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last minute indecision on primary school app.. choosing between polar opposite schools!

(55 Posts)
RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 18:18:56

Deadline is Monday. Constantly doubting/swapping my choice over which to put first! We have a reasonably good chance of getting into either. Both Ofsted outstanding (school A inspected back in 2009 tho but same headteacher now, school B 2014).

Before I start, either would genuinely be great, we feel very lucky, but we still have to decide!

School A: amazing on their behaviour, kids are so proud of their school. Really well structured, loads of well planned trips. Older kids help look after the little ones. 25-30% Catholic (we are not). Good SATs results. On instinct we preferred this school/the head.

School B: really REALLY close. Strong emphasis on developing creativity, and independent learning. Brilliant school kitchen. We already know a fair few families who attend.

Both are 1-form entry. Parents at both schools positive about them.

One factor we've been weighing up is whether our DS would do better with more structure (school A) or more freedom (school B). He's quite imaginative, but also loves following/listening to a teacher and doing directed tasks (ahem, when from others, not nec when from us!).

Any ideas about HOW to decide?

NotAnotherJaffaCake Sat 13-Jan-18 18:22:05

I wouldn't set great store in a 2009 OFSTED - more chance the head will move on soon. We live right beside our school and I can't overstate how much our quality of life is improved by having almost zero travel time to school.
I'd go with school B.

viques Sat 13-Jan-18 18:27:39

an outstanding school in 2009! the Ofsted criteria were very different then, and I hope the head has made a huge effort to keep up to date -it can be hard in a small school unless it works proactively with other schools. Are you aware of them working with other schools, developing their staff expertise and knowledge? I would be worried that things were getting stale and set in stone.

personally I would go for the school which is outstanding but is also managing to have a creative curriculum, and encourage independent learning ,they must be working very hard to fit everything in, and will need to have a confident and motivated staff and good leadership .

MidnightVelvetthe7th Sat 13-Jan-18 18:28:40

I'd be put off School A by the Catholicism, we looked around a Catholic primary & there were faith tables in every classroom, daily prayers & hymns & some other things that made us decline the school. But it depends on what your cut off point of religion is. I also wouldn't class the older ones looking after the little ones as a bonus, I possess a 12 year old & an 8 year old myself & wouldn't be happy with an infants age child overhearing some of the words & youtube videos my 8 year old's friends talk about!

I'd go for B

viques Sat 13-Jan-18 18:31:38

Ps, you do know that you don't actually have a "choice" , you express a preference and then the admissions criteria are applied and you are offered a place at the first school on your application form where you meet the criteria .

I would list b first. As others have said, a close by school has huge advantages

RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 19:09:56

Thanks so much everyone. Appreciate all the responses.

Yes, as I understand it we'll be put on the ranking list for all the schools, then in the event we made the cut off for more than one schools, we'd be offered the one we put higher. As I say, there's a reasonably good chance we'd make it onto the shortlist for both schools, therefore likely to get the one we put first.

I don't think the heads at either are going to move on to another school, but both v likely to retire while DS there. In fact, head at school B might retire v soon (rumour).

I think the closeness is what's made me question our previous decision to put school A first.. I can run to school B in about 3 mins! Having said that, can cycle to school A in 6. And the other new factor is I've just found out the MAT school A is part of has not been doing well and will need to make financial savings.. but school A itself consistently perform (by far) the best in SATs locally.

My concerns with school B mainly centre on whether their lack of emphasis on structure would have a knock-on effect e.g. for secondary, OR whether if DS did end up having academic aptitudes, if there would be support for that (get the feeling some parents are quite anti- formal education at all, but this may not be accurate!). Plus I found the head a bit overbearing/didn't agree with everything they said.

LittlestTruck Sat 13-Jan-18 19:15:40

Depends how far A is I think, your child will be invited to and invite others for play dates and parties so B being closer is nicer for when they want to see their school friends

MidnightVelvetthe7th Sat 13-Jan-18 19:27:53

SATS are judging the school though, not the child smile it could be that to get better SATS results the children are put under more pressure, are taught specifically to pass the SATS to the exclusion of everything else. SATS results aren't an indicator for a better school necessarily, they're just a factor to be taken into account with everything else.

If it helps, it may not smile my DS1 is very academic & passed his SATS with very high scores, now although he is outperforming most of his peers at secondary his 'flightpath' is so high due to his SATS that I had an email before Christmas to say he has to do extra work as he's falling behind, despite being in all the top sets at school. He's not falling behind at all, he's consistently top in the tests but the SATS results have resulted in this extremely high flightpath to track his progress.

Even in School B teachers will have to allow for a range of abilities, so if your child is academic then there will still be that differention from the teacher to challenge him.

Lifechallenges Sat 13-Jan-18 19:47:45

I agree that the problem with SATS is how much the school focus on that and ditch everything else in Yr6. The exact demographic of each school may influence it too; is one a more affluent catchment with pushier parents etc You might find that e.g. If quite a few from school A want to go selective / private that they all have tutors as well.
We had a similar choice as would have got into two schools but chose the less formal more creative one. I felt it was more inspirational.
My concern of the more formal one was that whilst my DC are clearly v bright, they are not necessarily academic and I wanted them to explore all their potential talents
The benefit of a a v close school are also huge.

SequinsOnEverything Sat 13-Jan-18 19:56:06

School b won't have a lack of structure, with everything they have to fit in they can't. They just might be more relaxed and find time for more creative work. I'd definitely go for this. They HAVE to do maths and English. Creative subjects get very little time at some schools and for some children this is the area they can shine.

Also, I'd always go for the nearest if it was a good school.

RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 19:56:11

That's really helpful Midnight, and hadn't considered that outcome! Yes, school A drill them in tests from yr 5, but this means once they get to the SATs they are really used to that condition, so not a big deal (ie I think they make big efforts not to stress the kids over it).

When I was in primary, there weren't really any other kids doing as well as me in maths in particular (is just my 'thing'), so I guess I wanted to avoid that for DS (he does seem keen on numbers), but thinking about it, it didn't affect my achievements in that area and we're likely to be able to cover that at home if needed.. but again, I feel less confident in the maths teaching at school B, I don't think the head is as passionate about that as some other things.

The other factor that had meant we were leaning towards A was that we don't feel behaviour/discipline is our strong point as parents. DS doesn't have particular issues in this dept, but could be better behaved, and it felt school A could complement our parenting more!?!

RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 19:58:23

(thanks Life and Sequins, also helpful)

RavenWings Sat 13-Jan-18 20:05:17

The thing about older kids helping with younger ones wouldn't bother me, I've been in plenty of schools that do it. Often it's things like helping walk them down from lunch or having a rota of older kids to go in and play playground games/just freeplay with little ones on their yard during break. Some schools have done reading work pairing older ones with younger - great for weaker or less confident older readers ime. The older ones have always seemed to enjoy the experience.

Having said that as an overall I'd probably lean towards school b. But I would go with your gut.

RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 20:10:10

Haha, at this point my gut is very confused!

Yeah, I think the older/younger child thing seems to work great in school A. Year 5s are 'buddies' for reception kids (so then Y6 and Y1) and they take it seriously and it just seems to be brilliant for all involved. I feel really confident school A is totally sorted on no-bullying etc.

HeadBasher2018 Sat 13-Jan-18 20:14:11

You are lucky to have such great schools to choose from. To my untrained eye they come up looking academically about equal, and equally likely to go up or down in future years.

Personally I’d put a heavy weighting on the short distance (we are picking a school 3 mins away ourselves). Me and DH both work from home quite frequently so we could do the school run and be home in time for 9am conf calls. And when they’re a bit older they can walk by themselves. Obviously that’s only one tiny factor of many, but it’s something to consider. Would cycling really be feasible every day (any other younger kids to cart around too?)

Other factors...
What’s the difference in outside playing space between the two?
What about air pollution en route or in the playground?
Would subsequent siblings be guaranteed admission (if relevant)?
Are they feeders to any secondaries?
Extra-curricular clubs and sports provision?
Availability of breakfast/after school clubs?

(I doubt you would notice a Catholic influence with only 30%.)

Good luck! I know it’s so hard even when you have good (or outstanding) schools to choose from as you worry you might regret the decision in years to come!

RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 20:20:24

Yeah we're really lucky. All the schools round here are good. Another part of the picture is we only moved here 2 wks ago (! had visited a lot before, so saw the schools last term) so don't have the same 'feel' for things as if we'd been here longer. In answer to your qs:

Cycling should be feasible most of the time. We don't have a car so this is our mode of transport.

What’s the difference in outside playing space between the two? School A has much more, larger green fields etc, school B has smaller, hard playgrounds. Reception/Y1 have quite a nice outdoor area. But school B very near the beach!

What about air pollution en route or in the playground? Hmm, prob similar for either, neither on main road.

Would subsequent siblings be guaranteed admission (if relevant)? No others at the mo, but yes should be, assuming DS still at school then.

Are they feeders to any secondaries? Both feed the same secondary.

Extra-curricular clubs and sports provision? Availability of breakfast/after school clubs? After school clubs probably slightly better (eg wider range) at school B, but lots at both. Neither have breakfast clubs. Sports, not sure actually which is 'better'.

Glumglowworm Sat 13-Jan-18 20:55:54

Is school A a catholic school that just happens to have a mixed intake? Or a non-religious school that happens to have a large catholic intake? I’d avoid the first as an agnostic, but the second wouldn’t bother me.

A local school is a big plus. By year 5 or 6 your child may be wanting to walk to school independently or with friends, which is easier being closer. School A isn’t far enough away that distance would be a problem though.

If all other things are roughly equal I’d rather a school that didn’t have a SATS focus as early as year 5. Whatever they say about getting the kids used to exam conditions, it’s all added pressure to kids as young as 9.

From what you’ve said I would choose school B for closeness, less emphasis on SATS and more emphasis on creativity and independent learning.

RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 21:06:04

School A is Catholic, with mixed intake. Thus most people (but not all) have some religion (or child or parent were baptised etc). I'm not overly fussed about it as I think they are respectful and don't seem pushy with it. But yes is definitely part of the life of the school.

Yes, would def be easier walking to school B, and DS could do solo from younger. But prob by yr 5/6 could walk from school A on own or with a friend, I think.

Interestingly just had a chat with a friend who is a primary support expert (and knows DS) and she was sort of leaning towards school A (for him) on my description of them both. They have much clearer feedback processes on the kids work and potentially would put more individual support in place if needed for academic achievement.

Back to square 1! confused

MagnaWiles Sat 13-Jan-18 21:53:23

Have you seen the government site that lets you check out school statistics?

Might be a useful indicator for a school that was Ofsted-rated so long ago. Also useful information on school size, gender split, demographics etc.

Personally I would go for school B, on the basis that learning independently is a wonderful life skill. It may not look like discipline because it's not externally imposed, but that kind of self-discipline is enormously valuable later in life. (I went to a very liberal independent school that didn't make anyone go to lessons or do homework! I did quite well and feel now that although I might have ended up with better A level grades at a 'stricter' school, the self-motivation that I learnt was WAY more important to my academic life and career later on).

RainAndRoses Sat 13-Jan-18 22:06:50

Thanks Magna. Have taken a more detailed look (had looked over SATs before). They're really similar on a number of levels.

- boys do better at school A (as in, do 'worse than national avg' at school B)
- but high prior achievers do better at school B interestingly, mainly in writing it seems
- more SEN at school B, more English not as first lang at school A (but not loads of either)
- 6% free school meals at school A, 12% at school B

Virtually identical staff ratios, very slightly more at school A (but they've just announced they may have to make staffing cutbacks).

brilliotic Sat 13-Jan-18 23:33:49

My very limited experience would make me wary of school A. Their last OFSTED was in 2009 because once you have outstanding, you are not re-inspected as long as your results stay up. This can lead to even higher pressure than exists anyway, to keep the results up (because by doing so, you are also keeping OFSTED away).

Together with what you say about them 'preparing for SATS' from Y5, it sounds like they may be a bit of an exam factory. Where actual teaching/learning is sacrificed for the sake of teaching/learning how to pass the SATS.

It also sounds as if school B achieves similar results but from a lower starting point, and despite having more SEN, which sounds very positive. One way for schools to keep results up is to make sure the school is not a nice place for kids with extra needs, so they will move/never start there in the first place... Perhaps there is a bit of that going on in school A? And how a school deals with the lowest achievers is also a good indication as to how they might deal with the high achievers.

Add to that the catholic aspect, and the greater distance... what is it exactly that draws you to school A?

RainAndRoses Sun 14-Jan-18 07:08:46

Thanks brill. I can understand why it might come across like that from description, but is really not how I've experienced school A when visiting/ talking in detail to parents and kids. Eg spoke to mum with severely dyslexic son who said they were so on it, he got extra support straight away, flew through SATs and now at secondary his teachers 'forget' he is. When you pop into the school the kids are so friendly, they all talk to you/ tell you about the school, just seem to love it. They included loads of parent comments from 2016 in prospectus which emphasise the family feel/concern for every child.

On paper we perhaps 'should' love school B but when we first visited both I was even considering not putting it even as second choice.. a friend had a poor experience when looking round school B with a baby and grumpy 3yo when told 'this school isn't for some kids' in quite a pointed way! Also concerned about a possible lack of organisation, and I went to a school event where there seemed to be no teachers (just parents) which seemed odd. I get the advantages of the creative side and how impressed this is, just not sure it works for all subjects, (eg maths which DS is good at) and don't feel confident they recognise that.. (Head def on the arts side). These are my niggles. I think, if DS is academic, he might not feel so supported/like there are like minded kids at school B. I didn't quite click with the head (but think would get on ok) whereas lots of parents choose it cos they love them.

I may be wrong/ it's all quite hard to know. And we may be swinging to school B based on this thread and other conversations.

eromdap Sun 14-Jan-18 10:27:45

Some really good points in this thread. How long have the Head teachers been there? A change in Head can really affect a school. Also what about staff turnover? Lots of younger female teachers could mean some maternity leave, thi# often results in the employment of less experienced or NQTs for year-long contracts, sometimes this works out as they bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm, sometimes a lack of experience leads to behaviour issues in a class. If there has been lots of maternity leave taken, have those teachers returned afterwards? If yes, they obviously enjoy teaching there.

RainAndRoses Sun 14-Jan-18 11:09:21

The heads have been there quite a long time in both cases, and both v likely to retire whilst DS there (possibly quite soon, esp in school B case). School B has majority female staff (2 male teachers), school A might have 3 or 4 men, incl. support staff. Not sure about retention after maternity.. and not sure I could find that out ahead of deadline, but is a good point. I'm pretty sure both schools have fairly stable teaching staff populations.

Madcats Sun 14-Jan-18 11:24:02

Just to warn you that DH and I are both very Mathsy but DD(10) is the complete reverse (excellent at arts/humanities, really struggles with maths). She discovered music/sport/art at about 8, after changing school at 7+ and, as a summer baby, was a bit slower to read and write initially.

Here goes with some differentiators for schools (at the end of the day it is gut feel and it sounds as if your DS would be happy at either). There is no right or wrong is what emphasis YOU would prefer:
- Do you like the teachers/how do they teach music/art sport (do the children do much)?
- How do they celebrate success (or don't they)? Look at newsletters to get a feel for their ethos?
- Catchment area for both (where will the friends live) if not planning to do non-school clubs locally?
- Extra curricular/wrap around care/holiday clubs?
- Proximity to main road (noise/pollution)?
- PTA and activities?
- Does the school look well maintained/equipped. Does it look like a fun place to be at playtime?
- Lunchtime/after school clubs?
- Ease of parking (if driving)?
- Kitchen facilities/menu?

It sounds a bit weird, but you can learn a lot by observing children going in and out of school in the morning. Can you tag along with a few friends or just lurk?

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