What to look for in a primary school?(9 Posts)
So I've seen lots of threads where posters are advised not to go on OFSTED's ratings alone.
Can anyone give me some thoughts on what one should look for when having a look around? It feels like a minefield!
What's important to you over and above reading writing and maths to average standard?
- push for high achievement for all
- good 'gifted and talented' provision
- support for strugglers
- after school clubs
- before and after school care
- strict behaviour policy
So for my children I wanted nurturing and support for strugglers. Not bothered about sports or what they do for gifted and talented.
One size doesn't fit all.
(But do look for solid phonics teaching, not mixed methods)
What are your own priorities? Do you believe in streaming, ability sets or mixed abilities? How far do you prepare to travel? How does the school support children are either ahead or behind? If you can compare
The schools' websites and news letters. Also number of TAs per rata.
Will you actually have a choice? Many don't in reality. May be worth checking this out before you fall in love with somewhere unrealistic or take against the school next door.
Do your research. Our school is very popular and vastly oversubscribed. Yet if you look at Ofsteds report on a direct link from the schools own website it says that our KS1 results put us in the bottom 20% of the whole country. That's not what the school says.
Also remember that general reputation within the area can be very slow to change. Especially, a negative reputation can hang on for years after the school has improved.
The OFSTED report is a useful starting point though. Take into consideration how long ago it was produced, imo they are a pretty accurate snap shot in time but the trouble is they can be out of date very quickly; a poorly performing school can turn itself around and an outstanding one can loose focus and good staff and go downhill.
So consider what it says and ask questions of the Head about this when you go to look around, you will be able to tell a lot from their answers. If it's not a good report ask to see their plans for improvement if it's outstanding ask what they are doing to maintain that and towards continuous improvement.
When you look around think about how well kept the school is, if it looks unloved then it probably is.
I agree with the posters who've said to take into account school clubs, even if you don't think your DCs will want to join any, it is an indication of a thriving school community.
It really depends on what you are looking for, what your family and your children are like. Ask yourself what kind of school would fit with your family.
I'm not too fussed about an "outstanding" Ofsted rating. (I've worked in an outstanding school and it was a very high-pressure environment...and I get to visit quite a few schools as a teacher.) I'd want a school that can be flexible and adjust provision according to pupils' needs. My own children will be bilingual, which will most likely be flagged up as a special need. Our village primary school has no bilingual or non-British children at present. It's rated RI for a number of reasons.
We would also be in catchment for an outstanding school, but I've had a look around with the consideration of possibly applying there for a job...didn't like it and just didn't feel right. The school has an excellent reputation in the area, though.
Several schools in our area are church schools. That alone would put them lower down on my list. I'd prefer a community school, to be honest, because we are not religious in the least.
Since both DH and I are working, provision before and after school would be an important consideration for us.
I'd want a school that doesn't make a massive fuss about book bands and writing early on, one where parents don't get stressed out about their five-year-old not yet knowing their 12-times-table and multiplying three-digit numbers. Since I was educated abroad myself, I find the idea of making four-year-olds read and write and then to stress about them not doing it quickly enough strangely surreal. I'd expect children of that age to be given lots of opportunities to play with each other, explore their surroundings, listen to stories, learn songs and go outside as much as possible.
If you have a very active child, space to run around in. The best thing about my DCs school is the massive field used for a lot of the year and the large playgrounds. Without the chance to blow off steam my DS would have found school a lot more difficult than he did., and he did find having to be still and quiet in a classroom very difficult.
I'm not that interested in high academic achievement at primary, and especially not in eyfs and Ks1. Lots of play, being outside a lot, nurturing staff, preferably low staff turn over., all these things are important.
Availability of after school club, that again gets kids outside and playing and also availability of childminders that pick up and drop off at the school. There is a lovely small village school near us, no point in even looking round, there is no after school club and not a single childminder drops off there.
Not so sure that organised tours or even questioning the head are much use. Any opportunity to see the school working normally, and the head interacting with the kids, these are useful. Go to the Christmas fair and check out how the head interacts with staff and pupils.
And while Ofsted reports are not the be all and end all, having had kids in a primary that requires improvement, it caused 3 years of upheaval , rapid staff turnover, very few clubs being run and though now much better, is not yet back to the happy relatively relaxed place it was when the kids joined. Only 1 teacher from the old regime remains. So I'd say, stick to the good and outstanding ones if possible as all that upheaval has definitely had a negative impact on my DD's education, it was very disjointed for 2 years , she had many different teachers, and the way the school taught things altered several times, which was confusing.
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