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Primary open days - questions to ask / what to look out for(21 Posts)
Might sound like a silly question but does anyone have any advice please?
I think it's like buying a house - you get a feeling. What is important to you and your child?
I am a HT and get asked lots of different questions and some don't ask any! Many come from what you see or hear as you go round.
Do the children and staff seem happy? That's what's important to me.
Good luck - it's a big decision and don't be afraid to look round again if you're unsure - any decent HT wants you to find the right school for you and your child and should help you make that happen.
Staff turnover. Support for children with additional needs or a problem at home. Approach to PE for reception. Time spent outside each day. Homework expectations. Strictness of uniform.
I agree with both @Strictly1 and @Applesandpears23. I'd also want to know to what extent free play continues beyond reception, what is their behaviour management policy (is it mainly positive with some negative consequences or the other way round). What are the preparations like for SATS (If they start preparing early or have lots of after school classes etc this will stress out many children, put them off learning and skew the results).
I think you get a good idea of the school by simply asking questions, whatever they are. How keen are they to answer and give you a real, non stock answer. This tells you a lot about how good the school will be at working with parents when issues arise.
Based on a thread a few days ago I’d ask about the Christmas nativity and other plays; whole class vs chosen few. Where it’s held who can attend and how many family members per child.
If important for you ask about breakfast club/after school club. Our decision was partially based on this due to the hours offered.
Chat to the other parents. Some might already have children there.
I wouldn’t have wanted play in y1 so our children all have different needs and you cannot necessarily expect a school to give everything you want. I didn’t look at behaviour policies either because I knew the ethos of the school was encouraging rather than rule based. Most primary schools have behaviour policies that encourage good behaviour and most children respond to this well.
I preferred to see busy and engaged children so checked this out on a working day. We also had a hen and chickens classroom with 66 children in YR (a few years ago now) and I wanted to see how that worked in practice. I knew most local parents really supported the school so I just checked for myself. Many who could have paid for private education didn’t and were happy with the school.
I looked for music, confidence building activities, good facilities in the classrooms and a well stocked library. Classroom displays were important so I could look at what work was being achieved. I also wanted a broad and imaginative curriculum with trips out and drama opportunities. Some parents were more interested in sport than I was so it really depends on the type of school your child will flourish in. We own our own woods so forest school was a bit pointless for us! Not for some though.
If the school have them online I found I could find out a lot about how the school was as a parent in practice from looking at some of the past newsletters. The tone they're in can be quite telling about if they're going to want to work WITH parents, or if parents are very much viewed as a hindrance getting in the way.
Wouldn't set too much store by social media locally (not saying you would) - we get the annual "does anyone have kids at X or Y school" ones on the local groups and there's a group of parents from one of the local academies that has heavily expanded who will just jump to it and run down any rival school very very heavily.
Basically I fucked this up first time around and just went for the most local school - it turned out to be really really, well, politely put it was the wrong school for our kids but the Head was awful (they've since gone - it'll be interesting to see how the school changes now), there were issues regarding the safety and supervision of the children and from what I've gathered from various professionals since - the SEN provision is pretty well known to be dire. Went to look around a few local schools to try to move my kids - and looked around the school we're at out of catchment as they had a chance of spaces in the year groups I needed and I cried after I left at how different it was and how absolutely right it was for them and how I desperately needed to get them in. School is heading rapidly now towards outstanding, and it's been bloody brilliant for my kids - the buzz about the place and the sheer joy of learning just hits you as you walk in the door.
Be aware though that things can change. E.g. when we visited our school we were told that music was very important to them, there was a dedicated music teacher, all children would get to learn instrument A in year 2 (I think) and instrument B in year 4... That is one of the things we liked about the school.
But the fantastic music teacher didn't get on with the new head, and left. Ever since, music has been only an afterthought, if at all. The 'music: fantastic' tick turned out to be a 'music: really poor' reality.
Also, the 'promised' one-full-time-TA-per-class-and-two-in-reception has long since disappeared in favour of financing more office staff and creating new leadership positions.
And the experienced, long term, a bit older staff have all left; not long ago, the teacher who was starting her third year at the school was the most senior teacher around. The school is financially sound because all teachers are on starting salaries.
In hindsight I would suggest that wherever there is a new or fairly new headteacher, the only thing that is any indication of how things will be is a chat with the headteacher him/herself. And listening very carefully to what they are saying/are not saying. Some heads are very good at the 'marketing talk' so you have to be very attentive to what they are actually saying, beyond the glossy words.
Also in hindsight, I would suggest giving added weight to the factors that are less likely to change. E.g. location, what the school run will be like (along a busy road or through a park?), facilities/infrastructure, size (how many children/year), that kind of stuff.
Thanks all. Will definitely be asking about how long the various teachers have been there, school clubs, trips out and will read a bit about various policies on school website.
Work out in advance what the likelihood is of you actually getting a place. If it's the only school you have any chance of getting into, you need to think very hard about deal breakers as opposed to things you really like!!
Also, if you are attracted to the school because it gets good SATS results, it's worth working out how/why the school gets these results. MN is full of Y6 parents complaining that their school has turned into an exam factory ...
Thanks redskylastnight. I have looked at the previous years’ allocations for my preferred schools and we have a chance! At the moment I only have ofsted ratings to go on, will be visiting both schools soon hence my post!
Two critical things imo
- How they teach reading - expect to hear 'phonics' and not 'well, mainly phonics but we find a mix of methods works well really'.
- Homework policy - how much and for which years.
Then anything else:
- results (but NB some schools make y6 very stressful)
- extra curricular
- before/after school childcare
Remember the cute small school may seem lovely now your DC is 3 or 4, but might be stifling by the time they are 9/10/11/
Ladi85 - I wouldn’t want all very experienced teachers either. Some children don’t always want to be taught by Grandma! You want to see a nice spread of ages and specialisms. Most schools won’t share their staff turnover rates with you. Also most primary teachers are women who have maternity leave, Husbands move jobs etc so it’s rarely static in any school. However if a school offers flexible working it can retain staff.
It is true that some schools are finding finances difficult but older teachers still teach somewhere and a good school will have retained them. I think other things that would really concern me are messy classrooms, jaded teachers who don’t seem enthusiastic and schools that don’t maintain a broad curriculum. You cannot stop teachers leaving but specialist music teachers are not employed by the school. They usually come from the County or area music service. If the school doesn’t give opportunities to learn an instrument, they are not engaging with the lesson providers.
Just have a good snoop. If you like the school go to the Christmas Fete/Fayre/Bazaar too. That will give you an insight too.
Yes, talk to real people you meet, not a Facebook group.
Firstly don't overthink it!
Secondly, you can think you have everything covered and another child in the class causes difficulties for your child.
Thirdly no two families or children will have the same experiences!
Teacher change, children leave and join the class and your own child influences the outcomes as does your attitude.
Sorry if that does not give you specific pointers but I am coming to the end of thirteen years at primary with my children and their experiences have been similar and different in equal measures. ￼
I think your child's class mates and their parents have a huge influence and you will not know who they are until you have made your own mind up and your child arrives at the school ￼
1) What is the Homework Policy for KS1 and KS2?
2) What is the Behaviour Policy?
3) is the curriculum knowledge-based or skills-based? Or combination of the two?
4) What kind of music, sport, art and drama etc do they do in class time? If you're interested (or your DC are interested) in something in particular - say, music, then ask specific questions about what they do. They could say they have music lessons, but in reality it might be two ukuleles shared amongst thirty children.
5) Extracurricular clubs. What is the range and how much do they cost?
I am feeling similar to OP and am not sure what to do either. Where we live, we have the local school on our doorstep. Results above nationals (not spectacular, but above average), a good OFSTED (but from some time ago now), it has a before and after school club, the staff and children seem happy and there is a lively atmosphere. Head Teacher is lovely, welcoming and genuine. Another school, which we are also likely to get in but, unlike the other school, would require a car ride, has exceptional results which exceed those of the other school. It also is immaculate, almost clinical, with superior facilities and a much more extensive range of clubs. There is silence in every classroom. Children walk around the school in silence. Head teacher miserable. But they keep on churning out amazing results and children are pushed to meet their potential. My son is bright. I feel so confused!
I moved DD1 from a school where the kids were expected to walk around the school in silence with their hands clasped behind their backs - there was a consideration about if the calm, very rule-driven environment might have been beneficial for DD1 who is very excitable and needs boundaries... but in reality it actually just completely freaked her out and she was so terrified of breaking any of these endless rules and doing things wrong (and the rules weren't clearly defined for her either) that it drove her anxiety levels absolutely sky high.
So where they're at now is much more of a traditional school where you get the odd kids told to stop running in the corridor, they bicker about who gets to stand at the front of the line and generally behave like normal kids really... and the transformation in DD1 is brilliant - she has a class teacher who is absolutely lovely lovely lovely but takes no shit whatsoever in terms of behaviour and she's completely thrived there.
Thank you ReverseThe Ferret, that is encouraging to hear. My son is a bright but anxious child, and I do worry about how he would be at the exam factory school. I just hope the friendly school will be able to balance it's friendliness with still pushing him, as I worry he will get bored if not and become disengaged with it. Your insight is really helpful.