Are you running around looking for an angel’s costume for your child’s school Nativity, shopping for the perfect Christmas gifts, meeting deadlines at work, planning your diary for next year and still have the important decision to make on the choice of your child’s school for Reception 2016 entry? I am. And I know that I am in the company of thousands of other parents who are doing the same.
What will help you decide the choice of school for your child? Here are some of the things you could do or have already done:
1. Do a digital search. Start your research by looking at the school website. You will have an idea of the school size, play areas, focus on the arts, sport, the school community and the school’s place in the larger community. It will also have its Ofsted rating and latest Ofsted report or a link to it. It will reflect the school’s place in the league tables and the school’s attainment against national averages unless it is a brand new school. It will clearly outline its vision statement and you will gain an idea of its ethos.
2. Communication Closely allied to your digital search are the newsletters, Headteacher’s blog, weekly, monthly or quarterly bulletins, which keeps parents and carers informed, celebrates the school’s successes, its goals and the challenges it may be experiencing.
3. Attend Coffee mornings or similar meetings arranged by the school so that you can chat to other mums, dads and carers about what they are looking at and why.
4. Visit the school with your child. I found this step to be the deciding factor in my decisions. It presents a myriad of information that is visible and audible irrespective of what the school is showcasing. The Headteacher’s address, together with a pack outlining its vision, values, goals and attainment are a handy hard copy that you can refer to and consider when you get home. These are overt clues as to the culture of the school. However, the school visit serves as the Mum (or Dad) Radar that tells you, deep down, if this is the school for your child.
This is what influenced my visits:
- How was the person on the phone who you booked the visit with? Organised, dates on hand, times, explained the process, where to park, what to expect?
- What was your impression as you entered the school? Is it bright, welcoming, recent and relevant displays?
- Were your questions answered satisfactorily during the Headteacher’s address?
- What did you learn as you were taken around the school? Was there a member of staff to ask questions as they arose?
- What impression did you get of teaching and learning? This is a bread and butter issue and a quick dart in and out of classrooms, or a glimpse of outdoor learning gives you a wealth of insight.
- Is this the sort of class size that you see your child fitting into?
- Consider what you read during your digital search and decide if your snapshot visit matches with this. Remember that during your visit the school is putting its best foot forward. Classes, children and teachers are informed of the visit and in most cases prepare meticulously for it.
- Look beyond the curriculum and ask yourself if you can see your child fitting in here. My daughter’s friend’s mum told me that on entering a school she could just see her son in it.
You return home, you have done your research and there are some practical considerations:
5. Consider the commute. I visited a school that took me six minutes to get to around midday and 35 minutes to get to during the peak time of the school run.
6. If you are enamoured with the school, is the commute tenable? If you or your partner have huge work commitments, who would help? Could you carpool?
7. If you and your partner work full time, you are a single mum or dad, have no other child care, does it have a Breakfast Club and After School Club?
8. Consider whether any younger sibling would fit in at the school too. In just over a year I will be going through the same rigmarole for my youngest.
A final step would be to put on your Mum (or Dad hat) firmly and listen to your instinct. For me, instinct is the sum total of my experience, learning and skill – in this context – as a Mother. Mums and Dads I chat to tell me that I am at an advantage as I worked in education for over 20 years and already made choices of primary and secondary schools for my eldest. I always reply that choosing a school is a matter of the heart. I will use my mother’s heart to make my choices and click on that online application form.
The photo was taken in December 2015 during a school visit in the South East of England.
Sudhana Singh is a former Headteacher and lecturer. As an Executive Coach based in London, her coaching niche is Your First 100 Days. Follow her on Twitter @SudhanaSingh