Before getting started, I would like to mention while it can be uncomfortable to ask some of these questions — and may not make you the most popular parent on the tour — it's important to get these answers to understand how the school answers your child's educational needs.
Make sure the school meets your practical needs. For instance, if the school has no bus services, but it is 10 miles away from your home, it may not be a good fit for your child. Or, if it's difficult for you to prepare packed lunch for your child, check if the school has a cafeteria that offers healthy and sensibly-priced food.
Ask about what kind of tutoring services or learning specialists the school offers. Do they offer "pull-out" tutoring in small groups, in which a student gets special instruction during school hours? Do the teachers or other staff offers after-school or lunch-time tutoring?
Every school should have an articulated disciplinary policy. Is it strict or lax? Do they have a more punitive approach, such as giving children demerits and eventual suspension? Or do they subscribe to "positive discipline," with, for example, first a warning and then a consequence, like cleaning the hallway? Disciplinary policies vary widely. What's important is that you are comfortable with the school's approach. Besides make sure to ask about their bullying policy. Has the staff received any anti-bullying training?
Many schools — public and private — have special focuses, such as the arts, a language-immersion program, technology, or science. Get a clear sense of their commitment to this focus and if it meshes with your child's interests, strengths, and personality. If the school has no pedagogical philosophy or curriculum theme, ask what the school is most proud of. Does the school have a well-stocked library or a state-of-the-art computer lab? Learning about some of the bells and whistles will give you a good sense of the schools' identity and values.
Ask whether homework is given over weekends, breaks, and holidays — or whether it varies widely from teacher to teacher. (This variation can be a RED flag that the teaching staff is not all on the same page in terms of their teaching philosophy). If your child is attending the after-school program, ask if the program helps kids with their homework.
If your child needs after-school care, then find out what specific classes, sports, or activities are offered. Do they offer courses in art, music, drama, science, chess club, or free play? What kind of sports do they offer and do they provide any transportation to practices and games? What are the requirements for playing on a team? Again, find out if there's any time to do homework and if there's any homework support.
How does the classroom look like? Do kids sit in a more formal lay-out with the teacher in the front and kids sitting behind individual desks? Or do kids sit at large tables in groups? Also, consider safety when looking at the school's physical layout. Are entrances and exits monitored so that kids can leave and strangers can't get in? Is there a strict sign-in and sign-out policy?
These are some of the questions parents should bear in mind when choosing a pimary school. It's better to have all these questions resolved in order to make informed decisions. As what Janette Wallis says, a senior editor of Schools Guide which reviews hundreds of schools every year, "You can smell if a school is going well."