Do some homework before making your decisions

When it comes to comparing schools, it always helps to do your homework.

When you start looking at the different options, consider what type of education you want your child to receive and ask your son or daughter for their views too.

You will already be familiar with some of the schools in the area but it’s worth checking to make sure you haven’t missed any and remember they can be outside of your borough, city or county too.

Do some research online where there are a number of tools to help you compare different schools and their performance.

The Government-run website – www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk – has data available, which includes progress made between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 and the percentage of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grades at GCSE.

Highly acclaimed website www.schoolguide.co.uk also offers key statistics, catchment area information and parent views. 

It enables you to search by location, school or postcode.

As well as performance data, it looks at other factors such as the pupil to teacher ratio, persistent absence rate and school meal uptake. 

Once you have got a list of options together then attend open days at the schools you are interested in with your child.

Visiting in person is the most important thing you and your child can do.

Attending an open day is the best way to let your son or daughter get a feel for a place. 

These usually happen in September and October.

During an open day prospective parents and pupils can visit the school during a working day or after the day’s lessons.

You’ll be able to visit classrooms, and often pupils will show you round and talk to you about their school.

Parents will probably be invited to hear a talk by the headteacher, the head of admissions or the head of the relevant section of the school.

Looking around the school will also enable you both to discover more than you would if just read the prospectus.

It’s an opportunity for you to speak to the staff, pupils, and the headteacher.

Feel free to ask questions if you want to, particularly of pupils – what do they think of the teaching – do they enjoy life at the school?

Look at the work on display.

Does it represent a broad range of ability?

A school should value every child.

Does the school offer extra-curricular activities – such as sports and clubs – so your child can develop their interests? 

This also shows that the teachers are motivated and enthusiastic. 

It will help you to really get a sense of what it is like and how it operates on a daily basis.

Make sure you have a few key questions to ask in order to get the most out of the visit – you might want to find out how many children are in a class, or how the school deals with bullying.

Often current pupils will be drafted in to show prospective students around their classrooms and this will give a good insight into what life is like at the school.

If they are enthusiastic and motivated then this a good sign that they are happy.

Make sure to ask them questions away from staff if you get chance as they are more likely to give honest answers.

The events will also showcase what extra-curricular activities, such as sports and clubs, are on offer.

Remember to ask about transport – will your child have to make their own way there, or are there buses?

Find out about the lunch arrangements – are there healthy school meals available and what do they cost?

What are the other options such as taking a packed lunch?

Think about whether you find the open day chaotic, friendly, efficient or improvised?

The organisation of the day’s events can give many clues to the general running of a school.

Pay attention to the pupils themselves – do they seem happy and motivated?

Do they speak positively about their teachers and school-life?

Pupils are the best ambassadors for any school.

It’s also important to find out how the school seeks to work with parents.

Ask how parents are kept informed on activities and achievements in school. 

Is there a newsletter?

If you think it’s important to you to get involved with your child’s school then this is a good opportunity to discover if this will be possible.

Is there a PTA group at the school?

Charity Parent kind, which encourages the fullest cooperation between home and school, recommends making a bee-line for the parent volunteers on hand at school open events to find out more about how parents are engaged in social events, learning, and school improvement or consulted on policies and fundraising.

Make notes and watch your child’s reactions and ask them what they thought.

Above all, listen to your gut instinct.


WHAT TO ASK AT OPEN DAYS


QUESTIONS TO ASK TEACHERS


Do new pupils have a buddy or mentor allocated to them?

Would you send your child to this school?

How does the school cater for gifted and talented children?

What extra curricular activities does the school offer?

How does the school cater for children with learning difficulties?

What would you do if I complained that my child was being bullied?

How many staff are trained to administer First aid?


QUESTIONS TO ASK PUPILS


How much homework do you get each day?

Is there a good choice on the lunch menu and are the queues reasonable?

Are the library and computer rooms open during break time, lunch and after school?

How easy is it to Find a member of staff if you have a problem?

Are anti-bullying measures effective?

What do you think of your headteacher?

Are you happy at the school, and do you have fun here?

Would you be happy for your little brother or sister to follow you to the school?

What are the best things about lessons and what are the worst?

What is your favourite subject and why?

What is your most difficult subject and why?

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