School’s Out

What you need to consider when applying for a school place for the first time.

As the new school year begins, many of us will have an eye towards next September when our youngsters will be embarking on the school journey for the first time. While the excitement associated with seeing kids take their first big independent step is tangible, it can also be a stressful time for parents.

So as the countdown begins towards final selection of places at the start of next year, here are some dos and don’ts for picking the right school for your little one.

DO attend the open days. It’s easy to gloss over an establishment’s flaws when looking at a fancy brochure, which is why attending a school’s open day is essential (even though this is still arguably the best the place will ever look). Upon arriving, pay attention to how the school feels – what’s on the walls, how organised are the classrooms, are the teachers friendly and, if it’s a daytime opening, how engaged are the kids?

DON’T be afraid to ask questions. Take the opportunity to ask teachers and pupils alike how they feel about the school, and don’t fret about being upfront with representatives regarding any nagging doubts you have.

DO look for convenience. We may consider that selecting a school that’s a 10-minute walk away is acceptable, even when there’s an ‘almost as good’ alternative three doors down. Yet when factoring in the walking speed of a four- or five-year-old, and the reality that you will be walking to and from the school twice each day (four legs, effectively), that 10-minute walk could easily become an hour or more. For parents keen to return themselves to work and productivity while their children are in school, location and proximity are key factors.

DON’T be taken in by cosmetic appearance. Schools come in all shapes, sizes and appearances. While the newer ones may look glossy, modern and straight from an architect’s brochure, it’s what goes on in the classroom, within the pages of books and inside the minds of our wonderful youngsters, that really counts.

DO pay attention to the Ofsted report and league tables. Official statistics will tell you test and exam results for the schools you’re looking at, offering a pretty reliable snapshot of how each is performing, while the Ofsted report will offer a broader understanding of how the curriculum is taught and the pupils’ overall wellbeing.

But DON’T base your decision entirely on that. If an institute has an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating, but you’ve heard of bullying or disruption at the school, it’s important to bear both in mind. Similarly, if a school has a ‘satisfactory’ rating but seems to have got its act together since the report, it may be worth giving it a second look.

DO go with your heart. Whatever the facts and figures, the most important barometer is how you and your little one feel about the school, and that feeling normally comes from the heart.

DON’T obsess over friends. While it’s tempting to want to surround our kids with the buddies they have made in pre-school and the local park, most childhood friendships are made when they start school. Our young ones are true social sponges and encouraging them to make new friends at every opportunity is only a good thing.

DO show positivity and excitement above any apprehension. Your children will feed off the smallest scraps of emotion in what can be a nerve-wracking time, so when looking at school selection discuss the exciting things about each school that they will encounter as they make this big new step in their development.