Choosing a school can be incredibly daunting! I do think there are a few questions you could usefully ask, but the most important point for me is the way the school listens to you when you talk to them about your child. You really want to get the sense that they are interested in your child as an individual, and that their responses to your questions show they they are taking on board what you are saying and are prepared to explore the best way forward with you in collaboration, even if they don't have all the answers for you straight away. Sometimes I think professionals can 'rush to reassure' citing all the training they have been on, or all their experience with other care-experienced children, but training is not effective unless the principles learned from it are embedded in the school at all levels, and your child is not 'other care-experienced children' but an individual. A good, collaborative, responsive working relationship between you and the school will be vital, so be looking for the foundations of that in your initial visits.
I'm not sure where you are but if you are in England, do try to meet with the Designated Teacher for looked-after and previously looked-after children. This person should be a key point of contact for you, so it's important to know that they are able to make themselves available to parents.
In terms of questions, here's a non-exhaustive list - hopefully others will come and add on things I may have missed!
- ask about relevant training (trauma, attachment, FASD, etc.) and whether all staff have accessed training or just key staff (with the caveat I mentioned above that training on trauma/attachment does not necessarily lead to a trauma/attachment aware setting!)
- if in England, ask about how the school uses PP+ and how they differentiate their use of PP+ from that of PP. Find out who you will be able to talk to about use of PP+ in relation to your child (it would usually be the Designated Teacher)
- again, in England, ask about the school's relationship with the Virtual School team - has the school received training/advice/guidance from the VS on previously looked-after children and how closely do they work together
- ask about transitions to the school - what are the arrangements for transitions from primary to secondary, and what, if any, programmes do they have in place for children who might need extra transition support
- have a look at the school's behaviour policy before you visit (it should be available on their website) - if you see it's called something like 'Relationship and Support Policy' you might be on to a winner! Ask what 'reasonable adjustments' they can make to the policy for children with additional needs, including needs arising from trauma/attachment and SEMH needs. You are looking for a school that prioritises support to meet expectations over punishments for failing to meet them. I wouldn't expect to find a high school free of 'consequence' systems or similar, but there should be an associated programme for teaching expected standards explicitly, and providing strategies and support for those who may struggle.
- find out about the procedures they have in place for maintaining home-school communications. Good communications will be the bedrock of your relationship with school and can prevent things spiraling out of control.
- find out about how the school rewards children. Sometimes this can be an indicator of the school's ethos. While public reward systems (wall charts with house points, or reward assemblies etc.) can motivate some, there will be children who always have the fewest points, or never get included in reward assemblies, and that is just as de-motivating for them as the common systems of traffic light or sunshine/cloud wall displays for behaviour in primaries. As with consequences, I'd expect the vast majority of schools to have some system for rewards, so ask about what rewards are given for and how they are given, and what adjustments can be made for those who may find a public fuss intolerable.
- most schools will have a programme of pastoral support of some kind, so ask about that, nurture provision, support with peer relationships, support with unstructured times (lunch, breaks etc.)
That's a long list already, and there are many more things you could ask - if you have any questions or thoughts, I'd be happy to talk with you more.