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Basic questions from education novices

(15 Posts)
Issymum Tue 15-Jun-04 21:37:32

We are going to look round a school for DD1 on Thursday - a tour of the school then a 10 minute chat with the head. We are completely new to all this and need some top tips from education old-hands on what to look for and what to ask.

Some background: the school is our nearest school and is a non-selective state infant school (ages 5-7). It has a very good reputation locally. Its Ofsted report is way out of date, but was very good and, as far as I can work out from the incredibly confusing SATS statistics, most of the children are a key stage (whatever that may be) ahead of the national average. DD1 is 3.25 and will join in September 2005 (we have to get our application in by this October!). She was adopted from Vietnam as a baby but is an otherwise unexceptional happy three year old who loves pre-school and is pretty much doing exactly what you would expect of a child of her age.

So, Education Gurus, what should we be looking for on Thursday? What are the hallmarks of a 'happy' school (or the reverse)?

codswallop Tue 15-Jun-04 21:50:19

it s a gut feeling, talk to the kids in the clasees

look at the loos ( yes really) and hte displays ar e they all by the kids or the teacher?

ask about methods of praise and reward, how tthey motivate,parental involvement, extra curric
hpow they manage the link to the next school
how they think kids learn best


you will know when its right as you would if it wasnt

codswallop Tue 15-Jun-04 21:51:34

key phrases are leanrning thoufgh play and independendt learning really - I ma sure aprimary specialist wil help more

oh and also find out if they have school council type thing or playground buddies - it show how much they value the kids in the running of hte school

codswallop Tue 15-Jun-04 21:54:55

and how they have adresses the weakenesses int he last ofsted

frogs Tue 15-Jun-04 22:21:21

Look at several other schools, even if they don't have good reputations or you wouldn't consider them for logistical reasons -- almost all schools are nice places to be because most children are actually rather lovely, but it's the differences between schools that will help focus your mind on what's important to you.

My pet question to headteachers is: How do you get children to achieve their best without putting undue pressure on them? You get lots of very different answers to this one, and they can be quite revealing.

cazzybabs Tue 15-Jun-04 22:22:01

What after school clubs they have,
what phonics programme they have,
support for children with SEN on both ends of the spectrum (very able and weak),
number of classroom asssistants,
do they have a PTA,
what are his visions for the school,
where do children move onto,
bullying policy,
do they follow the national numeracy and literacy statergies (schools are advised to but not required to),
how would he deal with a child who was unhappy, what are his views on worksheets,
do they stream children/is work differentiated in class

Hope thats some help - just look at the children - are they quietly working looking interested, what are the teachers doing? Does the school have nice displays/playground etc? What is library like - ohh and very important what is the I.C.T like?

zebra Tue 15-Jun-04 22:24:23

Also:
Who runs the afterschool extra-curricular activities or clubs (said to be better if teachers do)?
Is there a breakfast club or afterschool child care?
How do they handle bullying?
Policies on snacks and contents of packed lunches -- a lot of schools have banned crisps & sweets (hooray!).
Might not see it in such young children, but if the kids are misbehaving around the head, that's a pretty bad sign.

zebra Tue 15-Jun-04 22:26:32

You also have to know your child, would they do better in a quiet studious school or a vibrant, noisy if perhaps less organised one (my eldest, definitely the latter!)? How much does academic achievement matter to you or do you want your child to have room to be a free spirit and treated more as an individual?

Issymum Wed 16-Jun-04 12:02:06

Thanks for all the suggestions - I particularly like the one from the Codfather about inspecting the loos! Some excellent thoughts here - DD1 would probably thrive in a quiet, studious but non-pressurised atmosphere, so that's given me a steer on what to look for.

Any thoughts from anybody else?

PS I'm not sure about the ICT Crazybabbs - DH is on a one-man campaign to abolish what he sees as inappropriate emphasis on ICT in schools. He thinks time spent on a computer is wasted time when it could be spent reading, looking at the way things grow, doing mathematical experiments with sand or water or playing games in the sunshine. His attitude is particularly peculiar as he adores his work and that consists of sitting in a darkened room and building four dimensional computer models of extraordinary complexity!

LIZS Wed 16-Jun-04 12:19:55

Loads of good ideas already.

Think about your dd's strengths and weaknesses. If she is a quiet child will she be happy in their classroom environment. Are there enough quiet activities on offer at the same time as the social play ones. How much opportunity is there for free play, allowing them to experiment and just get a feel for different activities informally, and how is it organised. If she is not a physical child, for example, how would they encourage her to join in and try things she may not naturally choose.

Are there colourful displays of the childrens' "work" of all abilities. How much interaction takes place between year groups ,as they can learn a lot from spending time with children older/younger than themselves. Does the building and equipment seem well maintained and used. Perhaps ask to see a recent newsletter to see what the Parents do as a group, fundraising requests etc. Do they encourage parent volunteers in the classrooms ?

On a more practical note, do they start going all day straight away, half day phasing into full day? What arrangements are there for lunches, snack, rest times etc?

motherinferior Wed 16-Jun-04 12:20:50

Wow, wish I'd read this thread when pathetically looking round schools in our area a couple of months ago...mind you, we don't have to apply for another six months or so.

titchy Wed 16-Jun-04 13:29:07

I posted this a year or so ago - maybe helpful:

Many things to look out for, these are just a few:

How big is the school, how many children in each year - small probably (tho' not definately) means all teachers know all the pupils and your child is more likely to be treated as an individual. Large means more likely to get in!

What sort of settling in do they do for new children e.g. my dd will go (with Playgroup) for a few afternoons in the summer term. When she starts school in September the Reception class has its own toilets, and don't go to main school assembly until summer term. They also have their own playground so are quite 'closeted' for the first year.

How well equipped is the library, do all children have access to it, and when (if can only go for an hour a week not mcuh good, but if they can get a book every lunchtime and afterschool that's obviously much better.

Do they have computers in one room only or one in each classroom. Are the teachers familiar with how to use them! Do the children get to use them regularly.

How big are the classrooms? Is there lots of childrens work on the walls? Are they bright and airy, or poorly lit and stuffy?

Are the teachers enthusiastic? Is the Head supportive of the teachers and vice versa? How welcome are parents? Can parents get involved in the School, through the PTA or whatever?

How often do they have assemblies? How much religious worship is there might be an important question to ask.

Do they offer extra-curricular activities? What range is there and when? (Reception, year 1 and year 2 children do not normally join such clubs but will be useful to know for later).

What are the outdoor facilities like? Small playground or large, sports field or not? What are the toilets like and how many are there? what are school lunches like?

When you visit are their children wandering around aimlessly, are they all sat in silence concentrating hard (personally I think somewhere in between is better - a hum of activity just seems more child-friendly than silence!)

Also you can look at league tables!

School will be your child's main source of a social life so look at the children going there? Are they the sort of children you want your child to mix with?

Does the school have an anti-bullying policy (it should, even if bullying isn't a problem). How you they approach discipline?

Above all does the school feel right for your child? Some of the above may not be important, and some will be more important than for others. If you have another child who will also go to the same school you may want to think about what's best for them both (using your crystal ball obviously!).

There are probably lots more things you could find out, I'm sure others will add!

Good luck!

Issymum Wed 16-Jun-04 17:05:52

Fantastic list Titchy. Thank you. We are supremely lucky and our three closest state primary schools are, in the general scheme of things, all excellent. We are almost in a state of too much choice! I think we will try to visit all three (armed with a printout of this thread), look at the PAN numbers (marvel at my grasp of the jargon ) and make a decision from there.

A tiny tiny bit of me wonders whether we should also be considering sending DD1 and I guess DD2 to one of the two excellent private schools that are very close to us, but that's another thread and with the current prospective rise in interest rates it's a tiny bit of me that I think I should ignore!

batgirl Wed 16-Jun-04 22:01:45

ICT - is really important, but ask how it is taught. It should be embedded in the curriculum ie the children use the pcs to graph results of a science task etc rather than purely "lessons on how to use a computer" , though, at KS1, children will need some lessons of this sort too.
HTH & good luck with schools - I'd say go on your gut reaction!

Issymum Thu 17-Jun-04 12:13:33

Thanks for all your help on this. We visited the school today and I was super-prepared.

For what it's worth I was really impressed by the school - there was a quiet hum of activity; lovely kids' work on the walls; high pupil-teacher ratio; excellent SEN provision at both ends of the spectrum (interestingly they find that providing for the high-fliers and the strugglers is enormously helpful for the kids in the middle); well-integrated and plentiful ICT; lots of emphasis on outdoor activities with a games field, an allotment a wilderness area and a 'grounds week'. I think that just about every question on this thread was answered. My 'gut feel' is that DD1 and DD2 will thrive there. So although we may go and see other schools, we would be very happy to send them there.

DH read this thread, noted down the points, asked some of the questions from it during the visit and was so impressed by Mumsnet that he's taken my name and password for future reference. So prepare yourself for the occasional appearance of Issydad!

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