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What did you look for in choosing a primary school?(39 Posts)
I’m very interested to know what you looked for when choosing which primary school(s) to apply for please?
Have started reading Ofsted reports and will go to the Open days/evenings in September. But really interested in what made you put a school as your number 1 preference.
Originally... closest from home.
Was a big mistake - after the first year we moved the kids and where they are now is just the perfect fit for them. Hadn't put it down originally as assumed we'd have had no chance at all - but when things had gone to pot completely with our original school and I rang round they had places in both year groups I needed and I went to look round and cried when I left as it just was the right place for both kids.
Faith school, location, age range
The school we put first was a bit of a compromise - least bad in walkable distance. (Plenty of people then and now think it is a fantastic school based on a decade old OFSTED and great results but that didn't mean much to us.)
Nearest school we didn't like because:
- It seemed very dark and gloomy, but headteacher kept talking about bright and airy spaces. It felt a bit like gaslighting! I even went back on a sunny day to see if I was missing something. But it was still dark and gloomy.
- Even as a grown-up with experience of attending a university with 30'000 students, this school seemed confusing and overwhelming to me - as a child I would have felt completely lost.
- A few little niggles here and there, e.g. behaviour management system.
- Importantly: A lot of talk by HT about homework, spelling tests, discipline or rather desk-based learning, starting in last term of reception 'to get ready for Y1'.
- Most importantly however: When visiting the reception classrooms, there were several little girls sat by themselves at a table (each at a different table) doing nothing. Just staring into space. For the whole duration of our visit. And nobody approached them or tried to engage them in any way. They might have been non-English speakers; it felt utterly wrong.
The second-closest school made a good impression generally, except it was very loud and chaotic; we decided against it mainly because it was an Infants School and we preferred a through primary. What we did like was their answer to a bilingual children question. Whereas in every other school the answer was 'We keep track of EAL children's progress (in English) and if we notice any issues, we provide support', this school said 'we are aware that bilingual children, even if they are highly proficient in English, have specific issues deriving from their bilinguality (which might even just be an untapped potential, rather than a problem per se). We have a specialist who spends 1-1 time with each EAL/bilingual child on a weekly basis to support, explore, and develop, no matter if they are struggling in English or not.'
Our favourite school we didn't choose because of distance. We loved the calm and purposeful atmosphere in all classrooms incl. reception, and the very Montessori style organisation and discipline, allowing play based and child led learning to continue throughout Y1 and even into Y2.
The school we did choose/put first, we liked the community spirit, actually bright and airy spaces, the children who showed us around made a good impression and were able to tell us about behaviour management from a child's perspective which was quite illuminating and reassuring; and yes we chose it also for the secondary school it feeds into, though that was only a minor consideration (not being certain we'd still even be in the area by then). There were quite a few things we didn't like about it e.g. the prominent role faith plays, and it felt very much like a gamble, as the HT was new (had only been HT for a few months by the application deadline).
I think it's difficult to know if the school is good match for your dc until they actually go there.
If they have good SATs results, it maybe because the teaching is great, cohort is able, or school is very pushy and result oriented. You can't really tell.
My ds's school isn't great result wise and for his certain needs, but overall, it's a great school for him and he enjoys going to school everyday. But I know few people who moved school too, so they weren't great for them.
It's not a end of world to go to any school, you can always move. So just concentrate on what you think is best school/ best match for your child.
To be honest, I found this really hard. I have no idea what to look for. I don't even think, if I visited a school I would know what I was looking at.
I gave the catchment school a swerve because 1. The chat from other Mums was that they don't take bullying seriously 2. The expectations seemed low. 3. It wasn't even the nearest one to us.
Word of mouth. Performance. Location. Gut feel. Peer group/existing friendship groups. Proportion of non-english speaking pupils was important for us too (not race related I should add, but if there is a high percentage and there are a wide range of languages it can put a huge strain on the class teacher). Outside space/school facilities for sport etc.
: it had a lovely atmosphere when we looked round. Every classroom we went into had something interesting going on and all of the children seemed engaged, and were chatty and polite when we spoke to them. There was a lot of talk about building confidence and extra curricula activities. School also goes to forest school once a fortnight which ds loves. They have a school dog too! They have lots of trips out and every year group goes on a residential trip.
I only looked at schools that had decent (not necessarily amazing) results. Beyond that I looked for the atmosphere of the school. I wanted a home from home feel where the teachers know most of the kids (not just the kids they're currently teaching) and the school has an open approach to dealing with parents. I found I could pick this up from how the school communicated - did they respond to enquiries with a copy and paste job or did they treat you as an individual. What was the impression on the visit - did the staff seem happy (including admin staff, caretakers etc.).
Only bother looking at school to which you have a reasonable chance of getting a place. There’s no point in setting your heart on something that just isn’t going to happen.
I agree with a PP who said it’s really difficult to tell what a school is like before your child starts. Some are better at the PR than others. Some are more ‘open’ and can be more reassuring with particular concerns (eg settling into early years, special needs etc.) where others can seem more formal, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect what actually happens.
It’s easy to focus on Reception and KS1 when looking at schools for your immature 3-4 year-old, but remember to check progress and opportunities for the later years. Similarly, it’s easy to fall for a smaller school for your ‘baby’, but is this best in the long run?
Chance of a place and convenience were the main things for us. I really fell for another school which we would be borderline for getting into, because of its bigger cohort, better results and Ofsted Outstanding grading, but it would have been terribly inconvenient. I’m now glad I came to my senses before the application deadline and went for the ‘good’ local school.
Good phonics teaching. (look at reading books in yR - are they phonics based (good). does teacher talk about using mixed methods (bad).
Variety of levels of work displayed - not just the best.
At least 1 form entry (ie PAN of at least 30), otherwise too small a choice of friends imo.
Able to walk to school.
A good 'feel'.
I agree with a PP who said it’s really difficult to tell what a school is like before your child starts
One thing I found that gives a good feel for more how the school is like is if you can see newsletters etc on their website. The tone and content of them can be quite telling sometimes.
Pastoral care. Location. Good atmosphere in the school. Headteacher talked about encouraging individuals in their learning, developing inquisitive minds and building life long interest in learning, not their SATS results. (Although they were good too.)
1 - we had a chance of getting in
2 - friendly, happy environment
3 - good results
Luckily we got our first choice and couldn't be happier with the school.
Ds will start reception next September (2019) - when do I actually need to worry about this stuff??
sleeping you have to worry about it before January when you have to send your form of choices in.
You can go on school tours now.
Proximity to home
Chance of getting in
Class size: I wasn't keen on mixed age classes
What it felt like on the visit, facilities, interactions with staff and children
I looked at about 5 before choosing the one my child goes to. I had no idea what I was looking for but it felt right.
The other children were friendly and polite.
Everywhere was calm and the children looked happy.
Fantastic outdoor space and Forrest school
Head genuinely seemed to care for the children - open door policy
Children has sen and we had numerous meetings beforehand to see how best to support him.
I just had a feeling it was right
He is coming to the end of year 1 now and is thriving.
I wish I'd started a thread like this before looking at schools! I read the Ofsted reports and then went for 'feeling' of school, but didn't quite trust my gut as the best feeling school was a faith school and I didn't think I wanted that.
My dc are now in a different Primary to the one that they started at. Things that I wish I'd known beforehand :
Are you welcome to talk to teacher before/ after school or are there surgeries / more formal means of communication?
What discipline/reward systems do they have in place?
Does the school practice interventions forchildren who need a boost?
How does the school support the more able/less able?
Does the school have any aspirations to become Woodland / Beach / Specialist / Update Buildings / any new projects?
Do they take part in the Daily Mile / other initiatives?
Does the school have open mornings where you can go in and see your childs work?
Which year groups get to go swimming?
Which secondary schools do kids go to?
School trips (do they have them? How often?)
Homework (is it always a 'project', can they choose from a list or get homework in a homework book)
How do reading books get changed / how often?
I'd second the poster who said that you can tell a lot from their website. Is it up to date? What do the previous newsletters say? Does the school seem proactive / coasting?
SATS results, mostly and Ofsted report, initially.
Children’s behaviour and quality of lessons on the day.
I think choosing a school on SATs results is fine - provided you don't come back in 2 years complaining about a high level of homework, or in 7 years complaining that all of year 6 is lost to preparing for SATs.
'Is there an active PTA ?' is a good question.
An inactive PTA could be a sign of fed up and disengaged parents. Our PTA certainly picked up when we got our new good HT as, I think, parents started feeling more positive about the school and thus more willing to help.
Watch out for buzzwords - Daily Mile, Forest School and all those kinds of things. Daily Mile is quite popular because you can spend sports premium money on it - a school near us does it and they have limited outdoor space, so it looks like a prison yard exercise session with them all trudging round. But none of the parents will let their little darlings walk the mile to school...
Forest school is also one to watch for - done properly with good wild space it’s fab, but you need a teacher who knows what they are doing, not just some rocks and the odd campfire and hay bale in the back playground.
It’s really hard to unpick whether good results are due to good teaching or pushy parents - check out the Pupil premium results. If there are a decent % of pupil premium pupils getting good results then that is a good sign - I think a lot of “good” schools are coasting by relying on heavy parental input and tutoring, so they are good because of the make up of the school community, not because of the teaching.
Also if you work, after school club is a must.