As a parent of a child about to embark upon his or her primary education, choosing the right school is important. The first years of compulsory education can shape your child’s attitude towards learning for the rest of their life.
In addition, research has shown that up to the age of eleven you as parents still have more influence helping your child learn than the school. So, no pressure – but you need to get it right!
Different Schools for Different Children
Where do you start? The first thing to do is to consider your own child. After all, you should know them better than anybody else. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What aspirations do you have for your child? Would they be best suited to an academic environment? Are they creative? Would a nurturing school suit them best? Start creating your own shopping list of what you are looking for.
Do your research, and find details of every school in your locality. Schools will have reputations in their local community but weigh this information carefully. A school’s performance can change very quickly but reputations don’t always change at the same speed. Ignore, at this stage, any school gate gossip. Make your own judgements and give every school the benefit of any doubt. Look up the latest Ofsted report and read carefully the headline judgements.
Visiting the Schools
Every primary school should have open days or open mornings for prospective parents. Make the most of these, and visit as many as you can. When you enter the primary schools what is your first impression – warmth? caring? forthcoming?
Who shows you around? Is it the headteacher, or member of the senior team? Watch how they relate to their pupils – do they know the names of individuals? Ask questions as you walk around the school, and don’t be afraid to enter classrooms. Go and sit next to children at their desks. Ask if you can see what they are doing. If their exercise books are available then ask if they mind you having a look.
How frequently are the books marked? Does the teacher show a real interest in the child’s work, and do the comments reveal an understanding of what the child has achieved? Look at the classroom wall displays – are they fresh and vibrant, or do they look tired and ragged? Is there a real emphasis on celebrating the work that children have done?
Talk to Headteachers and Other Parents
Primary headteachers, even more so than their secondary counterparts, are the driving forces behind their schools. Engage them in conversation and have your questions ready. Don’t try to be clever, but simply use your questioning to help you form an opinion of the school leadership. Is it dynamic and forward-looking? Is there a clear strategy for the school?
Finally, do talk to other parents, but stay fully aware that they will have their own agendas, and many often dwell too much on the negative.
If you’ve done your homework, asked the right questions, and taken a balanced view then you will be in a much better position to choose the best primary school for your child.
Have a browse through our Knowledge Bank if you have any more questions about education. There’s a library of useful information about all aspects of schooling. We also have articles full of hints, tips and advice on other aspects of parenting, like the importance of friendships and a guide to Asperger’s Syndrome and autism. If there’s anything you’ve always wanted to know but were afraid to ask, you may find what you seek right there at your fingertips.
Guest Blog By Graham Bray
Graham Bray has been a teacher for 25 years and is married to a primary school headteacher. A regular contributor to Education Quizzes, he has a Joint Honours Degree in Botany and Zoology and a PhD in Biological Sciences. Graham is currently Director of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at a large comprehensive school in East Sussex.