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Help me to phrase questions for the head please

(49 Posts)
Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 16:16:10

I have namechanged as i think i might sound very pfb and a bit of a knob.

DD will start reception in 2015 but we have decided to start looking at schools now, in case we need to get DD onto a private school waiting list. We live a 3 min walk from our local school and DD is guaranteed a place there due to the admission/catchment arrangements.

DD is a bright, capable, September born girl. After primary school we intend to send her to a selective independent secondary.

I have a few concerns about our local school being right for DD and I would like to as the HT of the school about them when we go to look around. However I don't want to sound confrontational or like a knob. Please could you look at my questions and help me to rephrase them. My questions are:

The ofsted report for the school (satisfactory in 2012) repeatedly mentions that the work set is not challenging enough for the most able pupils. What have they done to address this and do they now offer opportunities for the most able to fulfil their potential?

All children are taught in mixed age classes after reception with 2 year groups in each). I think this will be great for DD when she is part of the younger age group in the class as it will place her chronologically in the middle of the group, but I am concerned that she will not have a sufficient peer group of able, older children when she is part of the older year group in the class. I think you need a "critical mass" of similar ability children to compete against (not in an unpleasant way, but to provide a level of discussion and challenge). I suppose my question is, "might this be a problem and how do they address it, if it is?"

My third question is around secondary schools; I'd like to know if they have much success with pupils taking entrance tests and do they deal positively with children moving to schools other than the local secondary? I don't mean that they should be making a great fuss of it, just that they can deal with it sensitively and not voice disapproval about it or make DD feel left out.

Lastly I would like to know about the religious content of their assemblies. We do not have a faith and would like to bring DD up to know about lots of faiths, but I am not keen on school giving her the impression that she is Christian or presenting Christianity as fact. What can I ask about this?

Apologies, I seem to have written an essay, but I am very aware that we are likely to have a 7+ year relationship with this school and perhaps this HT and I feel I do need answers to these questions, but don't want to antagonise.

lborolass Sat 15-Jun-13 16:26:08

Your questions are reasonable ones and I'd just ask them in a neutral tone as part of the general flow of conversation as you go around.

I wouldn't necessarily worry too much about the stretching of more able pupils, mixed classes are definitely an advantage here imo as the school will be used to pupils working outside their strict peer age group and the scope for flexibility is likely to be greater.

twentyten Sat 15-Jun-13 16:34:43

The "satisfactory" would bother me.I'd be want to know about what progress the most able make-it's all about progress.

Have a look round-do you see exciting engaging lessons?What differentiation do you see? Do the staff impress you? My dd's primary was "nice" but prvided minimal challenge for the most able.Does the head inspire?

lborolass Sat 15-Jun-13 16:42:18

And on the issue of the secondary school I don't think that a state primary should have any responsibility for preparing pupils for private entrance tests. That's most definitely a parent's responsibility, of course they shouldn't treat any child depending on which secondary they go to but I probably wouldn't bring that up on a first look around.

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 16:47:19

Good ideas twentyten. A friend went to see it and only seemed to notice what the physical environment was like. I used to be a secondary teacher, but I am not sure if that helps me much in picking out a good primary.

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 16:51:48

I don't think that they should have any role in preparing a child for entrance tests, but equally if a child is capable of achieving a 5a or 6 that they encourage them towards this rather than accepting a 5c. That type of difference may be important to DD's chances in an entrance test. So I suppose that it all comes back to differentiation to challenge the most able.

twentyten Sat 15-Jun-13 16:53:32

Oh yes it does! Trust your instincts. I was a governor a dd's school and we did change the culture(through recruiting!New head etc...)but too late for dd(now doing v well at indie where being bright is celebrated)
You know-it's all about teaching and expectations.
Being a governor is a useful plan too-you have v useful experience for the school.

twentyten Sat 15-Jun-13 16:55:17

x posted!

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 17:03:37

I've been a governor at a junior school too and would certainly like to do the same at DD's school. When I was a governor the HT was fantastic and I suppose I am looking for a head that is as dynamic.

cansu Sat 15-Jun-13 17:26:26

i think your questions are mostly fine but you will probably just find out really if the head is good at presenting the school well. The best indicator of the school would be whether you have a good feel as you walk round and also perhaps by talking to other parents to get their views of the school. Tbh I would be more concerned about whether the school was caring and the staff approachable than about how they stretch the most able. I am also amused that you already know that your dd is in the most able category when she is not due to start reception until 2015!

HorryIsUpduffed Sat 15-Jun-13 17:49:25

Depends on the school but I wouldn't count on a "dynamic" head still being there in 2015. Small schools in particular seem to have a high turnover of (young and good, but ambitious) heads. You will know that a school can change a lot with a change of head.

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 18:09:50

Reputationally the school sounds fine in being caring and approachable.

I knew that someone would comment on my suggestion that DD will be one of the most able at school, that is partly why I name changed. I confident that DD is likely to be one of the most able in her peer group at a non-selective school. She is well ahead of her peers linguistically both in terms of her vocabulary and the concepts that she can articulate. This has been commented on by her nursery and others. She comes from a strongly academic background. Being born in September also means that she will be one if the oldest which makes it more likely, particularly in the early years, that she will be one of the most able in her year group.

I mostly want her to find school stimulating and help her to love learning. I found primary school a bit dull and full of space filler activities designed to keep everyone ticking over. I don't think that my school had heard of differentiation or extension.

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 18:13:10

I agree that heads come and go. This school didn't have a permanent head for 2 years recently and that is a significant concern, though there is little we can do about potential changes in head teacher. It isn't a particularly small school, so I guess that works in our favour.

3boys3dogshelp Sat 15-Jun-13 18:24:25

Hmm, no problem in going and asking the questions re able pupils, and you may well be completely right about your daughter, but be prepared to be wrong! My eldest ds spoke very early and extremely well, literally everybody commented on how intelligent he was from being around 1yo. He also walked, ran, counted, sang entire songs etc etc WAY ahead of his peers. Both his dad and I are straight-a type students to degree level and beyond. Ds is now in reception at a lovely ofsted outstanding school with consistently very good results and I would say he is average in his class. He reads very well but in all other areas just average and no more. I am completely happy, I trust the school and I know he is doing as well as ge can but after a flying start he has definitely slowed down. 2yo is very early to be planning selective secondary school IMHO.

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 19:34:31

I'm fine about being wrong. I just don't want DD to be bored in an environment which strives for mediocrity.

ipadquietly Sat 15-Jun-13 19:44:30

I think, before going for a meeting with the HT, you need to visit the early years' class, to actually witness what goes on.
School isn't all about academic progress. It is about being able to communicate, share, play together and to work as part of a team.

...'Striving for mediocrity'... 'Boredom'... Expectations of high achievement from the age of 2... 'Strongly academic background'... 'More likely she will be the most able in the year group'...
What message are you going to give to your child?

I think you need to go private from day one, otherwise you'll be forever blaming the school if your dd doesn't achieve as well as you expect her to.


twentyten Sat 15-Jun-13 20:22:38

Trust your instincts.Have a look at yr6.Are they lively,inquisitive,engaged in learning?Does teaching seem exciting?Is it what you want your DC to be?

Floralnomad Sat 15-Jun-13 20:27:46

From reading all your posts I also think you would be better going independent from the start . If you don't mind me asking why are you even interested in state for the primary years ?

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 20:34:35

I've been in early years classes and will be going to see the ones in this school as part of our visit. I agree that there is a lot more to school than just the academics, DD is a normal 2 yo socially with all of the developmental needs that go with being 2 and no doubt at 5 she will be a typical 5 yo socially too.

I don't think that going private is always the answer. My personal experience of primary school was of a place that really did value mediocrity and that was an independent school. What I want her to have access to is a place that encourages curiosity and a love of learning. And also somewhere that will develop her skills in the basics so that she as a strong foundation for secondary school.

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 20:41:58

The reason we are considering state is that the commute to our nearest independent is about 30 min and I think that is a long way for a 5 yo. It may also be a problem in terms of having friends to play with locally. That is before considering whether our nearest independent school is right for DD.

I think independent schools can vary in quality enormously. I taught in both a state and a private school as a secondary teacher and I would have picked the state comprehensive over the independent school for DD, but that was just one of each.

twentyten Sat 15-Jun-13 20:50:47

Sounds like a good plan. Don't feel you have to defend your plans. You know what you want and why not? Love of learning and curiousity are so important. Good luck

ipadquietly Sat 15-Jun-13 20:55:48

hmm You have to remember in all this that dd is an individual in her own right. She has her own personality, her own desires, her own likes and dislikes. As she gets older, she'll have her own aspirations and her own definition of 'mediocrity' and 'excellence'. Her opinions will be shaped and formed by you, by her friends, by her school. How she deals with these opinions will depend on her personality and how she behaves - whether she's compliant, fiesty, focused, enthused, unable to concentrate...

You really can't say, with any certainty, what your child will be like in the future.

My ds would not pick up a pencil before he was at school. His drawing of a person in Y1 was 5mm high (if that!) because he would not draw. He hated drawing. He got a merit in his art foundation year, and has nearly finished a degree in an art related subject. Who would have known it?

You can't predict your dd's future. She is not you.

teatimesthree Sat 15-Jun-13 21:00:03

Of course you are right to think about whether the most able pupils will be stretched. But as 3boys3dogs says, don't assume your DD will be the most able. My DD is in reception at an inner city primary which has a statistically low-attaining intake. She is extremely articulate, has highly educated parents etc. Quick to pick things up, loves learning, good with numbers etc. I'd say there are at least 10 children in her class who are operating at the same level or perhaps higher.

Hmmletmesee Sat 15-Jun-13 21:16:37

DD is certainly an individual, but even at such an early age we do need to start looking at what might be the right environment for her. The best indicators for what she might be like are what she is like now and what DH and I are like. We don't have anything else to go on. I know that she is not me. She as some characteristics that are very unlike me (such as being very active) and we will take these into account too.

Her development will be influenced by her peers and school and therefore it is worth finding an environment that shares our values or complements them.

Of course she might find that she is one of many able pupils in her class. Inevitably the number of more able pupils varies from year to year. But the small number of other parents in her year that I know are looking at alternatives, so parental choice may skew the intake. We can't know any of this until she starts, or even perhaps a few years later. The best I can do is look at the school and ask questions.

twentyten Sat 15-Jun-13 22:21:13

Trust your instincts!

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