Looking around schools can be a daunting process for any parent, especially if you have a few favourites. Enjoy Education work closely with families advising them on how to find the best schools for their children. Here are a few of our top tips on how to get the most out of those precious school visits
Try and absorb the atmosphere of the school as you look around it. Do you like it? Are you happy to be there? Do you think your children would flourish in that environment? They sound like simple questions to ask but they are important. Trust your instincts!
If you are being shown around by a pupil, ask them questions about the things you might not see – the state of the bathrooms, what lunch is like, what their favourite lesson is and why?
Try to see a lesson being taught, are the children engaged, asking lots of questions, is the teacher happy to be observed?
Assess the class sizes and remember that you’d expect to see a larger class for year 7 and smaller class sizes for the 6th If your child does need extra support outside of the classroom, how is this arranged?
Parents often ask what a school is doing for the talented students and those who are struggling and schools will have a well-rehearsed answer. A good head teacher will also be able to show how those in the middle of the class are being supported to fulfil their potential.
What is your impression of the Head? Are you able to meet with them when looking at the school? The Head teacher is the driving force behind a school’s vision so you need to feel that you understand and welcome their approach and ethos.
So much of a school’s success is driven by the flair and leadership of the Head teacher, ask what their ethos/mission for the school is and how this is being implemented on a day to day basis.
League tables and Ofsted reports are just one side of a school – they are important to review but make sure you look at everything the school has to offer from sport and music to drama, arts and CCF.
What opportunities are there for trips, visits and activities in the holidays, led by teachers, to extend school-based learning? Are there opportunities within the school for children to contribute to the wider community?
Look at the noticeboards. Are they well-maintained and up to date? Are there a lot of activities and student accomplishments taking place? In a junior school, look for work that students have completed. You are less likely to see this in a senior school so do ask what they have planned for the term.
Once you have decided a shortlist of one or two schools that you like, take your child with you to look around them. They may pick up on things they like/dislike that you haven’t thought of. This doesn’t mean that their word is final but it helps you to see a school through their eyes.
Remember that school open days are when everyone is on their best performance! Most schools will allow you to arrange an appointment separately, this can help you to see how a school runs on a ‘normal’ day.
Good luck to everyone visiting schools over the next few months! Remember, don’t panic, the schools are there to support you.
Vivienne Durham has been Headmistress at Francis Holland, Regent’s Park, for almost twelve years and last year won Tatler Magazine Award for Best Head of a Public School. Prior to Francis Holland School, Vivienne Durham taught in a number of leading UK schools. She has extensive experience as an accredited school inspector (ISI), and as a school governor, for more than twenty years.
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