How on earth do people actually know which school is right for their children?

(53 Posts)
JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 09:48:52

I'm just pondering really - ds is at secondary already and fingers crossed, won't need to move.

Looking back on how I chose primary I'm really not sure I picked the right one. I went for one that was fluffier, less strict, less pushy thinking that anything too rigid wouldn't suit him at all, but then he was 4! And actually, the more strictly structured lessons he has now (such as in maths) are the ones he does far better in.

And of course now I'm thinking that I should have sent him to a more traditional secondary grin

I often read threads on MN where posters list their requirements for a school ("strong academics", "traditional", "caring" etc etc). How do people know this?

Like I said this really is just a ponder...

slipshodsibyl Tue 09-Apr-13 09:53:40

You don't until they are there. Even then you will never knowforsure as you can tore run the experiment with the same child at a different school. Much of the agonising on here is wishful thinking and telling ourselves that we have more control and knowledge than we do. It is exacerbated in the case of private education since parents are paying and feel they are exercising choice in a greater way.

If you like the school and it is well regarded then it will have more in common with other schools than it will have differences, state and private.

Hope your children have a happy school life.

slipshodsibyl Tue 09-Apr-13 09:54:17

'As you can not run the same experiment.' Sorry

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 10:21:22

You're right of course.

I think the realisation that ds is growing up so bloody fast and that "the experiment" is so far on gives me doubts. I wouldn't have convinced him to go to another secondary anyway - he wanted to go to this one and even if he'd have done better in theory elsewhere, he'd have resented it.

I also think it's taken being away from the primary for a while to see its faults. Not that it was dreadful or anything.

yy to there being more similarities than differences, and to us thinking we have more control and knowledge than we do.

ShoeHorn Tue 09-Apr-13 10:24:06

You don't really know a school until you hve been there and experienced it for yourself. Lots of schools have marvellous websites and reviews, but it does not suit every child.

It was trial and error with our dc. We moved school if we felt it was right.

janinlondon Tue 09-Apr-13 11:47:11

I think there is great merit in going with the child's gut feeling. If they really want a school, they will probably be happy in it. DD knew, absolutely, which school she wanted at age 4, and again at 11. And was right both times. Though there may have also been an element of being determined to be right in her choice once she was there!

moonbells Tue 09-Apr-13 12:09:16

I just went with the school I'd have liked/done best to have gone to! Assuming DS has a lot of my character traits (which he has) and also DH's, he needs 'firm handling' as it were, or he'll run rings round the teachers. We chose one that has a reputation for expecting high standards of behaviour from the kids, and good academics.

So far (Reception!) he loves it.

PiHigh Tue 09-Apr-13 12:21:29

We chose the one where the staff made DD1 feel comfortable at the open evening. She's quite quiet/shy and I wanted somewhere that she felt comfortable. the school we chose was very much about developing their social sides as well as the academic side.

I've no idea how she would be at the other schools we considered but at the one we chose she has definitely made lots of progress and they've encouraged her to be more confident.

Talkinpeace Tue 09-Apr-13 13:10:29

because its the local one and there is little or no choice?

Pyrrah Tue 09-Apr-13 13:26:38

I'm the eldest of 4 - with big age gaps - and my parents got through most of the private schools in the area between all of us since we all had different personalities and needs.

I saw how they picked things and what I liked and didn't like about schools which helps a lot when looking at DD.

It probably makes a difference if you are someone who believes that you are buying a service (state - taxes, private - big cheque) and if you don't get what you want you will vote with your feet compared with someone who just picks the local school and doesn't worry unless child is v unhappy there. Neither stance is bad, just different ways of looking.

With DD, I already know that she is very confident, extroverted and gregarious. She's also very bright but will do the minimum she can get away with (picked up by current teacher quite fast). I therefore want a pushy school with small teaching groups who will expect her to fulfill her potential rather than 'just' tick the SATs box. As she is so outgoing I wasn't worried about whether she was in a smaller or larger school. If my nephew was my child I would be looking for somewhere more nurturing and not too pushy.

Lots of people say it's too early to tell what a child is like when they are 4/5. I think it's hard to say exactly how academic or otherwise they will be at that age, but basic personality traits will be pretty clear in a lot of children. Things like shyness can be helped, but an extrovert child is unlikely to suddenly become a wallflower.

TeWiSavesTheDay Tue 09-Apr-13 13:32:15

I have no idea really!

DD doesn't even start school until September. I ended up picking a school that was quite similar to the kind of school I went to, probably because it felt more familiar so I was more confident in what they were doing.

I discounted two schools for being very crowded (not all that big schools, but in tiny buildings/classrooms) because I though DD would get lost. Maybe she would have thrived in that kind of environment, I have no way of knowing.

GreatUncleEddie Tue 09-Apr-13 13:38:52

Always remember that many children would be just fine at any of a number of different schools.

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 14:08:46

I remember going to ds's very first parents evening and discovering that he was quite different at school to the way I thought I knew him! And now he's on the brink of his teens I feel like I'm having to get to know him all over again. Which thinking about it (as I write) makes sense because whilst of course he's still ds, he's growing fast.

I know actually that a few of the things that completely turned me off at least one school were far more about me - there were rules/priorities that I knew I'd have to support but wouldn't be happy about for example. I suppose when people post shopping lists maybe again it's as much about them and what they want as about finding the best fit for their children.

That's not necessarily a bad thing - if school and parents disagree over

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 14:09:23


if school and parents disagree over policies and priorities, it's never going to be in a child's best interests.

ATouchOfStuffing Tue 09-Apr-13 14:13:35

I am starting to think about this now and DD is only 20mo! Mainly because people keep asking if I have 'put her down' for a place somewhere. I am now starting to panic that I don't A. Know what they mean and B. Whether I should be visiting schools now !
One of the schools I would love her to go to is private and I think I can just about afford it, but it is hard to know what will happen in a few years. In this respect I wonder if I do need to put her on a waiting list now.
Did you have to register them somewhere? God I feel really clueless about it all tbh!

QTPie Tue 09-Apr-13 14:21:20

ATouchofStuffing, we signed DS for his school (where he is going to start preschool next week - now. 3 years 2 months) when he was 18 months old.

We went for somewhere with a similar ethos to our own parenting (traditional, good discipline, respect for others, but caring), somewhere with great staff, great facilities, somewhere where sports are also important.

It is important to consider not only what suits your DC, but also remember that school and peers have a huge influence in shaping your DC (school age is when a parent becomes a lot less influential as other influences take over). This is why many parents drive themselves demented trying tiger their DC into a good school.

But agree with a previous poster, there should be more than one "right" school for any child.

QTPie Tue 09-Apr-13 14:23:27

Oh and we wanted somewhere where academic excellence was encouraged and opportunities available to stretch DS: he will get bored if he coasts along (much as I did).

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 14:32:49

But how do you know he'll get bored, QT? Or that he'd coast elsewhere?

(sorry I don't mean to sound confrontational!).

ATouch of - you can't put your child's name down for a state school. The situation will differ with private schools, depending on demand I imagine. If you want you child to go to Radley when he's 13, you'd better get a wriggle on. But I think that's quite an extreme example grin

mumofthemonsters808 Tue 09-Apr-13 14:37:53

Here in Greater Manchester it is not the case of which school you prefer it is which school you can get into.Long gone are the days when a place at your local school was guaranteed.

Xenia Tue 09-Apr-13 14:39:56

I suppose we started with day schools in the top 20 for A level results in the UK and that worked fine. You only tend to have a choice in places that are not worth going to and if it is a very good school there will be a lot of competition to obtain a place and the school chooses your child not vice versa. That is one way of looking at it. The older 3 who have all graduated by now seemed to do okay that way.

On the putting names down schools like Haberdashers, North London Collegiate where ours went there is no advantage in putting a name down early. There will be a deadline the year before but if you let first in go then children who are not at all bright would get in. you have to sort by IQ in effect and you cannot so easily do that 5 years before they start.

TeWiSavesTheDay Tue 09-Apr-13 14:41:15

If it is private I would ask the ones you like what their policy is. Sometimes you do have to put the name down early.

With state schools everyone chooses at the same time and even if the school has a name down system, here at least it doesn't give those kids any priority over places, it just means the school will contact you about how to apply etc at the right time.

GreatUncleEddie Tue 09-Apr-13 15:20:11

"You only tend to have a choice in places that are not worth going to"

Xenia you have surpassed yourself there I think.

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 15:30:33

That did make me grin GreatUncle, although I get the impression that some people (rightly or wrongly) feel the same about the state sector.

QTPie Tue 09-Apr-13 16:18:22

JenaiMorris, because he takes after me (and that was easy to identify by 18 months).

Doesn't mean that he would be bored and coast everywhere, but he needs opportunities.

My experience of school was that it just catered for the middle ground and probably didn't support either end of the wider spectrum very well.

BertieBotts Tue 09-Apr-13 16:25:15

Stuffing only if you're looking private. If you're going for state schools you can't "put their name down" at 20 months anyway. You apply the Christmas before they would start, so start looking the previous September.

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 16:30:34

Ds continues to throw up surprises. I'm not sure if that's just me not being very intuitive or him being mercurial grin

Latest, I was massively impressed by the work he's been doing in art. He's been surrounded by 'naturals' (at school, not home) and he didn't have much confidence. But he's clearly being taught well and is really enjoying it - he's really proud of what he's achieving. I thought he'd love geography, but he's really quite 'meh' about it. Ditto science and design tech. But he's doing really well in French. I couldn't have predicted any of this.

ATouchOfStuffing Tue 09-Apr-13 17:33:54

Thank you everyone, really helpful. I think I am erring towards private for juniors at least with the hope the early years are the best foundations. Live in a grammar area so hoping that will be the way forward for seniors. Just seems mad to be thinking about it all already when she's still in the baby section of nursery! Was worried it would cause hmm and eyebrow raising to approach schools with a 20mo but it is a popular-ish one locally so need to make inquiries! I assume take a tour too? <wonders if she should 'dress up' and vaguely panics about dull wardrobewink >

ATouchOfStuffing Tue 09-Apr-13 17:35:51

OP My great aunt was head of Geography at a well known girls school and was horrified I didn't choose it for GCSE's. She was adamant that if I had been sent to 'her' school I would have!

happygardening Tue 09-Apr-13 18:37:49

You don't especially in the independent senior school sector as in a way most are so very samish, once you've taken results etc out of the equation. They use the same jargon on their websites and prospectus, same guided tours by bright eyed and bushy tailed students, teacher all looking interested hanging on your every word. If you ever look at the videos on school websites they even use the same bloody music and the same science experiment blowing something up (yawn). In the end you take a leap of faith and go with your gut feelings. You may get it wrong but IMO if you do and are able you need to move on ASAP and find another hopefully more suitable option.

Talkinpeace Tue 09-Apr-13 18:39:23

If its any relief, state schools seem to pick the students who would do well at Public school to do their tours and pictures / videos wink

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 18:52:40

Crikey a couple of them were so shiny faced, glossy haired and smart of blazer I wondered if they were actually real grin

teacherwith2kids Tue 09-Apr-13 20:20:39

I didn't think I'd know - specialkly as for DS's first school I only had one choice, thought it was OK and turned out that I was wrong.

So when we moved I toured EVERYWHERE (with the children, as DS was being HEd at the time so that he could be mended - his first head having declared that she didn't think he would ever again be able to attend a mainstream school).

And suddenly, it was really clear - from the way the head spoke about the school, from the way the staff reacted to my children, from all the subtle things that you get from comparing places and not from just seeing one IYSWIM. In the school we chose, the head took my children by the hands, saying ' Let me show you my school. I like it, and I think you will too'. In the school we ran a mile from, the head said 'Let me show you how we keep this school an Ofsted Outstanding', and completely ignored the children...

MintyyAeroEgg Tue 09-Apr-13 20:24:49

Where I live the dc very much have to make do and mend. We had precisely one choice of primary and two of secondary (plus another secondary that has lottery allocation - we didn't "win").

I PMSL at the idea of parental choice!

teacherwith2kids Tue 09-Apr-13 20:31:53

Minty, I appreciate that - where we used to live, there was 1 choice of primary and sometimes 1 [more often 0, with children being sent to all sorts on appeal / over PAN] secondary.

When we moved, as in-year admissions in a low birth year, we genuinely had a choice of 5 or 6 schools - but still, as it turned out, only 1 choice of secondary and that only just (furthest admission distance 1 road away).

YellowandGreenandRedandBlue Tue 09-Apr-13 20:37:02

I feel it is very random, this child a in this year group with this teacher may get along very well, child b may not.

I think choose for any good reason (I.e. the best after school club might be really important to some, or non-denominational, or excellent maths club for those with a talent, or an amazing head, or loads of sports clubs) and then review it every year. And don't be scared to move if it is carefully thought about.

And happiness comes before academic side every time IMO because you can add extra learning but can't take away bullying or loneliness.

difficultpickle Tue 09-Apr-13 21:25:06

I think it is really hard to make the right pick. Ds went to a Montessori nursery and loved it. So much so that if there had been a Montessori school within striking distance I would have sent him there. However now he is 8 and his school life is very rigid and highly structured and he absolutely loves it. Not something I would have guessed when he was 2. Basic character traits have remained the same but the environment he is educated in has changed hugely.

It is also hard to look at your own child objectively. For me that has got easier as ds gets older and his personality has developed. He is nothing like me which came as a bit of a shock and does make parenting a challenge.

creamteas Tue 09-Apr-13 21:26:19

I am a great believer in community schools and am lucky to live in an area that still has defined catchment areas (distance from school is only used for non-catchment applications).

So mine all went to our catchment primary and secondary (and when I bought my house, I wasn't planning on having kids so this was not a consideration). Over the 15 years I was a parent at the primary, the school went up and down in terms of ranking and inspections and both was and wasn't a preferred destination for out of area parents. Same school, same HT and same ethos. The secondary much the same.

The way that the schools are perceived (academic, caring, traditional etc) varies enormously depending on the person describing it, and I don't think any two parents would ever agree!

NeverendingStoryteller Tue 09-Apr-13 22:10:26

We chose our DS's new primary school based on its proximity and association with a middle school, and because of the school's outstanding commitment to outdoor education and sports, and because it felt right when we visited (twice - once to look around and once with classroom time). We also found that the staff were kind and helpful when I made a telephone query about places. Another school (which is closer) responded to my queries about a place with open hostility and rudeness.

DS will now stay at the same primary/middle school until he's 14. At that stage we will have a good idea of where he's going in life (academic vs sporty vs tekkie vs hands-on vs outdoorsy vs musical, or any combination of these) and we'll choose a high school based on how he develops interests and strengths as he grows up.

Good luck with this journey!

happygardening Tue 09-Apr-13 22:20:20

I agree parents often wont ever agree. We often want different things and our DC's will often behave/perform/respond differently in the same school.
You do need to try and find a school that matches your own outlook on life, this is not easy because not only are we often unable to clearly define our own ethos and schools don't make theirs very clear. I am slack, liberal, uniform/meaningless ritual hating. jargon loathing parent it was not easy to find a school that matched our outlook and we had a to compromise but am exceedingly happy with our choice ok its not a perfect fit; thankfully they are not slack but it works for my DS and us as well. But this does not mean ot would work for everyone else.

Talkinpeace Tue 09-Apr-13 22:28:16

You do need to try and find a school that matches your own outlook on life
That is a luxury only available to the richest few percent of the population.
The rest of us have to put up with what the state provides local to where we can afford to live.

happygardening Tue 09-Apr-13 22:35:15

Yes ultimately complete freedom is only open to the "richest few" but many have some choice of senior state school especially those living in cities and at primary level even those like me who are rural can have quite a few choices where possible should try and find one that comes as close to their ethos on life as possible.

JenaiMorris Tue 09-Apr-13 23:05:15

We have a good range of state schools; I appreciate that's not the case everywhere.

Private isn't an option for us but that's fine - I'm not convinced the local private schools would suit ds anyway and I can't really see him at Eton.

YellowandGreenandRedandBlue Tue 09-Apr-13 23:13:25

Talkinpeace - in some areas there is plenty of choice in state sector, I know not everywhere but this is another aspect of postcode lottery - some areas have over subscribed schools, others have spaces in many good schools.

duchesse Tue 09-Apr-13 23:22:22

From my son's point of view, any school where he wasn't unhappy to the point of self-harming to avoid going. Also from his pov, a school where the teachers don't try to come up with a pathological diagnosis every year (autistic/naughty/lazy/dreamy/lazy/away with the fairies).

From my DD1's pov, practically any school would have been fine.

From my DD2's pov, any school was fine that didn't cause her to hide under tables and/or refuse to go back after the summer break. That turned out to be not all that many schools in the end.

For the record all my three oldest children are very bright but with very different personalities. When they were very small I NEVER envisaged sending them to private schools, but there's something about a child that is so unhappy that even you dread sending them back in every day. They are all perfectly lovely and balanced individuals (all mid- to late-teens now) and all very high-achieving academically.

YellowandGreenandRedandBlue Tue 09-Apr-13 23:59:07

Duchesse sad it is crap when it isn't right. Glad they're happier now.

Talkinpeace Wed 10-Apr-13 18:24:09

And outside large cities, many areas have very few schools.
Something that Londoners - especially policy makers ranting about "choice" seem to forget.
If you live on Dartmoor, all other options are not relevant.

JenaiMorris Wed 10-Apr-13 19:00:41

Yellow you are so right about the randomness - there are so many variables. It's not just the teacher for a particular class, group or subject it's the other children.

Sometimes the dynamic just doesn't work for a particular child - too many big characters in a group, too few big characters in a group - you name it.

JenaiMorris Wed 10-Apr-13 19:06:10

Talkin - I do understand that. I'm not in London but had the choice of six schools in the small city we live adjacent to and at least two in neighbouring, rural towns.

Two of those schools might have required a fraught period on a waiting list (I really wasn't bothered enough about those to put ds through that) and a few would have required more travel than I'd have been prepared to make ds go through, but all in all we had some pretty good options.

I appreciate that we're fortunate in that however.

YellowandGreenandRedandBlue Wed 10-Apr-13 19:07:09

Talkinpeace - I have no idea about London or Dartmoor! Was just speaking from my own experiences.

happygardening Wed 10-Apr-13 20:14:08

We too in our rural community had a choice of at least five senior school and at least three grammar schools in the next county grammar schools in most cases transport of some description is provided although not necessarily from your front door.

duchesse Wed 10-Apr-13 21:20:39

We live in a rural area not all that far from Exeter and have a choice of two primaries, about as diametrically opposed in their ethos as it's possible to be; and two secondaries of similarly mediocre quality, three if it's a low numbers year and they have space (but the third is 8 miles away). There is one grammar in the entire LEA, to which any child in the UK has access (and plenty of parents move down here to send their children there). So not masses of choice really.

happygardening Wed 10-Apr-13 22:05:26

No not masses of choice duchessse but not no choice.

pointythings Fri 12-Apr-13 20:43:20

We had a choice of two primaries in our area, visited them both and it was very clear which one would suit our DD. At the time they were both OFSTED satisfactory but to my mind that was an unfair assessment in both cases. Both had very different strengths and weaknesses.

It has been a brilliant school for both my DDs, DD2 is still there in Yr5 now.

Re secondary we only have one, so no choice really, but it is a good school with a very strong sixth form.

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