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Visiting Primary Schools - What to look out for

(18 Posts)
foxy123 Thu 04-Oct-12 11:54:18

Hi I'm going to be touring a few local primarys in the next month or so. I wondered what I should be looking out for and what questions I should ask, any ideas?

JakeBullet Thu 04-Oct-12 11:59:32

More than anything go with your gut feeling. We visited loads of schools but in the end went with the school where the head teacher crouched down to talk to DS and answer his questions.
Look at the school from your child's point of view...can you see them fitting in there. What is the pastoral care like (that is my biggest priority- sod the results, are they actually going to care for my child).

RaisinBoys Thu 04-Oct-12 12:19:10

What JakeBullet says plus what is the staff turnover like and do the children look like they are having a good time.

Be wary of the school where children are disengaged in class - no aimless wandering around the class looking for something to do. No little boy/girl lost children.

Wigeon Thu 04-Oct-12 12:22:22

Do you know if in your area you have a genuine choice over which school? We took the whole "visiting schools" thing very seriously, but in the end, we basically had no choice because all the local schools, apart from the crap ones, are over-subscribed, so we got into our nearest school, and didn't stand a chance at any of the other good ones as we live too far (even too far from our second closest school).

Our nearest school is fine, but not amazing.

So do visit them by all means, but be realistic about whether you will actually have a choice.

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 04-Oct-12 12:44:36

Mine is still very little, but I've just had a look at my council website on admission numbers. I have to agree with Wigeon. Unless the school ins't very good, the last category of admission are "out of catchment siblings" for all of them. (We aren't religious). So there basically isn't any choice, is it? So I never understood the visit all the school thing and put down 3 that you like.

foxy123 Thu 04-Oct-12 12:50:17

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to help me...

My particular situation is that I would preferably like DD to go to one of our local Catholic schools which is outstanding Ofsted and does at least 20% better in League tables than the other schools close by, but I am under no illusions that it's a long shot, hence wanting to have a look round some of the other schools...

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 04-Oct-12 12:52:11

Then definitely have a look at your council's website. They should have information on admission categories from last year on there. This would give you an indication of what chances you have applying out of catchment. Although I think you'd be able to get into the catholic one anyway! Assuming you are catholic ofc. They are all very popular.

Wigeon Thu 04-Oct-12 13:36:22

In our area there is no catchment as such, admission is done on distance each year. So some years, you can live 300m away and get in, and other years people who live 400m might get in. You need to check what the rules are in your area.

For our council (Herts) you can get the admissions stats from the last few years, so you can see exactly how close you needed to live in order to get in. You might need to check with the Catholic schools themselves about their admission criteria though, as it might not be handled by the local council. They may well be able to give you stats about how many people got in under which criteria, and how close you needed to live. Even if your children are baptised Catholics, and you attend mass frequently (and in some cases sign a register each week to show you've attended church), you might need to live within a certain distance too.

Just ask the schools for a bit more info.

Wigeon Thu 04-Oct-12 13:37:10

Onelittletoddlingterror - yes, I think there is somewhat an illusion of "choice" in many areas.

foxy123 Thu 04-Oct-12 13:55:15

I've been researching the local schools for quite some time now and as far as I can tell my 'choices' are as follows:

• Outstanding Oftsted Catholic School with intake of 30 pupils
- We meet all criterea to get into school, comes down to how many siblings apply or if others live closer

• CofE primary with very good Ofsted & even better league table results. 30 pupil intake
- we are a little lower down on criterea list as are Catholics not Cof E

• Reasonable Catholic school with 60 pupil intake
- do not live in same parish but in next parish along (0.5miles from school)

• Reasonable non faith school with large pupil intake

Wigeon Thu 04-Oct-12 14:24:10

I'd ask the schools for their stats for the last 3 years or so. They should be able to send you admission stats which will tell you:

How many places went to siblings. In our area, at all schools we looked at, about half of all places in any given year go to siblings. So then you know that there are 15 places left (say, if the intake is 30 pupils).

The stats will then tell you how many people got in under the other rules (eg being a Catholic, then non-Catholics), and what the maximum distance was under under each rule (if distance is used a tie-breaker if more people apply under a certain rule than there are places).

Then you'd know the likelihood of your getting a place under which ever rule you'd be applying under (our council has a "distance finder" which measures to the metre how far you live from each school).

You might find that all places went to siblings and Catholics who lived under 400m from the school, and you live 600m from the school, in which case you are probably not in with a chance.

Or you might find that all places went to siblings, Catholics 700m from the school, and some non-Catholics, in which case you are probably in with a chance.

afussyphase Thu 04-Oct-12 14:45:52

I seems like it doesn't matter now, but ask about reception starting schedules - some schools don't have the children starting full time for many weeks in. I wish someone had posted this on one of the many threads about what to ask when visiting schools last year - we were surprised and booked a trip abroad to get back in time for "school starting" only to find that DD didn't need to be there for 2 more weeks! Not relevant to your choice of school, I guess, except that flexibility there may indicate how likely the school is to do things without regard for the convenience of families otherwise ....

foxy123 Thu 04-Oct-12 15:18:17

some fantastic advice here, thank you!

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 04-Oct-12 15:22:27

afussyphase that wouldn't bother me, as like wigeon we have no real choice but pick our catchment school. Our council runs catchment instead of pure distance. But if there aren't enough spaces for catchment kids, it'll still come down to distance. Luckily, it seems all the catchment kids get into all the schools around here. It's the same whether roughly half the places offered to siblings in catchment. The last few places usually go to siblings out of catchment. So for a first child, there isn't actually any choice other than your catchment school. Whatever their starting reception policy is.

foxy123 Thu 04-Oct-12 15:37:31

Wigeon my local council's 'Starting Primary 2013 leaflet' stated 80% of people in my area got their 1st choice school.

I have a feeling I might be part of the remaining 20%, so I think I should have a look at some of the surrounding schools although it is a bit like choosing the best of a bad bunch IYSWIM

OneLittleToddlingTerror Thu 04-Oct-12 15:59:26

foxy I think the statement about 80% get first choice isn't very meaningful. For example, do most of them put their closest school as first choice? If everyone just 3 schools from a nice part of town, then most wouldn't get any of their chosen choices, isnt' it?

All the schools have a list of admission criteria. It ranks each category of students and their order of preference. In my area, it's this order : looked after, special needs, catchment siblings, catchment, out of catchment siblings, religion (for CoE schools), everyone else. The council should provide you with the number of pupils admitted in each category. And also the furtherest distance of out of catchment admittance. (Which in wigeon case, it's the distance of each category since her council has no catchment. So it'd be distance for siblings, distance for religion, distance for others). Only with this information you can make an informed decision on what schools you can realistically get in.

TICKLETUMBLE Thu 04-Oct-12 17:07:37

Assuming you have checked the OFFSTED report and it is good/outstanding, ask the head if they will be continuing into the next academic year. The Head is responsible for the way the school is run etc. and so if they change, you may find the school you saw in March looks very different to the one you end up with in September.
The school we chose was the closest, and wasn't the 'best' but had really good atmosphere and facilities were excellent, but the biggest seller was the Head teacher and her energy, drive and vision for the future of the school......unfortunately she announced she was leaving after we had been given our first it wa a bit of 'wait and see' to see if all the good work she had been doing continued.

Ds is really happy there, he gets all the support he needs (SEN) and is doing well we think its OK, but only time will tell.

Bumblequeen Thu 04-Oct-12 17:52:51

Watching this thread with interest.

Dd will start reception next September. I have looked at league tables and Ofsted reports.

The good/outstanding schools are very oversubscribed. One school received over 150 applications and their intake is 30!

The RC and C of E Schools are very popular in my area.

I am wondering if we should choose the best two outstanding schools and one good but not as good.

There is a school a stones throw away but I would not wish to send dd there. If I stated the reasons I may get flamed for being snobby.

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