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Primary Education News
News Choosing a school: how do teachers pick one for their own child?
We ask teachers what they really look for in a school for their children
Emma Payne, head of St Mary Redcliffe church of England primary, Bristol
The most important thing, as far as I was concerned, was seeing the school in action during the daytime. Open evenings are all well and good, but they don't show a school functioning normally, and that's really what you want to be able to see. More than anything, what you're trying to get is a picture of the school as it really is, rather than the polished "sell" you'll be presented with. So go to look round during the daytime – I actually got an appointment to look round with my husband and our daughter, and if you can possibly do this I'd recommend it – and look very carefully at what's going on and note the atmosphere. What does the place feel like? Is there a sense that relationships are warm, that children are engaged and learning? What's your gut instinct about the place? That's the thing to go on.
Mike Collier, head of Walker technology college in Newcastle
My children are 13, eight and four, and several years ago we identified the school we wanted them to go to and moved into the catchment area. We were looking for a school where they'd reach their potential, of course, but the main thing we wanted was a school which had plenty of evidence of progress as well as attainment. Too many parents look only at headline figures where exam results are concerned, but you need to drill deeper, to look at how far pupils are making their expected progress and, in fact, exceeding this, as an indication that the school is getting the very best out of the children. So go to the website, look at the results, and look at the achievements section in the Ofsted report, and at the figures for expected progress on the data dashboard.
Matt Tompkins, vice-principal of Skinners Academy in Tunbridge Wells, Kent
My eldest daughter is nine, so we've just started going to open days (and I do choose days, not evenings – they're much more staged – daytime is best). I've started looking at the information online about the performance indicators, but the school visit is vital – that's where you get a sense of a school's ethos. This is the thing to be especially aware of: after all, heads come and go, teachers come and go, but a school's ethos will be much more lasting. I look at the students very closely: how do they wear their uniform? How do they behave walking around the school, towards one another and their teachers? I'm looking for signs of warmth and genuine relationships, one in which teachers are respected but not feared.
Ian Donegan, deputy head of Sacred Heart high school, Hammersmith, London
My son is in year 6 so I'm right in the throes of this at the moment. You can see a lot from a school's website and from Ofsted reports and exam results, but for me the crucial thing is going round an open session with my son and getting a sense of what we both feel about the school. I'd always choose a daytime session over an evening one, as you get more of a feel for how the school works in a "normal" setting, and I think what you need to do is look very carefully at the people you see around you – students as well as staff. Watch their interaction: is there mutual respect between teacher and pupil? Look at the way the students interact with one another. Are they enjoying themselves? Above all, do they seem to be proud of their school, are they proud to wear its uniform and to tell you about it? That's a real litmus test as far as I'm concerned. Too many parents put far too much weight on word of mouth, and that's such a mistake: it's very powerful, but it can also be totally misleading. What people say could be completely unfounded, or things could have changed, or there might be things about a school that make it the right choice for your child even if it wasn't right for someone else's son or daughter.
Kate Frood, head, Eleanor Palmer primary school, north London
Looking at data is important, but much more important – especially with improving schools – is looking round. And what I'd say is, pay attention to the vibe, keep a sense of how the school makes you feel. Knowing a school is right is like falling in love: it's intangible, but stay tuned for it, and it will happen. You need to work out what speaks to you, what's important to you. Take your child with you and listen to what he or she has to say – our daughter really wanted to go to a single sex school, and we went with her instinct and it all turned out fine. Another thing I'd say is how the school behaves through the open evenings and application process gives you clues. Do you get a sense that they're being open with you – on their tours, answering your questions? A school that's open and honest now will go on being open and honest in your future dealings with them as a parent.
Jeremy Rowe, had of St John Leman High School, Suffolk
I've got four children aged between seven and 14. We did what I'd suggest all parents should do, which was to make the assumption that our local comprehensive was almost certainly going to offer our children the very best education possible. We looked beyond the headlines at what kind of school it really was: we were very interested in the headteacher, because headteachers are crucial. We wanted to see a head who was approachable, who was genuine. If you feel you can trust the head, you're almost certainly looking at a good school. Another thing I set a lot of store by was: does this school do the Duke of Edinburgh scheme? That requires teachers to go over and above the call of duty, and they only do that if they really believe in the school.