Going to school for the first time is an exciting time and the start of a great journey. However, it can be difficult to know which school to send your kids to, so here are some top tips.
You need to find out about the deadlines for application form submission from your local council. Typically, you have to submit an application for a place in January for a September start date. Open days are generally held in the autumn, which is nearly a whole year away from the first day of attendance. If there are lots of schools in the area that you want to check out, you could consider going to some open days a year early in order to whittle down your list of potentials. Going to Christmas fairs other festivals hosted by a school can help you to get a clearer idea of the atmosphere.
Check Admission Criteria
Before you start visiting schools, you need to make sure your child will be able to get in. After all, you don’t want to get attached to a school only to find out you have to reside within 300 yards of the gate to have any chance of getting a place. Carefully reading admission criteria for each school can be a tad tedious, but it could save you some disappointments later. Most councils produce a booklet detailing the school choices and admission criteria each year. So, contact them if you have any questions.
Research School Performance Figures
Before you go to look around a school in person, you should visit their official website: does it contain up to date information? Does it appear positive and welcoming? Check out the school’s latest Ofsted report. Looking at league tables can also help you to see how well a school is performing. However, you need to keep in mind that league tables don’t show the whole story. Good SATs tests scores might just mean the school drills the pupils endlessly to pass year 6 national tests.
What are people living in the area saying about the school? Is there a new head that’s shaking things up? Are there lots of teacher changes? (This could indicate that the school might not cultivate the best atmosphere or working environment). Be sure to chat with other parents about their experiences with the school. Do their children enjoy going to the school? Would they honestly recommend it to others?
Go to as many open days as possible. By visiting a school in person, you will get a good sense of the school environment and atmosphere. Keep in mind that everyone in the school will be on their best behavior, but opening days can give you a real idea of how the school operates. Make sure to ask lots of questions and check out as many facilities as possible.
The Good Schools Guide makes a lot of good recommendations when it comes to questions to ask on open day.
What it the school head like? How do the pupils and staff behave when the head is around? Does he or she know the children by their names? Are the classroom clean and well-resourced? Do artwork displays showcase work from all children? Are the children well-mannered? Are the classroom hives of activity or perhaps a little bit too quiet? Are the toilets clean? Can pupils go to the loo whenever they want? Is there access to clean drinking water? What do the kids do during playtime? How does the school teach reading? Is a particular programme used? How often does someone listen to the children reading aloud? Are there any additional helpers in the classroom such as volunteers and teaching assistants? Does the school encourage parents to help? Are the pupils grouped into different sets for teaching? What sorts of extra help is offered if children are struggling? What types of new technology is available and how often is it used?
What extracurricular activities are offered and/or organized? Can children learn to play a musical instrument? Are there any after-school sports clubs? What does your gut tell you?
This post from Tradewind sheds light on what is needed for a high quality primary education.
Never underestimate the importance of your gut feeling. While you might not be able to clearly articulate why you feel one school is better than another – in fact on paper, the school may look worse – you know your child better than anyone and you can picture which environment would make them happiest.
Keep your child’s talents and personality at the forefront of your mind. For instance, If your little one is naturally more introverted they would probably be happier in a smaller school than a big primary with over 800 pupils. If they’re full of energy and like the outdoors, you know you need to look for schools with lots of safe outside spaces. Do you think your child would perform better in a school with strict discipline or would they be more likely to thrive in a more relaxed teaching environment? Matching the school to your little one is always the best option if it’s possible.