The world of education, primary or secondary can be quite overwhelming. Making one of the most important decisions as to which school is the one isn’t easy.
First thing to know when choosing a school is that there is a lot more to schools than exams, league tables and Ofsted. Yes they are important and being graded outstanding may be great but the award is only given for Maths and English results rather than the delivery of a broad balanced curriculum that brings the best out in children.
It is advised to visit as many schools in your area as possible to be able to compare them. Make sure visits and tours are during the day to see the schools in action and get a feel for the environment, the staff and the children.
Staff and children will be briefed prior to any visits, including Ofsted inspections. They will be told to be on their best behaviour and if elected to take visitors on a tour, children will be told how to behave and what to say so bear in mind that you won’t always get to see a true representation of the school.
During your visit
Arrange your visit face to face at reception to get a feel for the staff. Are they friendly? Do they cooperate?
Expect to be shown round the whole school not just your child’s respective classroom. Beware if there is restricted access or they are reluctant to show you certain areas, ask yourself why? It could be classrooms are untidy, library isn’t well stocked, computers not up to date in ICT suite or there is insufficient playground equipment – whatever the reason make sure you see it all! Schools only want to show you the best.
As you enter the school ask yourself: ’Will my child be happy here?’ ‘Do I feel happy here?’ All schools feel different. They all have different atmospheres and environments. If you feel uncomfortable be on your guard, walk away if you have to.
Look around the lobby at what is going on. Are there children milling around? They may be on an errand returning the registers – a sign the school encourages responsibility. Are children are messing about in the corridor with no consequence? – can be suggestive of a slap dash approach to discipline. Look out for the safeguarding policy and staff photos as well as pictures of the children.
As you walk round the school have a look at the displays, too many can be overwhelming. Is the childrens’ work on display? If so, work from all or just a chosen few? How are the classrooms set out? Are they busy and inspiring?
Meeting the head teacher should be a positive experience. She should be friendly, approachable, genuine and trustworthy. Take note of how the children (and staff) behave in her presence and whether she knows the children by name?
The staff, like the children will be on their best behaviour. Teachers are very busy and stressed so don’t be surprised if they don’t notice you, however it is polite and common decency to say hello.
Children will often be selected to show you round the school. Ask them questions about the school lunch, their favourite subjects and extra curricular activities. Don’t ask them if they like school because 99% of the time they will say yes. Children will honest and tell you the truth.
If you can talk to other parents, find out their opinions. Remember what suits one parent and their children may not suite you and your children.
Always go with your gut instincts. You know your children best and what is right for them.
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