Primary School Admissions - School Visits - tips please(17 Posts)
DD1 is due to start school next year, and we are about to begin visiting the schools that are within our catchment area. I've looked at their webpages, and read their ofstead reports, but I am looking forward to getting to see the schools.
What should I look out for, (both in terms of the good and the bad), and what might be good questions to ask the staff and headteacher?
I would be looking at how the teacher controls the class, what sort of work is displayed.
How the children help and support each other.
I'm not sure what questions you could ask as its a long time since I did this.
How do the children react when a teacher / the head comes in? How is the talk in general? We disliked some heads as the only focus of 30 minutes talk was about how good they are academically. Yes, important but that's not all what school is about.
Do they do outdoor lessons, trips, hands-on lessons?
IT - how do they safeguard internet use? With a class of 30 and two teacher they can't check each laptop all the time and I didn't know 5 year olds could surf so good.
Art work - only good ones or a broad display of all kind of art?
Religious education - while each school is required to have an act of daily worship, it varies a lot, even between faith schools. If this is important for you (positive or negative) check.
Additional classes, music tuition, clubs
How do they keep parents informed and involved?
Also, before you do the rounds and get all excited about a particular school, check the local authority website for data about the distances from the school they have admitted children from over the past few years. You need to get a realistic idea of which schools you are actually likely to be offered a place at - in many areas 'choice' is a myth, but you may be lucky if your area is less oversubscribed.
Definitely visit as you glean so much you can't from websites and stats. I just knew from the way children and teachers interacted and what the head focussed on in their talk. Think about what is important to you both on a practical level and ethos wise. We are looking for secondary now and actually we have a very similar list of things we looked for back then - but of course dd has become more skilled at articulating her own opinion now!
Look for engaged children working enthusiastically. Look for all children's work being displayed. Make sure teachers are welcoming and the environment is stimulating. Ask how they teach reading and numeracy. Ask what the school thinks it does well and what it's plans are for the future. Think about what aspects of schooling are important to you and your DC. What music is on offer? What ties does the school have with the local community? How active is the Parents' Association? Is there anything on offer in a school that would really interest your DC? Have they a good library and supply of reading books? Do they have a mix of younger and more experienced staff? How long has the Head been there? How do they manage the children starting? How do they communicate with parents? Does the school inspire you? I think you get a feel for a school and know which one suits. Just make sure you can unto it!
Ask how they deal with bullying. If they say they don't have any bullying then they are probably telling fibs and not dealing with it.
Hang around school gates at drop off and pick up. Do children look happy going in and coming out? Are the children carrying bits of paper (bringing artwork, newsletters etc. home). Are staff visible e.g. available to quickly mention things, arrange appointments with etc.
I think happy children and good communication are the most important bits.
Sorry.... Should have said "get into it".
Look how enthusiastic the teachers are when talking about the school. I ended up choosing a school which had a less good ofstead report when compared with my other choices because the children all looked engaged and the teachers really seemed to love their job and the school and just seemed really excited.
It has just had new ofstead report and has gone up a level to outstanding so I think my overall instincts were right.
Other good thinks to look out for,
Does the school have morning/afternoon clubs
Bullying, what is their policy
What are the outside learning areas like
School lunches - are they cooked onsite or do they use a catering company
What is the school library like
All I can think of at the moment
We've just done our 1st school visit and to be honest - you won't get to see half of the above. We were in a big group of 20+parents plus assorted babies/buggies/toddlers and whilst you got to ask questions and look about, it wasn't a leisurely activity.
My tip is to go WITHOUT your child if possible, I spent the main talk time trying to keep my DD quiet and when we were allowed free rein to look around the reception class (the school children were at assembly) I spent most of the time trying to see where she had nipped off to.
It was a useful thing to do and I definitely got a feel for the school (like when you are house hunting). I expect once I've done a few other visits the comparisons will be most helpful.
If there are a couple you like you can make an appointment to go back and see the school on a normal day and ask any questions.
Look at the parent view report on the ofsted website for each school ask parents at playgroups my child minder was a very good source of information.
I think I am trying to say widen your search to the community. Go to the Christmas fair set the schools you like the look of too.
If they are a few years between ofsted report s ask how they know they are maintaining their standards and do they evaluate themselves
Ask if they have a behavior policy and do the children engage with it.
On my visit to the school DS1 attends (others to follow) the Head spent an hour of her day talking to me, she showed me around the whole school and into the classes during lesson time. I picked the school as she was so impressive, she knew all the children and they also knew her and talked to her as we went round. There was a nice hum to the place, the children were all working well, good discipline but it had a nice relaxed feel to it.
She also used the words, "We expect a lot.." but there was also a caring feel to the school.
I would look at the art work esp, good points above on it all being displayed. What awards does the school have, Arts awards, Healthy Food etc. Especially on the Arts award that DS's school has, a lot of work has gone into it and the children have really benefitted from seeing different types of art with writers, dancers, puppeteers coming into the school. Same goes for sport.
What links does it have to other schools, e.g visits to secondary schools for sports / arts / science ops etc.
Good luck, I based mine on gut feel in about 10 minutes and it is a smashing school.
Consider your most 'local' school ie that you can easily walk to, it saves so much hassle in the morning!
Also,as others have mentioned, the headteacher's outlook is so important - I visited a school where the first thing they talked about was the excellent before and after school care and how useful it would be to me (???didn't choose that one)
The one we went for said they let the children progress at their own level and wanted the children to do their best ,without being pressured and stressed (didn't mention SATs results once - I checked later and were good)They value sports, art and have role play/home corner areas in every classroom up to Y4.My children have been very happy and although the school may not be as pushy as some, the children seem to come out of there with enquiring minds and have a good attitude to learning.
ask about what might happen if things don't go well? ie if dc don't settle/do what they are told/don't make friends & get upset. ask how they communicate problems and solutions to parents? if you work and have wraparound care how will you communicate if you don't see the teacher?
our ds seems to be struggling and communication is frustrating. i am starting to worry that we have picked the wrong school.
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