How to choose a school: tips from head teachers

Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions you'll make for your child as a parent. These tips from head teachers with more than 60 years' collective experience at the education coalface, who recently took part in a discussion hosted by Enjoy Education, will help you make the decision that's right for your child.

Backs of two boys with school bagsCut through the marketing

"There are so many schools out there with equally glossy brochures, impressive websites and outstanding inspection reports," says Jim Hawkins, head at Harrow School. So, scratch beneath the marketing spiel by visiting as many schools as possible.

Susan Hamlyn, head of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service, suggests you take a close look at the pupils. Are they similar to your child's friends? How do they interact with their teachers? Do parents and pupils seem genuinely enthusiastic about their school?

Don't take your children on the first visit

Dr Joe Spence, master of Dulwich College, believes your first visit to schools should be without your children in tow, as otherwise you'll be too worried about them to gauge the school properly. Then, pick the schools you liked best and plan a second visit with your child.

Don't listen to playground chat

Be honest about your child's needs and abilities. Just because other parents are extolling the virtues of a particular school, it doesn't mean it's the right place for your child. Dr Spence advises that you make the choice that's best for your child, not for you.

Think about whether the school will challenge your child

Dr Spence stresses the importance of discovering a school's teaching ethos. Good teachers know that learning continues outside the classroom. Teachers should also be encouraging your child to go outside their comfort zone from time to time and challenging them to try something they don't believe they're good at.

Look beyond your parameters

It's a good idea to visit a few schools that don't quite meet your preferences, says Dr Spence. So, if you're keen on single-sex education, then also look at one or two co-ed schools to make sure single-sex is indeed the right option for your child.

What Mumsnetters say about choosing the right school

  • Read the Ofsted reports with several pinches of salt on hand. I think you get a gut feel (or not) for a school you like. redskyatnight.
  • Remember that you do not get to choose a school. You simply name your preferences. Make sure you look at the admission criteria for each school as that will help you work out how likely you are to get a place.
  • I look at the children and see how engaged they are in their lessons, and relationships between the head, the teachers and the children. Take your child with you and see how they relate to him/her. passivehoovering.


Last updated: 11 minutes ago