How to Choose a School

A Handy Guide for Parents

Its that time of year again when Social Media explodes with posts from parents asking for recommendations for schools, followed by 126 completely contrasting comments, muddying the waters further. To some extent parents need to be cautious when seeking advice from strangers and rely more on their own instinct. Choosing a school for your child is a huge responsibility, but knowing what to look for can take the stress out, even if in these bizarre times you are not able to visit a school in person.

The Good Schools Guide offers some advice to start with ‘Factors you might want to consider include strong test results, good value added (a measure of how well children progress throughout their school journey), a good range of extra curricular activities, strong pastoral care, a particular ethnic and social mix, the size of the school, faith or non faith, wrap-around care, and the amount and quality of outdoor space.’ But ultimately it is a feeling do you like a smaller rural school or a bigger school with more extra-curricular opportunities?

Cutting through the Data

Schools these days are very data rich, all the information you need is at the touch of a fingertip, the schools Ofsted report is always a good place to start, be cautious though, check the date of the report as these can often be quite a few years old and the character of a school can change dramatically following a good or bad inspection, teachers could change and there could be mitigating factors behind the data.

Visiting Schools

It will be interesting to see how individual schools decide to run their Open Evening this year. traditionally parents have the opportunity to walk round schools and get a feel for the prospective school, but this year this will not be possible. The challenge for schools will be to try to give parents as much of a feel for the school environment, but remember it is a competitive market so be cautious when watching promotional videos or listening to speeches. Keeping this in mind here are some tips.

  • Is the Open Evening itself and the surrounding events well run?
  • Is there an opportunity for Questions?
  • Are children used to give their own perspective?
  • Does the school look well looked after, e.g. is the paintwork fresh?
  • Is the work on display well presented, with a range of abilities represented? 
  • What are your impressions of the head?
  • What evidence is there of how the school caters for special educational needs and gifted and talented children?
  • What sort of extra-curricular activities are offered?
  • What is the school’s ethos? 
  • What’s your impression of the general atmosphere?

If there are opportunities to talk to teachers, or alternatively to trusted friends with children already at the school, you may want to consider the following questions.

  • How big are the classes?
  • How many classroom assistants are there?
  • Are children taught in sets? If so, can children move sets easily if necessary?
  • How are gifted children extended and challenged?
  • How are children with additional needs helped?
  • How do they communicate with parents if there is a problem?
  • How often are supply teachers used?
  • Is there much staff turnover?
  • Would they send their own child to the school?

From personal experience, we know that all the schools in our area are of a good quality, with strong reputations across the board. Unusually we have three tier system therefore there are three points at which parents have to make decisions. For us locality was the major factor living within a community not only do we like to support our local schools, but also logistically having a school nearby was critical.

Choosing a school is a challenge in itself; choosing a school in these unprecedented times magnifies this further. As with most major decisions in your life, remember to take all the advice you can, but your decision needs to be the right one for your family. Good luck.