Choosing a Primary School

Posted by iChild, November 24, 2017 3:40 PM

By Thimble & Twig

“Woah! Where did the time go?” says every parent that is applying for a primary school place this December! Me included, as I embark on the process of choosing a primary school for my third child this year. Even though we have been through this process before – it doesn’t get any easier! But here are some thoughts to help you get started and help you make an informed choice for a primary school place for your child.


Choosing a school is a lot like moving to a new house in my opinion. There are going to be lots of things you’d love to be in your ideal school, but you are going to need to make compromises! So, start by working out what are the essentials that the school should have and what are the nice-to-haves. For example, essentials would be things like wraparound care (for working parents).  It makes your life very tricky if you choose a wonderful school but then find you need to source alternative childcare as well. Another essential for most parents would be an easy journey to and from school. Starting school is tiring for children, and so an easy journey is a must. It is worth also considering that a school you can walk to should mean lots of opportunities for your child to make friends in the local area. The other essentials will vary from family to family but mine would include a large playing space, a rich curriculum (with lots of opportunities such as musical concerts and trips) and a school which promotes good behaviour.


Once you’ve drawn up your list of essentials, you should visit the schools and see if it feels friendly. Pay close attention to the children as you visit – do they seem happy? Is there somewhere to go if they feel sad? Does the school have systems in place to support new children (buddying pairs, for example?) How do different year groups respond to each other? Make sure that the school allows you to see the children at work and check if they seem engaged and interested in their learning. If you feel brave enough – ask to see some children’s books. The school should be proud to show you their student’s work and you can check to see if the books have been marked and if praise has been given and that the children have been challenged in their learning. The teacher should have included questions for the children to further their thinking as well as positive comments or stamps/stickers to motivate them. Ask the schools what their reward and motivation policy is – how are the children encouraged to do well? Look carefully at the website and download the recent letters to parents; this should give you a good idea as to what kind of ethos they are promoting. You should hope to see a diverse range of learning opportunities for your child – letters for trips the students can go on or innovative curriculum days the school have provided, such as ‘World Food Day’ is celebrated or that the school raise money for local charities.


Once you have narrowed your choice down, it is worth trying to meet local parents and see if you can talk to parents with children at your chosen schools. Try attending the school’s summer and Christmas fairs. Attending local playgroups or community events is also a good way to meet parents and ask for their opinions. However, remember, only you know your child best and, so it is best to treat all opinions as just that. They are not the facts!

Should you pay attention to Ofsted ratings?

It’s one of those age-old questions and whilst there is much value from reading an Ofsted report, there is far more value in visiting a school. Ofsted ratings can be useful in making decision and they are a great starting point, but they shouldn’t be thought of as a definitive verdict. It is worth remembering to check the date of an Ofsted inspection because these results may change if an inspection is looming. 'Outstanding’ schools are no longer inspected as regularly, meaning that the report could be up to seven years old, and a lot can change in that time for both a ‘Requires Improvement School’ as well as an ‘Outstanding’ one. Rather than take an Ofsted report at face value, use it to inform the questions that you could ask a school when visiting. For example, if the Ofsted report mentions that some teachers need to challenge the students more, you could ask what the school’s approach is to ensure lessons are challenging, or you could ask how teachers are monitored.


I was once told by a mum that she had only ever chosen a school for either of her children based on one thing: did the headteacher know the children’s names? When she visited the schools, she noted whether the headteacher knew the children’s names as they passed in the corridor. To her, this meant that the headteacher was putting the children first and that’s all that mattered. Although, I advise you might want to do a little more research before you choose a school, there’s certainly something in this. Wise words indeed!


By Thimble & Twig


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