Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Choosing The Right School for Your Child for September 2017

Being a parent, the first few weeks, months and years are full of exciting milestones but none so huge as starting school. It's a huge change for both parent and child. You'd think nursery would prepare you for it but somehow it doesn't unless of course you go to a school nursery that's attached to what will become your child's Primary School, which wasn't the case for us. Aaron in fact went to 2 different nurseries. One that he started at when he was 15 months because I was still working 3 days a week as a HR Manager and the pre-school he started at just 5 months before starting reception in big school. Only the latter wore a school uniform.

At the age of 5, you are legally required to provide suitable education for your child. Whether that is a State School, Private School or home education is up to you. I've never quite understood why the attendance requirement is so hard on schooled children when home ed kids seem to be able to be so much more flexible. Home Ed wasn't for me though, no matter how much of a hippy and free spirit I sometimes am.

Between league tables, catchment areas and what you hear "word-of-mouth" from other parents, it can feel quite daunting finding the perfect place. In fact it can become all consuming. You have the worry of choosing, from the year before. Then round about now is the time to start attending open days or open evenings with the deadline to apply being January. 

This blog post aims to make the choice a little easier with some helpful tips and it is not the first time I have blogged about this topic. Aaron was really nervous Summer 2014 about starting school that September and what made him excited and saw the nerves dissipate overnight was the purchase of a school lunchbox. This is a post I wrote, with the benefit of hindsight, JUST after he started school: Starting Reception - what I knew what I didn't!

Location 

One of the first things to think about is where the school is situated. Some schools may only allow children to apply if they live within their catchment area so, finding out which schools would accept your application is key. In fact this is the first thing you should do before you get excited or too attached to the idea of any particular school.  I spent 2 years going to church (Roman Catholic) in all weathers every Sunday, even going as far as joining the Choir which I adored, only to find out we weren't in the catchment area (which was TINY - we're talking like 3 or 4 roads) and that most of their intake was taken up with siblings anyway.

Most people think about location once they know they are planning a family as it can literally dictate where you buy a house, so this really is the first consideration early doors. Thankfully we found that for each and every house you select on Right Move, the tabs below each house onscreen include one for schools. It shows all of the schools near your chosen property (letting you dictate whether it is primary or secondary you are interested in) and tells you onscreen what their most recent Ofsted result was, even allowing you to click through to it. It is so nice to have this info available at a glance when speedily scanning through house options, even though Ofsted is just one piece of the puzzle you have to put together when choosing a school. You'll notice that Ofsted results can even impact house prices. In some areas, when you apply for school you have to add supporting documentation to your application to prove that you live in that postcode as people have been known to lie about their address to get into their school of choice.

Route to School

When you know where you can apply, plan the route to and from each school. If you drop your child off each day, check if there are any traffic hotspots or parking restrictions along the way. Check online to see how frequent buses are in case your child needs to make their own way home. If you live close enough to walk, make sure the route is safe and walk it through with your child. It’s also worth seeing how easy the school is to reach from your place of work in the event of your child falling ill during the day. 

Don't be swayed by a distance like a 15 minute walk. When Aaron was in Reception we cycled to and from school every day so it was easy. Also, when walking fast it was only 12 minutes. Equally it was nearly 30 when I was heavily pregnant. We hardly ever get the bus, but if that is going to be your plan, then do consider the cost of bus fares when budgeting. Don't overly worry about weather either, as the amount of days where we've been too cold or too wet I can quite literally count in single figures. You just have to plan your wardrobe wisely. Aaron loves the rain when he has a decent waterproof jacket or umbrella.

That picture above is from September 2014 as it can be quite warm when they start school. Funnily enough it WAS September 2014 and September 2016 but in 2015 he was pretty much in a jacket every morning from the start :-( but yeah 2014 when he started school everyone was in Summer Uniform as it was warm till the start of November, which this year hasn't quite managed. If you noticed there are no stabilizers this is because Aaron did 10 months on a balance bike so then went straight to a big bike with pedals, which it only took 45 minutes to learn to cycle. I now swear by balance bikes. He was riding a proper bike BEFORE he even turned 4 years of age - they really work.

Quality 

All schools are subject to frequent Ofsted inspections and feature on league tables. You can find this information readily available online if you do a quick search. It should give you a good idea of how well the school performs against others in the area. Whereas Ofsted reports will give you an overall view of a school, there are sites where students can rate their teachers which will give you more granular information. Something to bear in mind is that the better a school performs in inspections, the more likely they are to be oversubscribed. If you know anyone whose child attends your preferred school then ask them their opinions on the school. Getting a parent's and child’s advice could provide you with information that you can’t find in an inspection! Schools often specialise in subjects such as science, languages or sports; which is good to know if there is a particular subject that your child is interested in. Certain schools act as a ‘feeder’ into specific middle or secondary schools so if you had a preferred high school for your child, it's worth finding out which primary feeds into it.

I wouldn't necessarily have picked Aaron's Primary School but we were allocated it by the local authority due to my first 3 choices being over subscribed. Funnily enough it's turned out to be for the best. He loves his classmates and teachers and I've been in the PTA since he joined. Also the other schools can't match ours for facilities like our huge field and footprint. The school promised we'd have a good Ofsted within 2 years of our joining and that's exactly what we've got. A school with a great Ofsted could be on a downward cycle after, i.e. the same Head may no longer be in charge. Whereas with our Ofsted we were on an up cycle after and Aaron was there for that. With the school on every level, striving for a good Ofsted, Aaron benefited from that passion and enthusiasm instead of the complacency that is often visible in what appear to be great schools on paper. Don't underestimate the stories you hear from other parents. They add colour to the black and white Ofsted report which is often only half the story.

Settling In

It’s imperative that your child enjoys their days at school and feels comfortable enough to stay and learn. Children often make their first friends at nursery so ask around with other parents to see where they are applying. If your little one has cousins, neighbours or family friends of a similar age then ask those too. 

How culturally mixed and diverse the school is or isn't can have a huge impact. Also consider whether it is a religious school and whether this is or isn't important to you. If your child has behavioural problems/challenges and is on the spectrum, whether diagnosed/statemented or not, it is imperative that you find out what the school is like at handling this. Some schools excel in this area. Some let themselves and the children down unforgivably so.

If you require early drop offs or late pick-ups then some schools will do breakfast clubs or after school activities. Our school breakfast club is at 8 am and is free. They only need money for what they decide to purchase to eat, which is very cheap. The after school clubs are entirely free and he is actually there for an hour this evening, which coincides with parent's evening so I should be able to collect him from one, and go straight to the other. These are perfect if you work outside of school hours and will give a your child a chance to mix with different age groups or even learn a new hobby! Look into whether the schools provide lunchtime meals or snacks and if they can cater to any dietary requirements they may have.

Finding the perfect school can be a time consuming task but with a bit of planning and research you can feel confident that you have made the correct choice. Once you’ve made your choice, a visit or open day can help you and your child to get more of a feel for it. In fact, I would recommend visiting more than one, as this can determine your choice rather than be the result of it. NOTHING beats the gut intuition that you feel when you actually go on a tour of a school. Luckily my tour was during the day, so you get a real vibe of what the school is like. How many smiles there are. What the atmosphere is like. Chances are you and your beloved child have similar taste so if you think, based on a visit, that you'd love it there, then so too will your child. I'm saying this with a child in year 2 and I did indeed get a good feeling during a tour of the school and they did keep their promise of turning the school around. A process that had already begun about 9 months before he joined, just that we had to wait a further 2 years for Ofsted to visit again. Hubby tends to believe what he reads so during this time I just had to keep reassuring him again and again and again. That Aaron was happy was my main focus.

I know this post is not exhaustive but I hope it goes some way to making you think about those all important school days. September 2017 is not at all far away and the open days and evenings really do start happening now, if they haven't already!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Drop me a line, and I will visit you right back - as soon as I get chance. Thanks for your comment.