I cannot believe we are having to make such decisions already. Erin is now 3, and we are therefore in the process of selecting our choices for her first school – ready for her to start in September 2017. Not only have I found this a tad emotional (my baby!!!) but also a bit of a minefield in terms of the decision process. After deliberating and asking more questions than Magnus Magnusson – I thought it would be useful to share a round up of the considerations we had when making our decisions. These are in no particular order, and the priority will obviously depend on your personal circumstances! I hope you find them useful!
Before / After school clubs (wrap around care) –
Does the school offer before and after school clubs to extend the duration at school around your working hours? How popular are they? How soon would you need to get your name down? Is there likely to be a waiting list. This is important if you are working parents, as if they have been at nursery / preschool you may be used to a 7.30 – 6 set up, and school is more like 8.45 – 3.30 – that is a substantial difference when trying to juggle it with your working day! Some start at 8am, and some start at 7.30am. Due to my working hours, we really could do with a 7.30 start in order for me to drop her off on the way to the office.
Form / Class Sizes and number of forms to a year
How many places are there in the class (usually around 30) and is there just the one class? Some schools offer two reception classes (some even 3) and obviously if there is just one, the chances of successful places are reduced.
You local government website will outline your catchment school (you should also have received a guide in the post). There is also an online map so you can see which other schools are in a close vicinity to your home. The government website will also provide useful data including the closest person that got into the school last year and what criteria this was based on – this gives you a rough guide as to whether your child is likely to be accepted if you submit them to a school outside of your catchment. Its not food proof but a useful guide.
Look at the admission criteria for each school – particularly if they are not your catchment school. This shows you the priority order in which they allocate places e.g. catchment, siblings etc
Most schools will have a copy of their full latest Ofsted report on their website, which will outline their score and the reasons behind it. I found it useful to read these reports as it is interesting to read why a school got Good and not Outstanding (sometimes the reasons seem a little pedantic and therefore don’t have much personal bearing!). Bear in mind that some of the Ofsted results may be old and a lot can change in a few years depending on the Head Teacher, Staff, School Structure etc.
Feeder Junior / Senior schools
If the schools you are looking at are Infant only (Reception to Year 2) consider what the feeder Junior schools are too – what Junior Schools do they tend to go to? You should consider what are these like as well as this is likely to be where they will end up (or at least where the majority of their class and therefore friendship groups will go).
Visit the school open days
Or if you cant find out the date of them, ring up the reception and ask for a guided tour. The majority of school opens days are held around this time of year, and I have personally found them really useful as you get a gut feel and instinct based on the atmosphere.
Take your child along (where possible)
What do they think – at our favourite Erin got back in the car and almost cried with sadness – “I want to go to that school Mummy!” – take a 3 year olds opinion with a pinch of salt but it’s always nice to see their reaction.
Meet the teachers
Are they friendly? Do you think your child would warm to / respond well to them? On the contrary – do they ignore you? On one of our tours we were shown around my a pupil, and the teacher didn’t even so much as raise her head to acknowledge us when we walked in – I personally found this a little rude. Who shows you around – whilst it was nice to be shown around by pupils, it all felt a little contrived – as they had obviously been cherry picked as the best behaving children! I much preferred being shown around by the Head Teacher or senior staff member, as they could easily answer all the questions posed.
How long have the teachers been there?
Whilst newly qualified teachers can be a good thing, bringing in fresh ideas and a modern take on education, long term staff is usually a good sign. I was reassured when I heard that some had been there for many many years (at one school they recognised my other half!!), and that turnover was relatively low. I want my daughter to have consistency in terms of her teacher, and someone that she can have as a familiar face in her environment.
What are the settling in sessions like?
This might be more important if like me you have a Summer baby, or if your child is particularly shy (not so much the latter in Erin’s case!!). Do they have transition days (mornings/afternoons) or do they just start full time? For a combined infant and Junior school, are the younger children segregated from the whole school in the early days? Some of the schools we visited offer taster days where parents can go along with them for a few hours, whereas others start full days straight away. There are obviously pros and cons to both.
What is the child to teacher ratio? Do they have teaching assistants?
Class sizes ideally shouldn’t be too big – with 30 tending to be an optimum number. I like to see teaching assistants, particularly in reception and year 1, and some students have parent helpers too (CRB checked obviously)
What are the lunches like? Most schools have a sign up with the school menu – it may sound daft, but its always worth checking this out, particularly if like Erin, your child is a picky eater.
How do they approach discipline / reward?
I always like to know how disruptive children will be disciplined as want to be sure that my daughter’s education isn’t affected. It is always interesting to learn how they target poor behaviour, and on the contrary, how they reinforce positive actions.
Do the children look happy and engaged in the classroom?
Or do they look bored? Are they misbehaving? I always like to see examples of the work on the walls – e.g writing, crafts etc, and ask myself whether they look fun and engaging? At one school we saw examples of the students handwriting, peg dollies and Picasso inspired art work – I loved it! 🙂
Is it tidy and well presented?
Whilst it doesn’t need to be modern – I like to see a school that takes pride in its appearance!
Do the teachers look happy and relaxed or stressed? – Needs no explanation!
Do they show you everywhere or just the “best bits”
If you get the impression they aren’t showing you somewhere and you want to see it – ask!
Look at security
Did reception clarify who you were when you arrived? Are the school gates secure and non accessible by random members of the public. I found it reassuring to see safeguarding notices and a tradesman leaving his mobile phone at the reception desk!
What kind of homework do they have in the infant years?
I found this useful despite it probably being fairly consistent between schools – I am secretly looking forward to this part (Such a geek!)
Finally, picture your child there, picture yourself as a child there – what does your gut tell you? If something doesn’t sit right, then it’s probably not the right school.
What else would you add? Are there any other questions / considerations you made when selecting your child’s school?