Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you make as a parent and many people do a lot of research, trawling through Ofsted reports, websites and some may even try to make sense of league tables.
Parents are no doubt also influenced by what other people say. In my view parents need to take a careful look, visit the school and make their own mind up as to whether that school is right for their child.
My school is in the very fortunate position of being oversubscribed (more people wanting places than we are able to offer) but this means that I do speak to many parents who are disappointed that their children will be unlikely to get in and therefore will discuss other options with them.
Many schools are dismissed without consideration because of a long standing school reputation or because of what someone has told them. It saddens me as I work very closely with all the schools in my area and some that are dismissed are amazing schools with highly talented staff.
The children at these schools will tell you how much they love their school.
Understanding the data
The headlines in this paper and may others a few weeks ago about the best and worst schools are very misleading. The league tables are presented with the highest percentage of children reaching expected levels in reading writing and maths at the top. This is just one piece of data and if you look at the league tables on the Department for Education website you will see that you can find out how well the higher ability children do and more importantly the progress that children make.
You can also find out more statistics about the context of a school. https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/
However, data can be misleading. In small schools one child is a huge percentage. The data doesn’t tell you whether all those children have been at the school for seven years and the figures certainly don’t tell the stories of all the personal challenges children may have.
Ofsted is starting to recognise this and the signs are that they are going to become a little less data driven and are recognising that in some areas children may have far more barriers to their learning that others. By all means look at the data but understand that there are many human stories behind those statistics.
So what should you look for when choosing a school for your child?
The feel of a school
First of all go to the school. In the autumn term the schools all have open days; go along and see what you think for yourself. How does the school feel? Does it feel happy?
Can you see your child fitting in there? Were you welcomed?
‑Do you feel that you could approach the staff if you had a worry or a concern?
What kind of transition programme is there in place to ensure your child settles easily and quickly? Did you get to speak to any pupils? If so, what did they say about their school?
Are the things that you feel are important taught well in school?
This may well be reading, writing and maths but you may want to consider other subjects like religious education, computing, PE or science.
You will know what is important to you. Is creativity important to you? Will this school give good opportunities for your child to express themselves by singing, dancing, acting or exploring different art mediums? Does this curriculum advocate a set of values that you wish your child to have?
Obviously you will also need to consider which high school you ultimately wish your child to attend.
Does the primary school have a good transition programme to that particular high school?
What are your views about how behaviour should be managed? All schools have complex children with behavioural needs that require support and understanding from staff, parents and pupils alike.
But what do you feel your child needs? Look at the behaviour policy on the website and see if it sits with what you believe.
More important than anything is care. Regardless of the education you will want to know that your child is loved and cared for in your chosen school.
You want to know that your child will be valued for the wonderful human being that you know they are. I can remember very clearly going to the induction night for my first child and looking at that teacher thinking “I wonder if that teacher knows how lucky they are that they are getting to spend such a lot of time with my child and that I have chosen them for this privilege.” Teaching is a wonderful job, a tough one at times but a great one.
The best teachers never lose sight of this privilege and the best leaders choose these teachers to take your child on a wonderful adventure of learning.