Picking a Primary School
Next September may seem a long way off, however, if your child was born between September 1st 2016-August 31st 2017, then you will need to fill in their primary school application for Reception 2021 before the deadline on January 15th 2021 11:59pm (for those that like leaving things to the very last minute!).
Like everything during this strange year, Primary schools will be adapting how new parents can potentially view their school to help you in your decision. Some may still be offering visits for prospective parents albeit in smaller groups and socially distanced, or some may be offering Zoom tours. Either way, now is the time to think about which schools in your area you’re interested in and when they are open to view. Especially if the tours are going to be in smaller groups they may fill up a lot quicker than usual.
It can seem like an overwhelming decision to make, so here at Tales of Me HQ we have compiled a list of things to think about when applying for primary schools.
The most important thing to remember is that you know your child best so with that in mind, the first tip is to think about:
What does your child enjoy and what settings, (educational or non-educational), have you seen them thrive in?
Take a moment to reflect on whether your child is drawn to big open spaces or if they prefer small playgroups inside. Would they be happy with a small play area or would they be better off at a school that has large open spaces that they can run around in and let off steam?
Perhaps starting school in an infant school, (Reception through to Year 2) be better than a primary school, (Reception through to Year 6)? How many classes are there per year? Would a four form entry school be overwhelming or would your child thrive with the many different people they’ll meet each day?
If your child is sporty ask about how the P.E. curriculum is delivered. Some schools have external sports coaches to run the P.E. classes and many will have a variety of after school clubs to offer the opportunity to experience a range of different sports from Karate to Yoga, Football to Dance.
If sport doesn’t appear to be your child’s priority, make sure to ask about what they offer as part of the school’s curriculum as well as after school clubs, in the way of things like art, music and other languages.
Think about your other children too…
If you have more than one child you will likely be sending all of your children to the same school… unless you’re up for a challenging school run! So this tip aims to extend tip number one for younger siblings too.
You might also take into consideration a school with a nursery on the same site as this might make life easier for drop off and pick up. It may also help younger children settle into school more easily when it is their turn to start.
On the topic of making life easier…
Consider before school and after school provisions…
If your child is going to need to be dropped at school before 9am and collected after 3 pm, you will need to find out if your chosen schools have wrap around care including a breakfast club and an after school club. Is the provision provided by the school which tends to lower the cost or by an external provider which could be more expensive?
Are the clubs on the same site? Some schools have very over-prescribed breakfast and after school clubs so sometimes have clubs in off-site locations. If the school’s provision is not suitable then looking into alternatives such as a child-minding service may be necessary.
Get information about the school from as many different sources as possible:
Speak to other parents if you know any with children already at the school. Ask them their opinions on how they like the school and what they dislike. If you don’t know anyone at the school then some schools undertake parent surveys which should be available for you to read and sometimes they do child survey that pupils currently at the school complete too. This can give you a sense of the general feelings towards a setting and whether parents and children are generally content with a school.
Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills), is a governing body which inspects schools to help continually improve schools and provide information to parents. Once a school inspection has been conducted, a report is written that grades different areas and gives an overall rating of the school. This report is made available online for anyone to read. These reports can be helpful, however, it is important to note that, not only do the benchmarks continually shift for inspections, it is only a snapshot of the school taken over a 48 hour period. Whilst the report can give some helpful information, it should not be the only source of information used to pick a school.
Taking a look at the school website can also be a helpful source of finding out more about the school. Do they have a parent’s section that outlines what each year will be learning? Do they have all their policies available to view? Good communication between schools and parents is crucial in helping children not only settle at school but for parents to be able to support their children’s learning. A good website can be an indication of how well a school communicates with parents.
The Classroom and Environment
If you do get a tour of a school, look around the classroom and the common areas with care. You can tell a lot about a school from the displays and the way children are interacting with the classroom environment… especially in a Reception class. Although this may not be an option this year.
Look and see if children’s work is displayed with pride and care? Can you see a range of work displayed in terms of ability or are only the best looking pieces of work on display?
Are there different activities for the children to interact with that are clearly laid out. Are instructions written out with visual clues as well as words? Or are children expected to engage in tasks in a more independent manner.
Do the children seem happy and engaged? Does the classroom have displays and other materials set out to help support their learning? E.g. letter and sound cards at the writing areas? Number lines to support math activities?
How does the school support children with SEN/EAL/G&T etc.?
With large class sizes of up to 30 children, parents often wonder if their child will receive the attention they need. If you feel your child might require any additional support due to specific educational needs, having English as their second language or if they fall into a Gifted & Talented group, then it is important to find out how schools support these individual areas.
Our final point almost brings us back in a full circle to our first point which is trusting that you know your child and you will know if a school feels right for you and your school starter. In the same way that people say you know when a house is right for you, you can feel the same way about a school.
If you come away from a school visit and you didn’t quite feel engaged by it, take some time to think about what didn’t work for you and what it is you might be looking for in the next.
We hope you find these points helpful and we wish you the best of luck in your search for the right primary school and also for the journey ahead.
If you haven’t already had a look, be sure to check out our unique starting school book, ‘The Tale of Starting School,’ designed to help you and your child positively prepare for starting school!