The time has come, too quickly I might add, where both Parenting Phils are experiencing yet another milestone in the world of parenting – primary school applications! Which means countless tours of prospective schools, reading Ofsted reports, meeting other parents and getting the general nitty-gritty of what your prospective school is all about.
As you’ll agree, choosing the right school for your child is an important task. Simply because they will spend the best part of their day in that setting, 5 days a week, 9 months a year. So it’s incredibly important to know your child will be cared for, supported and safe, whilst on their new learning journey.
When I was a child, I loved going to school, and always look on that time of my life with warm fond memories, and naturally like any parent, I want that for my children too.
So getting that right for your child, is fair to say, a pretty anxious time for any parent! Great… just what you wanted to hear, right! Especially if you’re not at this stage yet. But fear not, we are here to share our experience and advice which you may want to consider when choosing the right school for your child.
#1 Ofsted Reports
The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, is a government organisation which is responsible for inspecting a range of educational institutions. You can find out more about Ofsted here.
For me, an Ofsted report doesn’t capture the whole ethos of a school, so I didn’t spend too much time reading them if I’m completely honest. And for those of you who have read one, then I think we can all agree they are dull as dish water! So instead, how I used the report was like this… I skim read the most recent report and compared it to the previous to check if the school had improved or declined, and tried to weed out any other trends, that would form a good basis for any questions I had for the headteacher when I visited the school. My reasoning for this is that reports can be up to six years apart… and a lot can happen in twelve months! A change in Headteacher can impact the whole ethos of a school, creating a different environment to what it was when the Ofsted report was completed. So a school that advertises ‘Ofsted Outstanding‘ at it’s gates may not necessarily ring true. With this in mind, (skim) reading the report was my starting point.
#2. League Tables
Checking out some key stats through your local authority websites can be really telling. You can find all sorts about a schools performance including;
- Staff Retention
- Pupil Absence Rates
- Key Stage Performance
- Ofsted Ratings
Much like the Ofsted reports, it’s important to give due consideration to these, but also important to go and see the school and get a feel for it. Ask them questions about these stats before drawing your own conclusions based on numbers, they may really surprise and impress you.
#3. Guided Tours
On my first tour, I noticed we visited areas the Headteacher guided us too, and I was intrigued to see more if I’m honest. So my advice would be, when touring the school, try to visit all areas (where appropriate of course) and not just the ones they want you to see. Try visit parts of the site that don’t just include the area that your child will be based initially. This will give you a general feeling of the whole school. Try having questions ready for the Headteacher to ask whilst on the tour, questions you feel are important for your child and you. Examples of questions could look like this;
- What is the staff turn around?
- What is there policy on bullying? Have they had any recent cases of bullying and how did they deal with it?
- What investment have they had? How was it spent? Are there any future investment plans?
- How do they support younger children (summer babies) starting reception? One of my biggest anxieties I must say…
- What support is in place for children with special needs?
- What is their approach to homework?
Whilst visiting one school, I noticed the Headteacher mention his daughter was the same age as my little boy, and he mentioned her a number of times. I desperately wanted to ask, “Is your daughter attending this school?” But I chickened out thinking it was a bit cheeky, but with hindsight I should have asked! Part of me was thinking is he goading the group for one of us to ask, so he could reply happily, yes! Possibly. My point is, ask those types of questions! If it’s good enough for his daughter, it may be good enough for your child!
#5. Staff & Pupils
If pupils support the Headteacher on your tour, talk to them! Two lovely little boys from year 6 joined one of our tours, which I thought was great! Talking to the pupils will add value to what your looking for.
Ask questions like – ‘what is your reading target?‘ A tip I read reading an article in the Guardian! I know it’s a crap question to ask a child, and no doubt will be responded with an ‘eye-roll’, but its important nonetheless, and it will give you a good insight as to whether the child knows what a reading target is, and how enthusiastic they are when talking about what they need to improve on. Talk to staff, obviously they’ll be on their best behaviour whilst your touring, but gauge how stressed they may be, how they interact with the children, have they even noticed you are there, or are they too involved with what is happening with the children – which isn’t a bad thing!
Always check what their child-to-teacher-ration is. Despite the government setting a standard of 30 children per class, with the ever expanding classroom numbers it’s important to have an understanding of what that figure is in your prospective school. Enquire how many teaching assistants they have, what classes do they primarily support? Will there be any teaching assistants present in reception?
It’s also good to check out what pastoral care they have at the school, like do they have specific learning mentor roles etc?
Whilst touring, try get a look at the classrooms and not just the Reception class. Think about how the room is set out, is it set to be an interactive space, with groups of tables seated together or are the tables set in lines and rows, not allowing children to interact with their peers. Is the pupils body of work displayed on the walls and is it up to date? Is it more than just literacy and maths, demonstrating there is a balanced curriculum in place and that it’s not all targeted at just reading, maths, and writing attainments.
At one school, I noticed the reception class wasn’t a far cry from my son’s pre-school set up. They still had creative areas like sand and water tables, reading areas, creative areas for fine tuning motor – skills, which was all great! Having this set-up meant that transition from pre-school to reception class would be a less daunting experience, because the activities and facilities in place were familiar.
#8 School Clubs
If your a working parent, enquire if the school runs a morning or afternoon club, to support with your job. Wasn’t a deal breaker for me, because I have something in place, but it could be for you, and not all schools run these sorts of clubs, but they could have links to childminders, or other schools that provide before or after school care… and don’t be afraid to ask how much they cost!
Whilst touring I was particularly interested in the outdoor space – something some parents may not even think about. For my son though, I know he likes to be stimulated so his imagination can run wild – like most! So I looked for something more than just open playing fields, and concrete playgrounds. A school that could provide benches for quiet time if a child wanted to read or sit with friends, mud huts, and outdoor play kitchens, were great.
One school provided a conservatory type building (my best description) were children could come out of the sun and chill-out rather than run themselves ragged outside, which I thought was brilliant! Particularly after the long hot summer we just had!
Something else that was on my mind whilst thinking about facilities was school dinners. School dinners are free in year 1 & 2, and having spent A LOT of money on childcare so far, I plan to take FULL advantage of something FREE… doesn’t come often when children are involved. But know what they are providing! Is it freshly cooked onsite? Do they cater for food allergies and intolerances? Is it a varied and balanced menu? Do they offer options for children or is it a set menu?
IMO facilities are important, check them all out! Enquire what plans they have to improve or build on those areas, if any. It’s always good to know that they are wanting to do things better as they go on – budget permitting of course!
Every school has a different way of managing bad behaviour and incentivising the good, some better than others. Make sure you ask questions about this and look all around the school as you go as charts etc are often very visual.
As parents we all have different approaches to discipline so it’s important that you are comfortable with your chosen school’s methods.
So, there it is… a few things to think about! In all honesty, the list of things to consider can be far greater than what’s above, especially when you start exploring schools yourself. But for a parent who is beginning to think about this stage, this list can hopefully provide a starting point. The rest you’ll discover when you start your own journey.
FYI… don’t forget, each area will run a different open and closing date for school applications – so please check with your local authority to see what your date is!
Good Luck! X