! They obviously are vitally important, especially if your child is an A student in the classroom or on the field. My child is neither – so I’m going to be looking a bit deeper…

Consider what arts and drama program they offer if that’s where your child’s strengths lie. What about music offerings – is there an orchestra or a choir, do they go on tour or play concerts? How about the sports offered for the kids lower down the batting order (so to speak) Do they have C & D teams and do they encourage a love for sport, participation and playing in a team, rather than a “Win at all costs”? What subjects do they offer – the standard ones or any extras that might be of interest to your child?

6. Consider diversity

High School is the preparation for the real world of university and beyond. Living in South Africa it’s important that kids get used to living and working with people of all races, religions and beliefs. Make sure the High School you choose for your child is an inclusive one where your child will be exposed to a cross-section of society and not just one demographic (yours!)

7. Plan your finances

One of the main things for you to consider when choosing a High School is whether the fees are affordable for your family without having to make too many sacrifices. If you’re a planner maybe you’ve already sorted out an educational savings fund for these costs to ensure your child can attend the best school for their needs despite the cost. Well done to you!

If you haven’t managed to start saving in enough time and the fees are just too high, look at options for scholarships or financial aid before writing the school off your long list altogether. Scholarships are given to certain students for academic, sporting and cultural reasons, so it’s best to contact each school you are keen on to find out what options there are and how to go about applying for them (eg. an entrance exam).

If you are able to afford the school of your choice it’s worth asking about any other costs you’ll be asked to pay over and above the fees so you can budget accordingly. There are often a myriad of hidden associated costs that aren’t included in the fees – school camps, tours, stationery, building funds, uniform, music, dancing, art not to mention additional classes you might want to sign them up for like coding or various other technologies that will help you ensure that your child is well-equipped and prepared for a career of the future.

Remember that the government school down the road could be just as good as the private school that costs double in fees per year, fees aren’t always an indication of good quality education.

If you’re still in the first few years of parenting you might like to consider starting to save for your child’s High School and Tertiary education now! We’ve not been that on top of things, but what this does make us realise is how we probably need to be better prepared for Tertiary education and start looking into planning and preparing for these future costs to ensure that our kids get options! Use Liberty’s Educational Calculator to see how much the annual cost of education will be in the future based on inflation.

8. Go with your gut

Picking a school is much more complicated than asking, is the maths teacher good? The teacher might not be there next term, but the sports facilities, the hall and the classrooms will be, so what do they feel like?  A good way to think of school hunting is in a similar way to house hunting. A tip I read is to watch your child’s reaction when they walk through the door. Sometimes the atmosphere can really spark a child’s excitement. The environment is important. There needs to be a chemistry – a gut instinct! If you can’t see your child there, and they can’t see themselves there either, cross it off the list!

Choose the right High School

9. Choose the right school for YOUR child

As first time High School parents we have to start at the beginning with this process and we have a long list of options. Some of you may have done the hard yards for your first High School scholar but just because you have older children already attending a certain High School doesn’t mean your second or third child will benefit from going to the same school as their brother or sister. It’s NB to choose a school for each individual child and their needs and interests.

On our long list we have some public schools and some private schools. A few require a further drive, some ask much higher fees than we can afford, some have better academics, some better sports results and some better arts and drama departments. The likelihood is that after the first visit we may only have 1 or 2 good options that suit all our requirements and suit our child, but it’s good to have options upfront and to do this we have to do our research properly. Once we’ve visited the schools, had an interview and asked all our questions, we’ll be much better placed to make a decision. And the way to make the best decision is to have done your research, weighed up all the options, answered your most pressing questions and looked at your budget!

10. Remember that the decision is yours, not your child’s

Your child should have a say in their choice of school, but not the final one, ultimately, you are the adult and they are 13. Remind them that it’s nice to consider going to the same school as their friends, but that it shouldn’t dictate the final decision. In the age of social media, kids can still see their friends from Primary School no matter what High School they end up at, and are likely to be in constant contact via Instagram and Whatsapp anyway . Going to a new school might even give them the chance to make new friends to introduce to the old ones! As the parent, this is your decision, not theirs – a controversial view, but where the child’s friends are going is far less important than the average teen thinks it is and as the adult (with 30-plus years of experience in making decisions behind you) you are far better placed to do so


The irony is that as parents we probably have the greatest levels of angst than ever before about choosing a High School for our precious baby, yet, by most reasonable measures, schools these days have higher academic and behavioural standards than ever before.

Very few schools are truly awful; in the overwhelming majority your child has every chance to fulfill their potential.

And it’s worthwhile remembering that most of us went to a school based solely on the grounds that it was the closest one to our house….. and we seem to have survived to adulthood and are doing perfectly fine, thank you!


Here is a quick checklist of questions to consider as you decide which high school is right for your child:

How is the school environment?

  • The school is welcoming & warm.
  • The student-teacher ratio is reasonable.
  • The school works to prevent problems and helps every child succeed.
  • I know and agree with the school’s policy on handling behaviour problems and discipline and theses reflect my own values and expectations?
  • The school actively works to prevent and deal with bullying.
  • The school is safe and clean
  • Few students are expelled or suspended, and violence is rare.
  • After school sports, clubs and activities are available and encouraged.
What is the staff like?
  • There is a school psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and case worker to support my child.
  • Teachers and specialists are trained to recognize and work well with children who have learning and attention issues.
  • They know how to deal with discipline and behavior issues and have a written policy.
  • Teachers seem knowledgeable and are qualified to teach their subjects.
What are the academics like?
  • I agree with, or at least like, the way the school approaches teaching and the curriculum they use.
  • There is a balanced amount of quality homework.
  • The school emphasizes academics
  • The school does well on standardized tests.
  • There is a modern library, wireless and Internet access,
  • The school uses emerging technology and integrates it into the classroom
  • Students do well after they graduate.

Does it work for me and our family?

  • The school is near my home/ work and it’s convenient for my child to get to and from
  • I like the policy for watching my child’s progress and keeping me informed.
  • There are parent-teacher conferences as needed.
  • Does your family have a connection to a particular school?
  • The school fees are affordable for our family and/ or offer scholarships
Does it feel right for my child?
  • My child likes the school and would fit in.
  • The school is supportive and has the proper resources for my child.
  • The school can serve my child’s unique learning needs.
  • The method of teaching at the school supports my child’s learning needs.
  • Regular education and special education teachers work together.
  • The school will cater for my child’s interests and all aspects of their development, including social, emotional, physical and cognitive needs.
  • My child knows other children at the school.
  • I feel that choosing this school prepares my child for the future.

If you have a child in Primary School it may feel premature to be reading this post as High School is a few years away…. but the reality is that High School is just around the corner and sooner than you know you’ll be sending your child off to their first day so be sure to bookmark or pin this page for future reference!! You’re gonna need it!


Choose the right High School






Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. I love that you said it is never too late to start planning! And, that is so true, especially for schooling. Do you have any kind of list of good schools that I could look at? Thanks!

  2. When you are selecting a school, you may first come across the name and fame
    of some schools, which are bombarding the print and TV media with their
    boastful ads about their achievements. It is undeniable that we want our child to
    study well, but what we are talking about here is their overall development as an
    individual but as a machine to produce ranks.

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