We expect prospective parents to either do both, or just have a personal tour. The open morning is to get a feel for the place and whether it might be a suitable school, the personal tour is to have an in depth tour with an adult and speak to the head, most people who get to the personal tour stage following an open morning will sign up (at our school anyway). No-one signs up just from coming to open morning.
I needed to look at the Learning Support departments when we were looking for a school for DS2, and in each school I wanted to spend some time chatting with the head of learning support. I ended up bribing him with the promise of being allowed to look at every single experiment being demonstrated in the science labs. At each open event, we spent fifteen minutes in learning support then four times as long in the labs! It did help us choose the right school for him, and this year he was one of the pupils demonstrating the experiments.
oh, maybe you are looking at primary. We took toddlers and/or babies in slings to open days and private tours. With our DS, on the last tour we did when he was 3 it was fab seeing how other children and teachers responded to him. In the nursery and reception classes he went and joined in and was welcomed in doing so, which was lovely. I also asked if I could phone with any follow up questions (and asked when a convenient time to do so would be) and this removed the pressure of feeling I had one chance to get out every question I might ever think of.
My experience is Primary, rather than Secondary so may not entirely be relevant, however we did both. Our local school is a little rough around the edges - and this really showed at the open day, in comparison with a nearby much more sought after school. They're simply not as drilled in how to impress in group situations. What we saw in the classrooms was good but the teachers/other staff showing us around seemed uncomfortable and it was all a bit chaotic. We ended up (over the course of 3 years) having two private tours, both of which were led by pupils (from different year groups) and had a good chance to speak to the head and the reception and Y1 teachers. We were convinced by these that this was the right school for us. So far (first few weeks of reception) it seems have been the right choice and I'm very glad we didn't go for the more sought after, larger and more polished school round the corner. When it comes to secondary I will definitely be aiming to do the same if possible. Some schools round here don't like offering personal tours - I understand why, if there is a lot of time pressure, but I would avoid these if I can.
At an open morning you will have the opportunity to talk to more than just the head and see he school in question, also when your child is at chosen school do you want their education and classes disrupted by 30+ sets of individual parents popping their heads in and out? Plus the head and teachers have a school to run!
Any concerns, drop the school an email but I m sure most of what you want to know will be covered at the open days.
We went to the Open Mornings for the general look around, and then contacted the HT to organise a personal tour too. Both gave us good insight and a lot of chance to talk.
Did same for primary and secondary and would definitely recommend both to other parents. We also took DD with us on both occasions, for primary and secondary. Wanted to see how they interacted with her and to get her first impressions too.
I'm a big fan of the pupil-led tours (especially the ones that aren't briefed to give the correct answers!) so will go for the open mornings initially and then book another visit if I feel the need to do so.
If you do find you have loads of questions even after looking round at the open morning, then I'd suggest asking the head of Y7 or one of the deputy/assistant heads. They won't have as many parents waiting to speak to them, and should be at least as well-informed as the head.
The advantages of an open morning are that you can chat to a variety of teachers and pupils and ask questions. You can't do that during an ordinary school day as they are busy teaching/learning (or should be). I tend to make my impression about a school from meeting the pupils and staff much more than just on what the headteacher says. At different times, I have been shown around schools by the headteacher, other staff, parents and pupils. I learned the most by far from the pupil-led tours.
Looking at schools for ds and wondered what others thoughts are re: the above?
My initial thoughts are to attend the open morning as we can just observe from afar and take everything in. However, I don't want to be that parent standing with the head for ages afterwards bombarding him with a barrage of questions (even though I'm sure I will!)...
If we have a personal tour it will be great in that I can ask every question that pops into my head as we walk round, however, a little too formal for my liking and I feel we won't get to see as much as the school as we would do on the open morning.
I think open morning plus personal tour may be a little too pushy (but then it is ds's future we're talking about here...)