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Pushy Parent Thread: How did you select the best school for your dc?

(28 Posts)
FairyCalledNuff Tue 11-Aug-09 11:35:30

What convinced you to trust them with your childs education? Which league tables or inspection reports did you believe? Was there some other form that you followed?

floatyjosmum Tue 11-Aug-09 13:44:22

mine are only at primary (just entering reception and year 4)

ive gone on the reputation of the school and weve moved a bit (ds is on his 3rd school)

for secondary i think i would look at ofsted and league tables etc as i think that these are the years which are more important for gcse's etc

primarymum Tue 11-Aug-09 13:46:51

As a parent and a teacher I would say the best school for your child is the one where they will be the happiest, and the best way to find this out is to visit, talk to the staff, the Head, other parents and, if possible, the children. Does the school have the right atmosphere, do the children seem happy and involved, is the school well resourced ( staff and supplies). If your child is strongly academic, will they support them, if they have additional needs, can these be facilitated. By all means look at the OFSTED report but remember this is a snapshot of opinion on one day by one person, so look at the school brochure, website etc. Ask for a copy of a school newsletter ( if they have one!)and see what the school is proud of! Do you want a school where the football team always win or one where everyone gets a go ( depends on the type of child you have!), what facilities do they have, do they run afterschool clubs.
You have to find the school that thinks the way you ( and hopefully your child) do!

Elk Tue 11-Aug-09 13:54:43

I looked around the primary schools within walking distance and choose which one would suit her character the best.
I think the headteacher is a very imortant indicator of what a school is like and if they change then so will the school. I did look at ofsted reports but all the schools round here are so similar that there wasn't much to go on. Instead I concentrated on the 'atmosphere' in the school.

This was for primary level. I am not sure about secondary level, I am fortunate to know a few secondary level teachers, including ones who do supply work and would definately ask them for their opinions.

londonartemis Tue 11-Aug-09 18:16:45

Have a look around the schools in person. You can tell quite a lot about a place and whether you can imagine your DC fitting in happily. Like Primary mum I really think the happy factor is very important.
Also, ask yourself, when you see the school's final year students if you would like your child to turn out like them.
Not all schools suit all siblings, by the way! (But there often isn't a choice)

sunnydelight Wed 12-Aug-09 06:30:05

In my experience the head teacher is vital: are they strong leaders?, what is their vision for the school (and how is this being implemented)?, do they seem to have a good relationship with their staff/the kids? Also, look at the end product. Are the children at the top end of the school the kind of kids you want yours to be? I want articulate/make eye contact/polite/friendly, children who are confident with adults and kind to each other. I know a lot of people would disagree, but I want to see smart school uniform, worn correctly which shows that children take pride in their school.

You need to think about what is important to you and find a school which shares your values (it is so much easier on everyone if home and school agree).

Reallytired Wed 12-Aug-09 15:04:46

I think what you do with your children at home is more important than attending a high league table school. My son's school is in the middle of the league tables, but the children are exceptionally happy and they did really well in their recent OFSTED.

Pushy parents can do loads to supplement schooling. Not necessary paying for tutoring, but taking the child to the library on a regular basis, making them practice reading, making them do their homework and taking an interest in what your child does.

roisin Fri 14-Aug-09 13:01:39

We watched league tables over a number of years and looked at patterns and trends, not just snapshots. Ditto Ofsteds and Prospectuses. We also chatted to friends and neighbours about 'local gossip'. And took them all with a pinch of salt.

The most important thing was visiting the schools during a regular school day (in addition to special open day/evenings). We did this without our children with us. We had a list of questions and the answers were illuminating, but far more important was the 'feel' of the place: the state of the displays, the attitude of staff towards pupils, how well senior staff knew pupils, how they interacted with them, the atmosphere in the classrooms, etc. etc.

For both primary and secondary our number one choice was immediately apparent to us both. And due to great good fortune we succeeded eventually in getting places at our number one choices.

Milliways Fri 14-Aug-09 20:33:51

I really wanted DD to go to the Priamry near us with fab buildings & reputation, but when I looked around it, it was VERY antiquated & overcrowded. We were also outside catchment.

I went to see our "designated" school - with mediocre reputation and was soo much more impressed with the Head, She was also the only one with more "old fasioned" views that the kids WILL learn spellings, tables etc.

Both my 2 went there & did well/

However, we DID move to avoid the totally dire (7% GCSE pass rate) secondary school - that eventually shut down.

TBH I would have sent them to private but that is a fantasy (funds not available).

I also believe you have to support the school they DO go to 100%.

mimsum Mon 17-Aug-09 22:25:00

well, it depends partly where you are - we're surrounded by schools (densely populated area of SW London) but once you discount the faith schools (we're not religious) then the choice of state schools is err .. a choice of one! The only school my dc had a hope in hell of getting into was the one two streets away.

We're lucky in that our local school is lovely in many ways - although it is by no means perfect and how it got its outstanding OFSTED I have no idea hmm. What matters is that my younger two are happy there (with a bit of tutoring going into y5).

However the eldest was miserable - our only "choice" was to go private (luckily we're in a position to do so). And although I never expected to be using the private sector having been a staunch supporter of using your local school, I now have a happy child who's thriving at school. We basically made the choice after visiting on a normal school day.

piscesmoon Mon 17-Aug-09 22:38:47

The only way is to visit it on a normal working day-make sure you get shown everything and have a list of questions.
The Head is vitally important, if they show you round they should know every DCs name and the DCs should be keen to see them. The only reason for not showing you around is if they get DCs to give you a tour-that is a very good sign, but make sure that you have time to question the Head afterwards.
Go with your gut feeling-above all could you see your DC being happy there and fitting in?
Take into account Ofsted, and local opinion and league tables but the latter are pretty meaningless for one year-you need a pattern and you have to bear in mind that the best school isn't necessarily high up in the league table.

choosyfloosy Mon 17-Aug-09 22:48:23

i wanted ds to go to the nearest school as it is 7 mins walk door to door. local parents of older children would not talk to me about the school when ds was tiny - very weird, they would just clam up. found out why when i read appalling previous ofsted. so i joined the governing body (as a clerk - less workload than being a governor - ds was a newborn and dh was ill most of the time so had little time). that gave me excellent insight into what the school was trying to achieve and what the new head was up to. ds is at the school now and i'm very happy with it but i must say i never went to visit any others as i was so unkeen to have to go any further.

snorkle Mon 17-Aug-09 22:51:34

We looked at all the possibilities (about 10+ primary schools and 5+ secondaries). Really didn't have a clue what we were looking for to start with, but after visiting one or two & looking & listening to the standard spiel you get the idea about what people generally ask & what the key differences are. I think I'd recommend looking around one or two 'outside possibilities' first so that you have a better idea what to expect & look for when visiting the main contenders.

We did look at tables etc. where available, but I was never too sure that they really reflected how well our children would do at a school, so in the end we chose based mostly on gut feeling, how much we liked the feel of the place & the staff & how happy the children seemed more than the headline results.

One tip martianbishop always suggested was looking at the loos - seems like a good idea to me, though we didn't have the benefit of this advice at the time. Wall displays of work are interesting too - is it just the best pieces, sometimes very old, or is it recent stuff & representative of everyone?

IOnlyReadtheDailyMailinCafes Mon 17-Aug-09 22:53:17

She went to the local one, both times.

BitOfFun Mon 17-Aug-09 23:00:13

The closest, seemed fine, and then the one all her friends were going to for secondary. It's worked out well.

I visited more for dd2 who has special needs, but she ended up going to the special school which her Statement recommended. She adores it and seems very happy and settled, so again, just being pragmatic worked out for the best.

shockers Mon 17-Aug-09 23:01:09

By all means check website and league tables but the most important thing is to look around a school... they are all happy for you to do that and if you can picture your child happy there then you are onto a winner (fingers crossed) You know your child!

HerBeatitude Mon 17-Aug-09 23:04:07

Local gossip is usually a generation out of date.

A school in our area had a brilliant reputation, but 5 years ago new head and she has gradually driven it into the ground - still has the great rep, but actually, it's shit now.

Conversely another school has a crap rep (was a failing school) and got a new HT 3 years ago. It is now absolutely brilliant I'd have no qualms in sending both my DC's there. But the mention of it is greeted with horror by locals, because reputations are slow to catch up with reality. So be careful of the local image of the school.

I chose by going to the school, meeting HT, looking around and soaking up the atmosphere. Agree that where a child is happy, they are more likely to do well.

Quattrocento Mon 17-Aug-09 23:12:33

I did quite a lot of research.

For primary schools, I did some earnest visiting of local schools (three) and reading of ofsted/isis reports and visited them to check their libraries

For secondary schools, I got quite serious. The choice boiled down to four schools. For these, I:

1) Compared results at GCSE and A level. For GCSE what was relevant were the A/A* results.
2) Then I mapped these against the quality of the intake very scientifically. It was relevant because two of the schools were selective, so I couldn't work out which schools were adding more value in terms of exams
3) Then I checked the destination of leavers
4) Then I visited the schools and checked the infrastructure and the library and whether there were chewing gum blobs on the school playground
5) Then I asked people what they thought
6) Then I checked the sports and music provision
7) Then I asked the DCs what they thought

It took forever. Oh and there was a mumsnet thread or two in there.

Do you think I went over the top?

BitOfFun Mon 17-Aug-09 23:22:29

grin

You and I are so not related, are we?

Quattrocento Mon 17-Aug-09 23:37:06

I still don't know if I did the right thing mind you ...

expatinscotland Mon 17-Aug-09 23:38:24

Moved to a place where there's only one secondary school for nearly the entire region, which is very large geographically.

piscesmoon Tue 18-Aug-09 07:56:41

I agree with HerBeatitude-local opinion is often so out of date it isn't worth more than fleeting notice. I know a small village school where all 3 staff, including the teaching Head, changed one summer-the school had a reputation-it was ridiculous!
My DSs went to a primary school that a lot of people wouldn't touch (without even looking), they jumped through hoops to go to the local Cof E and then the really funny part was that my DSs school got an excellent Ofsted, the Head even got to meet the Prince of Wales,and the C of E had real problems-some DCs changed schools. The only way is to visit.
I don't think you were OTT Quattrocento-it is such an important decision you have to get it right. I would say, in secondary schools, that chewing gum blobs and the state of the toilets are important. I would also watch the pupils coming out of school at the end of the day-that is very illuminating.

OtterInaSkoda Tue 18-Aug-09 14:40:23

Quattrocento – that’s hilarious! And also exactly the kind of thing I’ve started already (ds due to start secondary school in 2012 – it’s never too early to start building sophisticated spreadsheets to aid the decision making process imo grin ). I’m currently studying the entrance profiles – the stats that tell you how many children from each priority got into a school. Ds’s cohort is quite small so I’m hoping this will help.

For primary, I found every school within a five-mile radius or that was on the bus route that passed my house - if I’d not done this I’d have missed ds’s school as it wasn’t an obvious choice, so I’m, glad I did it. I checked out their websites if they had one. I called them and asked for info – I made the decision to ditch one school at this point because they were so sniffy, refusing to send anything as it was pointless and claiming ds wouldn’t stand a chance of getting in (“We are very oversubscribed you know” – HA! They weren’t that year funnily enough and at least one parent I know withdrew their dc before they’d finished their reception year. And they made the kids wear weird uniform. But that’s by the by). I asked other parents but (like the Ofsteds/SATs tables) took this with a pinch of salt – imo many parents don’t like to criticise their dcs’ school openly, perhaps because they feel it’s admitting that they made a less-than-perfect decision when they chose it. Then I visited. One school felt a bit sad, iykwim. The stuff on the walls had been there for a while and everything seemed a little unloved. Another seemed really nice but they were cursed with crappy buildings and grounds. Another place was way too small – only a handful of children per year group. Some people would love this but I felt that the more dcs there were to choose from, the more likely it would be that ds would find himself a compatible group of friends.

In the end I was completely won over by the school I chose, for a few reasons. The staff were clearly very proactive and had claimed every grant under the sun, not to mention blagging favours from local builders. The grounds and buildings were used imaginatively. I was taken around personally by the deputy head (who apologised on behalf of the head, who was unwell that day) who took me to every classroom. In each room the children were working happily and there was a pleasant, productive atmosphere, iykwim – not too noisy, not deathly silent. She told me all about the school’s ethos and plans and so on and about the projects they were involved in with so much enthusiasm. I could go on. It’s not perfect of course (where is?) but four years on and I know I made the right decision for ds.

Cripes, didn’t mean to go on quite so much. Some bullet points I think:
• Check out every possibility within a certain radius/travelling time/bus route
• VISIT!
• Trust your instincts – does the school feel “loved”?
• Listen to others’ (inspectors’, parents’, teachers’) opinions but don’t take them as gospel.

Builde Wed 19-Aug-09 11:22:19

We only considered schools that we could walk to. This meant we only considered two; one with an easy walk, and one with a longer walk.

We spoke to primary teachers that we knew who had taught in their local schools. They had high opinions of our nearest school.

However, many local middle class parents weren't keen on it, and don't consider it. (Approx 50% of children at the school live on local council estates). But, when we went around the school the atmosphere was very nice, the behaviour good and the head enthusiastic.

Our dd is a bit 'different' and we thought that she would be happier in a school that wasn't entirely middle-class and had a bit of variety.

The other thing that swayed it is that there is a SureStart nursery at the school that our youngest could go to; never underestimate the convenience of having all your children in one location.

Our academic credentials are very good (lots of A grades at A-level, Oxbridge degrees etc.) and neither of us really think that at primary level the nature of children in a school really matters, as long as the behaviour and atmosphere is good.

I do think that in all schools a parent needs to keep an eye on what is going on (without being obsessive about it). Schools with good reputations can begin to slide and unpopular schools can have some excellent teaching going on that local gossip doesn't mention.

However, if seeing lots of similar parents on the school gate gives you confidence, then you might prefer to look at the parents rather than the teaching, school, head etc. And it is nerve wracking sending your first to school, so don't underestimate confidence!

UnquietDad Thu 20-Aug-09 14:46:40

I think the very idea of "selecting" a school buys, to an extent, into a government myth of "choice". It's something which, in practice, only a small proportion of the population can understand. Most people don't actually realise this until they have children entering Reception and see how many in the class live within walking distance. In most cases the parents have "chosen" the school because it's the only one available in practical terms.

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