Choosing a primary school - what do I need to know?(16 Posts)
Looking at primary schools for my DS over the next few weeks - I have three quite different schools to choose from. What things should I be considering when making a choice, and what should I try to find out at open days.
The schools I am choosing between are either new or are in the process of significant change so past results/Ofsted eirher don't exist or are unlikely to be good indicators. How do I make a decision?
The first thing to remember is that it is not a choice but a preference.
If you don't qualify for school A you won't get it.
Check the admissions criteria carefully and proceed from there.
I Would suggest going in and getting feel for each of the schools. Think what is important to you.. grades, outdoor activities, relaxed or structured learning styles. Also are the kids happy?!
Yes good point Balfe - I've done my research on catchments and these are the three I stand a decent chance with (including a 'banker' option) - so the question is really what order I list them.
If they do what our old school tends to and hide the Head away as much as possible until after you've applied, admissions have run through their process and you're committed to the school - avoid avoid avoid! (Head's a pretty ghastly woman)
I think you get a feeling for where you can see your child fitting - I played it too safe and we ended up with a crap school but spaces came up elsewhere and when I looked around (and met the Head) at the new place - I cried because it just was such a good fit for the kids.
As PPs have said, you need to work out what sort of ethos is right for you - schools are all different and you might not know what's important to you til you go round. Speak to local friends as some will have older children in the schools. Then just to on your gut feeling for which school is right for you and your DC. The one huge factor no-one can influence is the specific children who end up in a class together.
At open days, ask how they deal with bullying. Any school where they claim that they have no bullying, be very wary.
Ask what their provision is for children who may or may not have diagnosed conditions, but are struggling to keep up. The aim of this question is to determine if they have blanket policies/processes that they apply, so children who are behind -> A happens, children who are ahead -> B happens; or if in contrast they approach each child as an individual, be they struggling or very able or indeed average.
Many parents on here complain that their schools have all sorts of 'interventions' for their struggling (or very able) child, but that they don't really work because they fail to take the individual child's needs into account.
Ask about behaviour management. Depending on what your preferences are, the answers may make a difference to you.
Ask how much play-based learning and self-directed activities happen in Y1. All schools are meant to have mainly self-directed, play based learning in reception, but in Y1 they differ hugely.
Ask what phonics programme they use. If they are evasive on this, chances are they teach phonics only half-heartedly.
Find out about homework expectations and things like spellings sent home to learn. (There is often a homework policy online, and you can ask if it is up to date/actually enforced) If they say something along the lines of 'Although parents often demand homework/spellings, there is no evidence of this being of any educational benefit. Along with all the evidence, we believe that children do enough learning at school and therefore the only thing we ask of you in terms of homework, is to read regularly with your child.' -> means they don't cave to parental pressure, and don't do things that don't work just to be seen to be doing something, and make decisions based on evidence rather than e.g. the headteacher's outdated opinions.
Look at the school hours - some schools are 2.5 hours/week longer than others.
Other practical things such as how easy it is to get there, availability of clubs/wrap-around care, etc. And uniform - some schools won't allow girls to wear trousers, that may matter to you.
Thank you brilliotic that's exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.
How do they communicate with parents?
How involved do they want parents to be? (Do they have a thriving PTA? A parent's council? Do they use parent helpers in school? You may not want to do these things personally, but it gives a indication of how they view/treat parents)
How do parents communicate with their child's teacher?
All brilliotic's points sound great. If they're all new and/or changing, what are the organisations that run them like? A lot of parents near me preferred a different primary to the one I chose even though they had concerns about the chain that has taken it over. Several of those parents moved their kids to the popular local authority primary nearby, However, the head of that school has just moved to another school. My kids school, another LA one, has had some rough times but now has a good OFSTED (with a very new Head and Deputy Head in post for 4 months at the date of inspection) and I'm happy that I stuck with it for my kids even when it was bottom of all the league tables.
Example of an organisational concern: the academy chain's school governing body has one parent governor - the others are all chain/school employees or are appointed by the chain - who represents parents or interests which may not be those of the chain when issues arise? One parent governor can hardly do that on his or her own.
And of course if there are things that may apply to you particularly.
E.g. schools differ in the way they deal with bilingual/multilingual children (some only pay attention to them if they fall behind in English, others recognise that multilingual children have specific challenges even if they are great at English and provide targeted support). This is something you can ask about.
And schools differ in the way they use Pupil Premium money, and hence it can make a difference how likely it is that your child will actually benefit from it. There is statutory information regarding Pupil Premium so you should be able to look that up.
Some schools are Infant schools so go only to Y2, in which case you may be looking at which Junior schools they tend to feed into, what exactly the admission criteria are for the Junior schools, how well they coordinate with each other (you may well end up having a child at the Junior and Infant at the same time, so it's important that pick-up/drop off works), and how they organise the transition from infants to juniors.
You may want to look ahead at which Secondary schools there are in your area and how you get into them; e.g. if you need to be in a certain feeder school.
You may be interested in knowing what role faith plays in each school. Some non-faith schools do more religious stuff than some faith schools. E.g. frequency of prayers, singing hymns, etc.
But at the end of the day, for us for DC1 it was all about the 'feeling' we got, in conjunction with practical/pragmatic considerations.
I just couldn't make myself like our nearest school, and some things rubbed me up the wrong way there (observed a couple of reception children sitting alone at a table (each separately) doing nothing at all. Literally staring into space. For the whole duration of our visit.)
The second nearest school was lovely in many ways but there was a lot of shouting and swearing and even fighting (parents) to be overheard at pick-up time.
The school that we liked best, with a margin, was too far away to justify choosing it over our second favourite, which we liked far less but deemed 'good enough', and within walking distance.
Now in the process of choosing for DC2, trying to figure out if there is anything that might justify choosing to send them to two different schools. DC2 has very different needs to DC1 so it is not obvious that we'd choose the same school if DC2 were our first, but again if it is 'good enough' then can we justify the organisational nightmare of having them in two different schools?
Don't underestimate the importance of an easy journey!
Also, watch out for schools that are part of a MAT chain. There may be good ones but not in my experience.
Yes about the journey - and if you have to drive there, don't think 'oh it's just 5 minutes drive' - it's never just 5 minutes drive. Try your school run drive at school run time to see what it's like! And remember to try to find somewhere to park, which may take more than 5 minutes in itself, and factor in the time it takes to get everyone out of the car and walk the (probably considerable) distance to school from there.
How do they settle reception children in?
Some schools start them all full time on day one. Some stagger, with them only doing part time for many weeks/half a term.
I would look at behavior in the classrooms and whether the children are on task most of the time.
I would look at the curriculum--as in, what content exactly are they teaching in concrete terms--and see if they are teaching a broad and balanced range of content, with as many discrete subjects as possible--like, actual history and science classes, not just "everything except English and maths collapsed into "topic work,"" and not just "English, maths and almost nothing else."
I would confirm that they use a proper synthetics phonics based reading scheme. Not just "oh yes, we do do phonics.... as part of a balanced approach (evasive mumbling)."
I would be put off by a terrible OFSTED but not put much faith in the difference between good/outstanding etc.
Thank you all for the great suggestions!
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