Choosing a primary school
Armed with Ofsted reports and league tables, the discerning parent visits all the schools in the local area and makes a decision as to where their child will best thrive. Parent applies and child is offered a place.
How to choose a school: the practice
Having made the key decision, the parent finds out that in order to get into the appropriate school they will need to move to within a metre of the school gates, convert to Catholicism and come up with an elder sibling already at the said school.
Age five is a watershed in your child's life (and yours) because from this point, you are legally obliged to ensure your child gets an appropriate education. This may be via:
- State (primary) school
- Private school
- Home education
The vast majority of kids in the UK are educated in state primaries. Of the remainder, most are privately educated.
If you'll be among the parents packing their progeny off to a state school (phew, no more nursery fees), you need to get a copy of your free local education authority prospectus booklet (known in most areas as the Information for Parents booklet). It's usually published in the summer and your local library should have copies. It explains:
- The application process and deadlines
- The number of pupils at each school
- How places are allocated if the school is oversubscribed
There are five types of state school:
- Community - common or garden state schools (formerly County schools).
- Foundation - mainly former grant-maintained schools. Governing body owns land, employs staff and is the admission authority with the LEA. Some LEA representation on governing body.
- Voluntary aided - owned by a voluntary body, usually religious, who appoint most of the governors. LEA-funded except building and repair costs, which are shared between governing body, LEA and government. Governing body is admission authority - with consultation again from LEA - and may prioritise practising members of the relevant religion.
- Voluntary controlled - like voluntary aided, but with mainly LEA-appointed governors and the LEA as admission authority.
- Community special and Foundation special - for pupils with severe special educational needs.
League tables show the type - community, foundation etc - of school, its age range and size. A quick calculation will tell you whether the Year 6 number of pupils is roughly equal to the total number of pupils divided by the number of years. If not, check out if it is either getting more or less popular over the years.
Next come a couple of columns that enable you to assess if any 'value' is added - there may be a listing for English as an additional language or for special needs pupils. These factors may help you to see what the school makes of the 'raw materials' it starts with.
The crucial columns show the results at Key Stages - particularly at Stage 2 - currently around 68% of all Year 6 pupils achieve Level 4 or above (the level expected of an average pupil), so use this figure as a rough benchmark.
As with Ofsted reports, be aware that the tables represent only a snapshot - things can change incredibly quickly with the arrival or departure of key teaching staff, especially in primary education. Also be aware that, as much as anything, a 'good school' may mean a high level of motivated and interested parents, rather than anything intrinsic to that school.
Search online at Directgov for a list of the primary schools in your area and on your local authority website for details about individual schools.
"I found all the info on our local council website, including details of how many metres away from a school it was necessary to live in order to gain a place." MadamePlatypus
Obviously, all sorts of considerations, such as distance from your house, where friends from your child's nursery/preschool are going, the size of the school, Ofsted reports and local opinion will influence your schools shortlist.
"For me, one of the important things was for DS to be able to walk to school, go to a childminder with local kids and be with his friends." Bozza
"Your first point of call should be your local LEA website. Our local one has all sorts of handy info and links to Ofsted reports. The Ofsted reports are not the be all and end all. Some of it comes down the 'style' of school you like - for instance, one of our local schools gets outstanding Ofsted reports but is very big and a little impersonal for my liking." PatsyCline
Once you've narrowed down your list of preferred schools, phone the schools and make an appointment to visit or find out when they have open days.
Mumsnet opinion is divided as to whether or not you should take your child on these visits. But if you think they might be very distracting for you (and other parents), go on your own first time round.
"Go and visit all of the ones you're considering; schools on paper/Ofsted reports etc can't tell you whether a school is right for your child. You will know the best school for your child by going to visit." Georgie3
"Does the Head know every child's name (they should do)? Are the children working in a purposeful way? Do they cooperate with each other? Is the children's work displayed on the walls? Are the children polite? What is playtime like? I could go on and on - just go and get the feel. Do you think your child would fit in?" AbbeyA
Of course, once you've found a primary school you like, the next hurdle is applying.