September to January of each academic year are filled with posts on FaceBook from prospective parents asking for advice on Primary Schools, parents passing on tips about which school suits their children the best and coffee morning discussions revolving around whether a school which has an after school club is better than one that doesn’t.
Choosing a primary school feels like a huge undertaking. In all likelihood you are picking the school that your child will spend the next 7 years at, as well as the school where you will be trying to find your Tribe amongst all the other parents.
If feels like such a huge decision – mainly because it is! There are so many questions to be answered!
What is the difference between an Academy and a State school?
Do I want a school which offers loads of sports clubs or loads of crafty clubs?
Is the Headteacher a friendly, approachable one or one who hides in their Office and you barely see except at assemblies and productions?
Here are some top tips on choosing the right primary school for your child (and you!)
Firstly – make sure you go and visit the school. Just because your friend’s daughter loves one school and passionately hated another, does not mean that will be the same for you. Everyone has very different experiences of Primary School, and it needs to be your gut instinct which lets you know whether this is the right school for your child. Talk to the Headteacher and get a feel about whether they are friendly and approachable. Do you feel you would be able to talk to them about any problems that may arise? How do the teachers talk to the children – and are the children engaged and excited about the learning they are doing? Don’t forget to look at the wall displays as well – they are often great clues about what the school has been up to!
Secondly – don’t underestimate the power of the school’s website. A good school will ensure that the website is kept up to date, with interesting and informative articles about what is happening in the school. Read back over the last few newsletters that were sent out – the tone they are written in will also give you a good feeling for the school!
Academy or State?
The difference between these is essentially that an Academy has much more freedom to make it’s own decisions on things like; the length of the school day, what curriculum it teaches, how it spends it’s budget, how much it pays it’s teachers etc. A council controlled state school must teach the National Curriculum and has guidelines on the length of the school day and has some of it’s budget dictated to by the council. So what does this mean as a parent? Well, in most cases, it doesn’t really mean a huge amount to parents and more than likely you won’t particularly notice the differences.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that an academy can make changes to the length of the school day, and this may be a question you would like to ask when you go for a look around. Some academies have extended the school day for Years 5 and 6 for an extra hour, which is then compulsory time in school – it is definitely worth a conversation with the school just to find out their thoughts and their plans for the near future.
Before and After School provision
If you are a working parent, this may be really important for you. Some schools don’t run any extra childcare clubs, whilst some run both Breakfast and After school clubs. Have a chat with the school about who runs their provision, what the cost is likely to be and where it is held – in some cases the children are picked up from school and taken to an alternative venue.
In Reception, it is important that the children have access to outdoor provision as much as indoor provision, and are allowed (and encouraged) to play outdoors in all weathers. When you have a look around the school, look at the indoor provision including how much technology the children have access to, but also look at the outdoor environment. Is it welcoming and inviting? Do the children have access to a variety of toys and equipment? Does it look as though it is rich with learning experiences? It is also worth looking at the playground for the older years – does it look inviting and fun? A good school will spend time resourcing the classroom environment as well as the outside environment!
This might not be something that you are particularly interested in as yet for your Reception child, and many schools don’t run after school clubs for Reception children. However, it is worth having a look to find out what types of clubs the school offers for older children. Is your child particularly sporty, crafty or into music? Have a look at the school website to see what they took part in last year – it will be a good guide as to what they may continue to offer in following years.
Lots of primary schools have a lot of engagement with the community – whether this be putting on a Christmas Fair, inviting members of the community in to talk to the children, taking part in wider community events such as singing at the O2 or being pen pals to children in another school or country. Again, it is worth looking at the school website to see what they have been getting up to this year!
Although school is about learning in the classroom, that is not just it! When you look around the school, can you see evidence of children learning from the wider world? Are there lots of trips or visitors mentioned? Does the school hold days such as World Book Day, or have an annual Science Week? All of these enhance the learning for children and make it so much more fun!
Ultimately though, use your gut instinct about whether the school is right for you and your family. Sometimes we don’t know why we prefer one school over another, but trust yourself – you know what would be right for your child! And don’t forget that the application dates close in January so make sure you have your application in by then! Good luck.