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visiting primary schools - what to ask and look for?

(16 Posts)
mollysmum82 Tue 21-Jun-11 13:41:27

I've booked in to see a few primary schools next week with the view of my daughter starting at their preschool. I was just wondering for those who already have their kids at primary school, what do you wish you had asked/looked for before applying? Obviously all I want is for my daughter to be happy. I'd like her to be challenged where appropriate but not pushed too hard and I'd like her to fit in and make friends.

Did/do people just go with their gut instinct? Did you worry about league tables and ofsted reports? What kind of questions did you ask when you visited?

Thanks so much in advance!

ASecretLemonadeDrinker Tue 21-Jun-11 13:45:21

Gut instinct - DS is at a school which was under special measures, but when we visited it was so lovely, so caring, had a great feel, really good teacher-parent communication, good facilities. He came from a school people would give their right arm to go to but they treated him badly, it was not a nice, warm, friendly school but had the favourable ofsted report. Our questions were specific to DSs needs - think about what you want out of a school. French lessons/individual music tuition/good sports facilities... I think schools are quite a personal choice really, a child who is unhappy will not do well at a "outstanding" school.

Scholes34 Tue 21-Jun-11 14:05:36

Didn't visit any primary schools, but luckily the local school had a good reputation. The locality is important to me, and it's good that all the DCs' friends live locally and they now all walk/cycle to secondary school together.

I think also that gut reaction is important. The school should feel welcoming to you and be bright and cheery.

Hassled Tue 21-Jun-11 14:13:44

I think gut instinct counts for an awful lot - do the staff and pupils seem happy? Do you like the Head? Are there good displays on the walls - is there a good atmosphere? Is there good access to outdoor play/learning? And maybe have a look on the school website - some will have information about how the curriculum is taught. It's certainly worth reading the most recent Ofsted and paying some attention to league tables but bear in mind a lot can change in a short space of time in a school.

mollysmum82 Mon 04-Jul-11 13:03:26

Thank you all, some great ideas there!

Mumwithadragontattoo Tue 05-Jul-11 00:10:12

If you work or are planning on going back when DC is at school ask about breakfast and after school clubs too.

mollysmum82 Tue 02-Aug-11 13:24:51

Thanks, that's a good point (love your name btw and Larson!)

Has anyone else found it really hard to chose a school? I'm putting so much thought into it, only to worry that we won't get any of our preferences anyway!

mollysmum82 Tue 02-Aug-11 13:25:03


EdithWeston Tue 02-Aug-11 13:46:41

Check the loos (even though they won't want you in there - do it anyhow, and apologise profusely). There is a big and obvious difference between the mess immediately after one playtime, and a place which stinks most of the day.

Check if the whole place looks well kempt - even if shabby, is it clean and free of litter and graffiti? Does it look as if the occupants care about the place?

swash Tue 02-Aug-11 21:19:50

Happy kids is the most important thing - I went round two schools where random kids gave me a wave, which I liked.

Teachers who seem open to questions and interested in visitors are another key factor for me. I went round one school where the teachers were really unwelcoming, so rejected it straight away.

An active PTA can also be an indication of a good school, so I would ask whether the parents get involved in the school.

Good luck!

idril Tue 02-Aug-11 22:17:02

Some things that I wish I'd asked about (I ended up moving my daughter half way half way through reception year as she was unhappy in her first school)

How do they help children socialise at playtime? is there any kind of friendship stop or buddy system?

How do they help the children who have not been to the school nursery integrate with the ones who have? (I think this is important even if your child has been to the school nursery)

If there is any playtime equipment (climbing frames etc) how is play organised on them - class rotas or a free for all?

How long are the children given to actually eat their lunch. Is this flexible or is it literally, time up, outside you go.

Is there consistency across classes in the way that good behaviour in encouraged? e.g. Do some children come out covered in stickers whilst their friends in other classes get none?

If the children fall over, what is the procedure? (as an example of what I mean: at my daughter's first school, they had to be practically bleeding to death before they were allowed to go the medical room (alone). At her second, they can go whenever they want and a friend takes them. If it is a non-injury, they get the "wet cotton wool" treatment and a bit of TLC which when you are 4/5 years old is a good thing in my opinion)

Is there any mixing up of the classes at the end of the school years? If so, how is it done? Are they split up from their friends or is the intention to keep them with one or two best friends?

How long are the time slots at parents evening?

treas Wed 03-Aug-11 15:25:43

Look to see how the children interact with the teachers / head teacher - one school I went to the children ran in the opposite direction on seeing the head approaching and she didn't have a clue to their names.

At another school the children where delighted to see the head and came over to say hello and she knew who they were. Also in one classroom the children were having carpet time answering questions from a teacher who sat at the front. The children were so eager to answer they were virtually in her lap and she didn't mind.

Guess where my dc went wink

blewit Wed 03-Aug-11 16:06:19

In hindsight I would ask:

What do they teach in the first year? The reason I ask is that they have only concentrated on reading, leaving maths aside. My dc has come on leaps and bounds with reading but nothing and I mean nothing else. Her maths has gone downhill, as has her writing - they did no formal teaching of writing.

Have a think about your childs personality. Mine is shy. As such no effort was made to bring her out of herself - she was punished for it, rather than encouraged. They had a tick chart on the wall - some had 25 ticks - mine had 2, despite being academically good - just not willing to "share".

Friendships - what do they do to encourage new friendships? Do they have a buddy bench (somewhere to go if they've got nobody to play with), do they have a separate play area for reception dcs? Or do they launch them out into a big playground after lunch with 200 other dcs, mostly older and leave them to it.

But the main thing is to make yourself visible by asking lots of questions (and being an utter nuisance) all of the time. Otherwise, from my experience, they tend to ignore your dc as though it doesn't matter somehow.

Also, have a good look at the EYFS table - they use this to mark your dc at the end of the year.

This is our experience of an Ofsted rated "good" school.

blewit Wed 03-Aug-11 16:07:25

By "share" I don't mean share toys - I mean stand up in assembly situations and share her news.

BellaBearisWideAwake Wed 03-Aug-11 16:09:35

These are great, thank you

DontAskMeSums Thu 04-Aug-11 11:27:28

Idril's suggestions are fab.
Gut instinct.
How do they identify children who need additional help with learning and how do they then ensure that child can achieve their potential. Your child may well not have additional learning needs but IME, primary schools who do well with children with additional learning needs are generally the best all round.
Any old school can make a silk purse out of silk...

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