Advice to parents on choosing a school- some thoughts
Don’t go into the school unprepared, think ahead…
Your child starting school is the beginning of a partnership, not a one-way relationship, with school being the dominant partner. Consider this poem, which I believe encapsulates the process.
I dreamed I stood in a studio and watched two sculptors there,
The clay they used was a young child’s mind and they fashioned it with care.
One was a teacher: the tools she used were books and music and art;
One was a parent with a guiding hand and gentle loving heart.
And when at last their work was done, they were proud of what they had wrought.
For the things they had worked into the child could never be sold or bought!
And each agreed she would have failed if she had worked alone.
For behind the parent stood the school, and behind the teacher the home!
The school itself will probably have a website. Have a look and try to navigate around the site. What is there and how easy is it to access? What level of detail is made available? Is it written in jargon or is it easy to understand? Beyond the school, there will be a number of available documents, such as the Ofsted reports over a number of years. These can be enlightening, bust check when they were written. Always remember that schools are dynamic institutions and do change over time with personnel changes. If the school data are important to you, have a look at previous years’ results, available through the DfE.
First impressions count…
How easy was it to make the arrangements to visit? Are you offered a personal tour or are you in a group? Is the entry to the school welcoming and can you find the front door easily? Once there is there an intercom, or are you allowed into the building before announcing your arrival? Was your visit expected and how are you treated, welcomed or shunted off to a waiting room? If the latter; is this a parent and child friendly space? Is there something to do or read? Are there displays?
Keep your eyes and ears open..
Ask what is important to you. Look at the displays carefully. Are they interesting, colourful, recent, children’s work. Is the display of a good quality, mounted with care or just pinned up randomly? What’s happening in the classrooms? How are the tables arranged, what are the children doing, what are the adults doing?
Who’s showing you around? Are they just telling the school story or are they engaging with you and your child? Can you talk with children during your visit? How does the school deal with the different learning needs of children? What is the staff turnover and what is the school approach with supply teachers?
Was your visit dealt with professionally? Was all communication based on a partnership, rather than one way? How did you feel when you left?
You could rely on gut instinct. This feel right/ not right, but it is probably better to be a little discriminating. You could do a positive and negatives list, or a SWOT analysis, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. How do the different elements balance?
It is worth bearing in mind that, all being well, your child will be in this school for a number of years, possibly seven in a Primary School. You need to get this right, or at least bearable, as the wrong school could blight a child’s education.
- Your child is money to a school; they want a full house.
- Beware of glossy publications; they could mean a lot of money spent on “advertising”.
- The sales pitch will have been perfected; the school should be able to tell a good story.
- All published material will have been edited and proofed before sending out; check what is being said.
- Did you see what they say they do?
- Oversubscribed may not be better for your child; reputations can be transient.
- Don’t rely on rumour and gossip; make your own mind up after a visit.
- Discuss this with your child where possible; best for you may not be best for them.