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is "commuting"; to primary school worth it??

(51 Posts)
amylitten12 Wed 22-Oct-14 19:55:22

My ds is almost 4 and starting school next year. He is (as far as we know) NT but is quite sensitive and still has tantrums, gets stressed in large groups, sometimes refuses to cooperate, etc. He doesn't make friends easily although has a few friends we've known for a long time. At preschool I think he mainly does his own thing but not disliked by other children iyswim.

Our catchment school is very big intake of 90 a year. I am very worried about how my son will cope in such an environment as especially in reception it is freeflow between classes with huge numbers of undirected children roaming around. It is Ofsted rated good and has an ok reputation locally though a lot of parents like me are put off by the size. It is a 5 minute walk from where we live. Because of where we live (i.e. right by the big school) we are very unlikely to get into any other school locally as all tend to be full.

About 8 miles away there is a much smaller school. It would take about 25 minutes to get there in the morning. We are likely to get in as although it is one form entry it tends to be undersubscribed. It is in a small rural village and has about 15 in a year (mixed classes) and about 100 pupils overall. Ofsted rating is good.

We are thinking of sending our son to the smaller school. But have reservations about him not having local friends, having to drive so far, the school perhaps being too small etc.

I know that only we actually know our son but wondered if anyone had also done this or had any views? Many thanks.

Clobbered Wed 22-Oct-14 19:58:15

I've done this with all three of my kids. The "commute" was a pain, but school is so important, we felt it was better for them to be in the right environment and put up with the travelling. We've never put a great deal of emphasis on visiting with friends, so it wasn't a big deal for us, but might be for you. No doubt others will have very different views. Do what's right for your child and your family.

YouAreMyRain Wed 22-Oct-14 20:00:08

I would go local. He has more chance of finding peers that he gels with and can form friendships with in a larger cohort. Also large schools can have more expertise and specialisms because there are so many pupils.

perrinelli Wed 22-Oct-14 20:00:23

If the smaller one is usually undersubscribed could you start him at your local one and see how it goes? He may be ok then it would be a lot nicer not to have to commute. If things didn't go well then perhaps you could transfer?

tippytappywriter Wed 22-Oct-14 20:05:11

I was really surprised how much my dd changed when she went to school. Having a larger intake means there is more chance there will be someone they will get on with?
An hour round trip twice a day is quite a lot. Is that something you could sustain in the long term? Do you work? How would childcare work out? If you are ill is there someone else who can do the school run? I found having the school 5 mins away I have friends in the same road who can take the children if I am ill or need to be in work early.
I guess you'll get a gut feeling about what is right for you.

Pooka Wed 22-Oct-14 20:12:29

On paper, I'd go for the larger school, but as clobbered said, is a personal decision.

My reasoning:

More pupils = more money, which can mean a larger school has better facilities and support services than a smaller school. This is on my experience wrt SEN for example, access to behavioral team/more TAs etc. You've obv said they your ds is NT, so this aspect may not be so importing to you.

15 in a year would worry me. What if 12 are girls and 3 are boys? What if your ds doesn't gel with them? While some see larger cohorts as resulting in dc getting 'lost', I tend to see it more in terms of a larger pool of potential friends.

25mins drive, possibly 4 times a day (there and back) would really get tedious. Not much chance of any of the 15 cohort living just round the corner. Limits play potential after school. Tiring. Expensive. Not much opportunity for gradually increasing independence towards yrs 5 or 6 by walking home by self.

So those would be my concerns.

Have you asked for detailed info re how the reception cohort at the big school is organised? My dcs go to 2 form entry. 2 classrooms, interconnecting. Free flow at certain times if the day, but heavily supervised by class teachers and TAs (there are 3 covering reception, so 5 adults for 60 dcs). Tables set up in different activities and the staff organising groups according to tasks they've planned. It sounds like should be chaotic, but really isn't. A good school will be able to ensure that children who work better or are happier in smaller groups settle well. There's an outstanding (though I don't generally set much store by ofsted) school nearby that is 6 form entry, so 180 dcs in reception. They manage this brilliantly, and have very healthy budget for TAs and extras.

sunnyrosegarden Wed 22-Oct-14 20:57:50

Have you looked around the larger school? I would ask if it is possible to make an appointment to speak to the head or reception teacher and explain your worries. This will give you an idea of how approachable the school is.

My eldest was very similar (we eventually found out that the "tantrums" were basically panic attacks). He is in a single form entry school, but 30 in the class, and has thrived. Larger classes mean more friendship opportunities. He started playing with the girls, then became closer to the boys in juniors.

starlight1234 Wed 22-Oct-14 21:03:38

I had similar concerns for my DS.. the nursery said he joined in well in small groups but in large groups tended to go quiet.

I sent my DS to local school with 2 class entry. I think a bigger school was the best thing for him ..He doesn't have a best friend but lots of friends.

I also remember from my own experience I went to a very small junior school and then when I moved up to secondary school which was huge I never managed to settle in.

I would visit both schools and see what you think but you will be suprised how much they grow in confidence in a year

WhoKnowsWhereTheSlimeGoes Wed 22-Oct-14 21:15:59

My DCs are in Yrs 4 and 6 of a single form (200 pupil) primary 5 mins walk from home.

Do you have or are you planning to have any younger DCs? If so you are looking at many, many years of that commute, then if one wants to do an afterschool club but not the other you are hanging around with one, although a smaller school is less likely to have many of these. Do you see yourself volunteering to help at school or being on the PTA? Much easier if you are nearby. Also easier for all the harvest festivals, nativity plays etc. Also the independence of walking home and the social opportunities of walking with others are important. Bigger schools do tend to have better facilities, more events going on etc. Also more than one class per year means they are not stuck with the same classmates for 7 years. My DCs school is single form and relationships start getting strained between some children in the last couple of years, I imagine an even smaller school could be worse for that.

Oh and living close by friends really comes into its own as they get older, my friends and I do a lot of picking each others DCs up when we have to work a bit late or go somewhere, share a lot of the walks to Cubs, sports activities etc. We are never, ever late to school because of traffic or parking or snow. We can pop back easily with a forgotten lunchbox or PE kit.

childrensservant Wed 22-Oct-14 21:38:45

Would you get in at the small school? what is the catchment area? Is it always undersubscribed?

NotQuiteSoBig Wed 22-Oct-14 22:18:04

My DD went to a small village school from reception through to Y5 and suffered from bullying. It was difficult to make friends because of the small number of children to choose from. We moved her for Y6 due to lots of teacher changes on top of the bullying. This was to another small village school. Totally different there as she thrived with the different set of children and the teachers.

It will depend a lot on the actual intake of children in your DS's year. She was very unlucky with the first set and very lucky with the second. We wondered if she would have been better in a larger school...

NotCitrus Wed 22-Oct-14 22:18:17

I'd start with the larger school. I was worried about how my ds would cope with a 90-intake school, but it really has worked well - they create groups from across all three classes for some activities to help certain kids, and it means the boys who don't like football still have plenty of others to play with.

I had to commute 45 min to school from age 7 and while I liked the school bus, I never got to have my close friends visit and had no friends within walking distance, so wanted my kids to go to a local school if possible. Most of ds's friends are within a 20 min walk or short bus ride.

Greengrow Thu 23-Oct-14 07:51:09

My oldest went on a school coach to Haberdashers when she was five. She did really well and loved it. The commute was fine as older children look after younger one on the school coaches and the school tries to put people who live near each other in the same class. Don't worry about long commutes.

WhoKnowsWhereTheSlimeGoes Thu 23-Oct-14 07:55:59

Also small village schools are far less likely to have breakfast / after school clubs if those are needed.

OOAOML Thu 23-Oct-14 08:15:12

How close is the undersubscribed school to other schools? I'd be worried about the risk of closure, but then our local council has form for closing primaries which are under capacity.

The closer school would be the first option I'd explore - the school day can be very tiring especially for young children; he'd know some people, unlike having to get to know a small set of children who probably all know each other already; easier to get to and from school for parents evenings, plays etc; easier to plan for clubs like Beavers without factoring in a commute.

BUT speak to the school and nursery about what kind of transition programme they offer, and see how he seems to be coping with the idea.

wonkylegs Thu 23-Oct-14 08:25:29

DS went to a tiny school at reception
But then we moved and couldn't get into the village school at the new house and got given a place at a very large school in the next town - 3.5class intake, approx 100kids for DS's year. I was really worried about how he'd cope but actually he gets far more individual attention at this school than he ever got before. The larger numbers mean they can stream the kids by need, they also have more TAs and student teachers on hand so the adult input is far greater than at the smaller school.
DS was a bit intimidated by the numbers of kids for the first few days but quickly made friends.
Go and visit the larger school & see what it feels like. I was quietly surprised by how well they dealt with the numbers and a year on I'm very impressed with the school overall.

louisejxxx Thu 23-Oct-14 09:53:52

My ds started reception this year and we chose to send him to a village school rather than our "catchment" school in the town we live. The village school is 15 mins away but because of the location of the catchment school and the parking situation I probably wouldn't be having to leave much later for pickups and drop offs, not to mention the experience is less stressful.

Before anyone flames me, I know ofsted isn't the be all and end all, but what the report like for the bigger school? As well as the reasons you have given, one of our reasons for making the decision that we did was that the school was RI and recent reports highlighted it was getting worse not better.

JoandMax Thu 23-Oct-14 10:02:36

DS1 started at a small local village primary, less than 5 minutes walk from home and it was a lovely introduction to school. We were really happy with it.

Then we moved abroad and he's now in a school with 8 classes per year and a good 20 minute drive away. I was so anxious about it and thought we'd both hate it but it's been the opposite! He's had so many opportunities with more children - far more sports and extra curricular activities, able to find children with the same interests etc

I'm used to the drive now and mostly it doesn't bother me but it's a pain for play dates and when DS1 has an after school club as Ds2 and I have to hang around. Also we can only have one child coming for a play date at a time as I can only fit 3 car seats in my car......

In your position is start at the bigger school and see how he goes. If he's unhappy then as the other school is undersubscribed you could think about moving him then

Jennifersrabbit Thu 23-Oct-14 10:13:18

I decided to send DS for various reasons including what turned out to be SN, across town to a school I felt would meet his needs particularly well.
It's an expanding 2-300 pupil school with 1 form entry rising to 1.5. It has worked really well for him as everyone in school knows him and it feels like a safe environment. They also have a well deserved excellent reputation with special needs and more vulnerable children.
Practically the commute is do-able but it is a pain. As others have said after school activities are a particular nuisance. For eg tomorrow evening both kids want to be at the school disco 6-7 for ks1, 7-8.30 for ks2. If we lived five minutes away it would be child's play to swop them over, as it is it's a major logistical exercise. Similarly if DD wants to go to a friends house for tea it isn't easy to simply stroll round the corner and collect her. Etc etc.
I would worry about whether if the school is that small and rural, all the other kids will have very firm roots in the village. It's also possible that the school may have less experience of dealing with children who need more care and attention for whatever reason.
BUT I would say that for us, the inconvenience of the commute is well outweighed by having two happy, thriving children - one would have done well anywhere I think, but DS is quite a particular kettle of fish and finding the right school for him mattered enormously.
I would say go and look closely at both schools and don't choose on size alone - ask about how structured they are with reception kids, how they support the shy and vulnerable, etc etc.
good luck!

500smiles Thu 23-Oct-14 10:15:50

Closest school. We did the commute because of DS' ASD - it was a nightmare in the snow, he missed out socially as all his friends were a long way away, if either of the DC forgot something / were poorly / there was an event on, doing several return trips just ate out most of the day.

insanityscratching Thu 23-Oct-14 12:06:06

My dd did foundation stage in a tiny primary so there were 24 children in the morning when the nursery children were there and 12 in the afternoon when it was just reception. She moved then at y1 to a three form entry school.
Looking round the large school I felt dd had had a better foundation stage purely because of the large number of children in a free play environment whereas dd's foundation was very calm quiet and well organised and suited her better. Once in y1 she was absolutely fine in a class with 25 pupils as they tended to remain within their class for the majority of the day.
Both schools were equidistant from our home and neither of them were our local catchment school. Would that be an option fror you? reception in the small school moving to your local school in y1.

WhoKnowsWhereTheSlimeGoes Thu 23-Oct-14 13:12:29

It might not be easy to get a place in a different school in Year 1, not many people are changing school at that point unless they have to through moving house etc and class size limits still apply, although living so close would get you up the waiting list.

amylitten12 Thu 23-Oct-14 20:25:56

thanks for all the helpful replies! Feeling really torn between the 2 schools now! I had a look at both schools and much preferred the smaller one. The larger one had kids everywhere and teachers working in small groups with some kids (this is in reception) but the vast majority just roaming around with not much supervision at all.
The small school was an oasis of calm in comparison.
I could go for the big school first but worried that my son would be really unsettled if I then tried to move him.

WhoKnowsWhereTheSlimeGoes Thu 23-Oct-14 20:40:02

Well, if you walked into my DCs school reception classes any afternoon of the week that is what you'd see (small groups working with the teacher the rest playing). However they aren't just playing unsupervised it is "learning through play" they are all being watched and helped by the TAs and often a parent volunteer or two. All the things they are playing with are carefully chosen and designed to be educational, some indoors, some out (classroom doors open into a small covered, gated playground and garden), the small groups do 15 min stints with the teacher and move on, which is plenty long enough for formal work at their age in the afternoons. It works really well.

amylitten12 Thu 23-Oct-14 20:47:28

problem is my son doesn't cope well in crowds unless very structured. he would be stressed by the roaming - might be better in yr 1 though. but obviously reception is first and he is an autumn born so can't even avoid reception by staying in nursery longer.

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