Ofsted reports, league tables and flashy spreadsheets are all very well, but there is far more to selecting a good primary school than pages of data. If you want the best for your little one, take a peek at our guide to choosing a primary school for your child.
Types of schools
- Community schools – are run and owned by the local authority (LA). The LA is responsible for employing staff and setting the admissions criteria, such as catchment area.
- Voluntary-aided schools – are faith-based and so have a religious character. They are run by a governing body, which employs staff and sets the admissions criteria. The school land and building are often owned by a charity, usually a church.
- Voluntary-controlled schools – are similar to community schools in that the LA employs the staff and sets the admissions criteria. The schools land and buildings, however, are owned by a charity, often a church. The charity will also appoint some member of the governing body.
- Foundation schools – like voluntary-aided schools, foundations schools are run by a governing body, which sets the admission criteria. The school’s land and buildings may be owned by either the governing body or a charity.
- Trust schools – are very much like foundation schools, but are run together with an outside body, such as a charity or business, to form an educational trust. The trust provides and manages the school’s funds.
- Academy schools – these schools receive direct funding from the Department of Education and run independent of the local authority. They are able to set their own term dates, admission criteria (in line with the School Admissions Code) and do not have to follow the national curriculum.
- Free Schools – are academy schools that have been set up by an organisation or group of individuals, such as parents.
Prospectus booklets, available from the Essex County Council website, contain useful details about schools in your area. These booklets highlight:
- The application process
- The number of children on each school’s roll
- The school’s admission policy (how places are allocated)
Visit school websites
School websites can be a key source of vital information. Here you can find details such as school open hours, events, menus, policies and performance data, as well as a general overview of how the school is managed. According to the Department of Education, every schools’ website must include:
- the amount of money they get from taking underprivileged children (the ‘pupil premium’), what they do with it and the effect it’s had
- details of the curriculum
- admission criteria
- behaviour policy
- special educational needs policy
- disability policy
- links to Ofsted reports
- links to performance data
- the school’s latest key stage 2 and 4 attainment and progress measures
Book a daytime viewing
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, it’s time to make appointments to visit your preferred schools. Although most primary schools hold open day events and these can offer valuable information, they do not necessarily allow you to see the school as it ‘normally’ functions.
A booked daytime visit will be less staged and will offer you a chance to see how well the teachers and pupils interact on an average day. Do the children look smart and seem happy? Do the teachers appear calm and in control without being intimidating? Is there any part of the school that you’re not allowed to see? Do you get a sense that your questions are being answered openly and honestly?
An interested and engaged head teacher is a positive sign that the school is being run well. If they know every child by name, you know that they do far more than make phone calls and sit in meetings. Above all else, it’s crucial that you feel the school staff are genuinely striving to do their best for the children in their care.
Questions to ask during your visit:
- How does the school communicate with parents?
- How often will you have the chance to talk to your child’s teacher?
- Does the school help children to make friends?
- Will your child be supported outside of lessons e.g. at playtime?
- What extracurricular activities (sports, clubs) are available?
- How much homework are pupils given, and how strict is the school’s homework policy?
- How does the school deal with misbehaviour?
- How do they handle bullying?
- How does the school support children with a disability or special educational needs (SEN)?
- Is there an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA)?
- What are the school’s greatest accomplishments/difficulties?
Things to consider:
- Does the school feel welcoming?
- Do you trust the head teacher?
- Do you think your child would be happy in this environment?
- Are you comfortable with what will be expected of your child?
- Will your child get the support they need, and will they have the opportunity to thrive?
- Do you feel that you could confidently approach staff with a problem/concern?
- Does the school look well-maintained and safe? Are the toilets and kitchen/dining areas clean?