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?
Top Image: DTTSP Bottom image of pencils: Shutterstock.