Choosing A Primary School: Things To Think About And Ask

Top tips for choosing a primary school

With a four year old daughter, we’re at that stage where we need to look around primary schools and decide which ones to put on our application form before January. *runs around wondering how we got to this stage already*

A couple of weeks ago, we went to our first school open day and that morning, it occurred to me that I didn’t have a clue what to look for, or consider while we were there. I haven’t been in a primary school since I was 12, how do I know what’s good and what’s bad?

So I did what all sensible parents do – I asked Facebook. And my Facebook friends came up with a brilliant wealth of tips and advice. They were so great, in fact, that I thought it would be rude not to share it all with you. So here we go, folks, things to consider/look for/do when you’re looking around a primary school  (Psst! I’ve linked through to some people who gave advice if they have a blog so that you can follow them, with all of their mighty widom)…

  • “Consider: Are the children happy, is it busy with children in different groups doing different things? I also like looking at displays are they engaging? Gut feeling is really important. Do you like the feel of it? (I just think, especially at primary schools, that displays show the pride attached to work, the topics chosen and types of activities that different ages do.” – Emma from Emma and 3.
  • “It’s quite telling who the school gets to show you round; deputy head, head. Look at the other parents. Look at the kids. Like Emma says, are they happy? Engaged? Playground facilities, facilities for subjects you think little one might have an aptitude for. Lastly, I know year one seems a long way off and will make you reach for the tissues even more but, we’ve been hit with a mountain of homework, what’s the school policy on that?” – Emily
  • Agree with Emma – displays tell you loads about the kind of work that goes on and what the school chooses to celebrate and value. My kids’ school had loads of stuff about when a theatre company came in, about managing emotions, about creativity, amazing art work all over the school, washing lines across the classrooms displaying work. Another schools had very traditional displays. I thought my two would be happier in the more creative environment.” – Penny, A Residence 
  • “What are their strengths? Does it match with your child’s? Eg. My son loves numbers but the first school we viewed was all about creative arts and have to work on the maths programme. How do they communicate with parents? Do the teachers kids attend the school? Ofsted reports – but you don’t have to read it beforehand. How do they deal with bullying? Is it safe? Fencing, access, internet access etc…” – Margaret
  • “I agree about the displays but make sure the range of work is at all levels and from all different kids (not just the best ones!) . You may well get shown round by year 6 so ask them what they think of the school. Does the head teacher know their name? Ask what support is given to parents for homework as they learn very differently to how we did and it is hard to help them when you don’t have a clue! Do they have behaviour/bullying issues and how are they dealt with?” – Sarah
  • I think you can tell a lot by how much extra curricular stuff a school offers. Music, singing, football (girls as well as boys), art, bongos (yes, really!). The more they have, the more it shows teachers are into what they are doing and it seems to make the school a more vibrant place. Hard to tell just from what’s on walls etc but I’d ask them how involved the parents are encouraged to be – do they come in and help with cookery/reading etc. Find out what the school does to help kids with bullying or anti social behaviour and what the processes are. And ask them about their PTA (these days usually called Friends Association): what kind of events do they do, what the funds are used for. In my experience this should give you a good idea of how welcoming and happy a school is, that doesn’t always translate to results but it helps a lot!” – Ally
  • “Ask around other parents if you know any. Word of mouth is very valuable. If the kids are all silently sitting in rows I’d be worried! And read their Ofsted reports online. One thing that impresses me about my kids’ school is that the headteacher knows the name of every single child, even the new ones. And she has nearly 400 of them” – Nicol
  • “Ask the pupils questions. Ask the staff question. Do not be afraid to ask WHATEVER you want about life at school, the facilities, behaviour, homework, literacy, lunches, the school hamster. Ask it all. If there are computers are they well used. This is a GOOD sign they care about ICT. Are there lots of examples of pupils work on the boards around school? Remember that the Ofsted report will focus on literacy and numeracy (which are of course very important) but also remember about other things pupils need to learn about. What else do they do? What is the expected amount of time for reading at home? Do the teachers look knackered…. Like on-the-brink knackered? This may tell you that staff are not at their best maybe because they’re expected to do too much? This can be detrimental to the kids’ progress. You want teachers to be looked after!” – Charlotte
  • Ask them how over subscribed they are. Consider what the entry number of kids is. How far, as crow flies, is your home to school. All this counts as to if you have a hope of getting in.” – Gemma, Hello It’s Gemma
  • “My main things to consider are: How happy are the kids? How nice an environment does it seem? What’s the foundation teacher like? (this is key as it’ll be her first experience of school) Is it somewhere you will feel happy dropping her every day? Is there any after school care option?” – Katy, Katy Hill’s Blog
  • Look for boy/girl ratio (50/50 is ideal); I also look for a good mix of cultures, so kids are exposed to a wide mix (that’s personal), see how the children respond to the head, does she know their names, is there good space for outside play, good music and arts facilities and I’m quite hot on languages and their use if IT in classrooms.” – Zaz, Mama and More
  • Ask about club costs – my son goes to a sports club in the school hall at a cost of £46 per half term! Other schools don’t charge so much. Ask about the free school meals – now all key stage one children are entitled to free school meals – my son’s school is really flexible on this and he can decide on the day – as long as he says at registration that he’s on school meals it’s fine, can swap as much as you like, other schools you have to sign up for a term!” – Emma, Emma in Bromley
  • How inspiring is the head? What are his/her future aims for the school? How much playground space is there? What is their discipline procedure? How much time is spent on English and maths? Journey is important – remember you’ll be doing the school run twice a day for six/seven years. And go with your instinct.” – Busola

Do you have any more tips you’d add?

13 things to consider when choosing a primary school

Top Image: DTTSP Bottom image of pencils: Shutterstock.



  1. November 4, 2014 / 9:43 pm

    Great tips Alison 🙂
    We had absolutely no choice here as all school are super oversubscribed and you are lucky if you are even in one catchment area – lots of people are in a black hole and get allocated schools miles away. We were very lucky to have a brilliant school round the corner phew x

    • Alison Perry
      November 7, 2014 / 7:40 am

      Yes it’s a common problem, isn’t it? Will your smaller one get into the same school easily?

  2. November 4, 2014 / 10:44 pm

    Great tips here lady! We’re seeing our second on Thursday morning. Like Katie said, above, I don’t think we can be too picky about which one to go for as all are over-subscribed in the Borough (as you probably know!). luckily the ones near us seem to be pretty good, and we got a good vibe from the first one that we saw, which is our nearest. Will compare notes perhaps when we go for coffee again! x

    • Alison Perry
      November 7, 2014 / 7:41 am

      Definitely up for comparing notes – as someone says above, word of mouth is so important.

  3. November 5, 2014 / 5:54 am

    Oh god bab! This is my life this week!!! I am at work for two of them so I am going to have to get my Mum to go which is rubbish. I have one this afternoon. She is in a pre-school at a Catholic school but as I am not religious I am really torn. The hub is. Sigh. Such a big decision x

    • Alison Perry
      November 7, 2014 / 7:41 am

      It’s a huge decision isn’t it? 7 years is a long time….

  4. November 5, 2014 / 8:48 am

    Such an awesome list of stuff! And so glad that people are keen on the feeling of the school rather than league tables. Go with your instinct, what is right for your baby may not be right for others and visa versa, don’t be swayed by other parents – choose for you!
    We chose a school that was no where near us, which had pretty average reports and was deeply under subscribed, but when we visited it just felt right and there was an instant feeling of family and love in the place. They both loved it and achieved amazing things – I still count many of the teachers there as friends and that’s 12 years on since we left them!

  5. November 5, 2014 / 9:45 am

    We are looking this month, but my little guy won’t turn four until just before he starts – no idea how we got here already! Thanks for the tips

  6. November 5, 2014 / 2:17 pm

    Thanks for including me. I don’t envy anyone going through picking schools, particularly in big cities. Huge decisions. Great set of tips. Good luck with our quest.

  7. November 5, 2014 / 7:10 pm

    This makes good reading for someone who is also going through this, but had also been on the other side of it as a reception class teacher. My mum has already told me I need to stop visiting schools and looking for a me teaching in reception!!!!! I’d agree with a lot of the above, disagree with some, but I think ultimately you just get a feel for what will work for your family… And it needs to be the whole family, as you’re all going to be invested in the place for the next 7 years. What is a perfect fit for one family isn’t for another… and at the end of the day, try not to fall too deeply in love with any of them; because the local council will ultimately make the decision for you based on mysterious calculations. 😉

  8. November 5, 2014 / 7:24 pm

    A really interesting read. I think gut instinct is a big one, I went to our local school and wanted to cry as it was so awful. Needless to say, we didn’t send ours there. I agree that it does need to fit with the whole family too and if you are lucky enough to have a choice, take the time to make the right one.

  9. November 5, 2014 / 8:41 pm

    This is so helpful. What a great idea. Saw my second school this morning and completely confused. Wish I’d read this post beforehand. I may try to get a couple of second visits in …

  10. November 16, 2014 / 9:46 pm

    Spookily I only did a post this week on the questions to ask when visiting primary schools.

    We reckon we’re number 10 (out of 15 spaces) in our village school (all ahead of us are siblings in catchment), so just praying that no more people move into the village or that there aren’t kids with medical needs/in care that apply. It’s really our only option because I’m going to have to rely on aunts with kids already at the school picking up and dropping N off on their way past the farm for me to make it work with my job.

    Having to make the decision is so hard though. When I was a kid, you didn’t make a choice, you just went to the nearest school and that was it.

  11. July 27, 2020 / 12:17 pm

    An amazing article very helpful looking ahead to read more articles like this in the future.

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