Choosing a school

Choosing a school

When it comes to choosing a school, the process can seem overwhelming and a bit frightening. We're lucky to have Grace Marriott who has been a teacher, head teacher, governor and has worked on school ofsted inspections (So she knows her stuff) tell you what her advice is for applying for schools from nursery right the way through to secondary school. - Huge thanks to Grace for taking the time to do this, please do leave a comment if you found this helpful. ~Lauren~

Some things to look for - Grace Marriott October 2022

In the course of my career I have taught all age groups from 3 year olds to adults. These notes are based on my experience of working with Early Years settings and schools over many years as a local authority inspector, an independent consultant and also working freelance as a school inspector. 

This may sound really obvious but remember to be friendly! You’re not interrogating staff or pupils; you’re trying to find out if your child would thrive in this school. Read the most recent Ofsted report for the school but be aware that settings can change very quickly if there are changes in staff. 

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Nursery or pre-schools

  • When you arrive, are staff friendly and welcoming? 
  • If you have brought your child along with you, do they speak to your child as well as to you? 
  • Is the setting secure so that children are safe?  
  • Do the children seem to be settled and happy. Don’t be too concerned about a child who seems upset – as you know, that’s normal for small children at times, but see how the situation is being dealt with.  
  • What sort of activities are on offer?  Is it a good range, both indoors and outdoors so that children can be physically active, as well as taking part in activities which promote the other early learning goals?  These include the early stages of learning to read, write, count, learning about the world they live in, learning personal and social skills. 
  • Are there opportunities for ‘messy play’  eg sand and water, even a ‘mud kitchen’ if there are the facilities? 
  • Are children encouraged to choose for themselves as well as taking part in activities organised by the staff?
  • Are children encouraged to learn to take turns and share?
  • Does the setting look well organised? Is it clean and is the equipment well-maintained? NB it may not look tidy but if you are there at the end of a session, look for routines around tidying up and putting things away.
  • Do the staff seem knowledgeable about the needs of individual children? How well are parents involved?
  • What sort of food and drinks eg snacks does the setting provide? Are snacks healthy and are children encouraged to serve themselves?  
  • Are there clear routines and procedures which the children understand?
  • If it’s an all-day setting, what are the arrangements for lunch time and for children to have a rest?
  • Is there somewhere where any child can have a nap if he/she needs it? 
  • Are safeguarding procedures clearly displayed? 
  • Use your instinct – does this feel like the sort of setting where your child could thrive? If your child is with you, how has he/she responded?
  • If you can, chat to parents whose children already attend the nursery. What do they particularly like, are there any changes they would like?
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Primary Schools

In a primary school you are quite likely to be shown round by Year 6 pupils.  

  • It’s ok to ask them about whether they have enjoyed school, what they like best, but be careful not to let them talk about individual teachers or other staff.  
  • They are quite likely to talk about issues which have nothing to do with teaching and learning eg school meals, school uniform.  This is normal. 
  • Try to find out if there are equal opportunities eg can girls play football as often as boys?
  • It is ok to ask if they would recommend the school to others. 

When walking round: 

  • Are the public areas of the school clean, tidy and well-maintained? 
  • Do displays reflect the ethnic mix of the school and the Uk generally?
  • Is there an appropriate mix of pupils’ own work and commercially produced materials eg information about spelling, times tables, science etc? 
  • In the younger children’s classrooms important information should be easily seen if pupils are sitting on the floor.
  • Beware of overkill in terms of displays- classrooms and corridors can be too cluttered!

When talking to teaching staff:

  • Remember that there aren’t necessarily ‘right’ answers and results aren’t everything, but they should be able to justify what they do in terms of outcomes eg do most children reach the expected standards at different ages? 
  • It’s ok to ask about school policies eg how do they group pupils within classes or across classes? If they group by ability/outcome, how easy is it for children to change groups?
  • Do they use a reading scheme, if so which one? How do they expect parents to support their children’s reading /learning at home?  

Secondary schools 

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Again very similar to other settings. You’re trying to find out if this is the right school for your child. 

  • Secondary schools usually have open days/evenings. Your child’s primary school should be able to tell you when these are. They are also likely to be advertised locally. 
  • The pupils showing you round will probably have been in the school for several years and know it well.  It’s ok to ask about what they like and what they might change if they could. It’s also ok to ask if they would recommend the school to others but don’t allow them to talk about individual staff.
  • When talking to staff, you might want to ask about how pupils are set/grouped and how easy is it for pupils to change groups
  • Some schools do Key Stage 3 in two years not three. How do they make sure that pupils don’t miss out on essential knowledge and skills if they don’t carry on with a subject?
  • How good are results? They aren’t everything but the school should be able to show good progress. 
  • What is the range of extra-curricular activities like? If you have a sporty or a musical or artistic child what sort of provision is there for them to pursue their interests?  
  • If the school has a 6th Form what GCSE grades do pupils have to achieve to be able to do A Levels or other higher level courses? 
  • What proportion of pupils go on to further or higher education, or into employment? 
  • Does the school look clean and well-cared for? 
  • What community links/involvement does the school promote?

How to apply

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First point of contact is always the Local Authority.

They will have a list of council run and private nurseries and pre-schools. Some will be attached to schools, others will be independent. This process can be more complicated for secondary schools. Local authority will be able to give you advice and have a list of all schools.

Visit as many as possible unless you are sure of what you want.

When filling in the application make sure to include all relevant information eg any special needs either the child or within the family.

There should always be an appeals procedure if you don’t get your first choice.

If you really don’t want anything except your first choice then don’t put any others down but be careful about that

Don’t write off the other places.

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Struggling to find a school or feeling overwhelming with having to choose a nursery school, a primary school or a secondary school. Here the tips from an expert on what to look out for to make sure you're making the right decisions for your Childs future. Choosing a primary school, choosing a nursery, choosing a secondary school. Tips for choosing a school

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