by Samantha Scott, Headteacher
A decade ago my husband and I were starting to consider which primary school would be best for our daughter.
At this time, as a primary teacher and previous Deputy Headteacher, I felt certain I would know the school just by looking at its website and reading through the most recent inspection report. However, this was far from the case and as we delved more deeply into the plethora of choices in our local area I started to become increasingly anxious.
Furthermore, I was pregnant with my son and conscious that he could have different strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs.
In essence, primary school choices split into two categories: independent schools (fee paying) and state schools. State school choices include faith schools, free schools (non-government), academies and special educational needs schools).
With independent schools, the parents are able to choose from a wider catchment as there usually isn’t a geographical restriction placed upon the school. The family chooses the school based upon the opportunities it offers their child. The child can expect taster sessions and settling-in periods and then – if all goes well – a place will be offered for the child by the Headteacher.
Often these schools have nurseries as part of the school and this allows for early, accelerated opportunities of learning and ease of transition. Often, as with our school, they accept nursery vouchers for this part of the child’s school journey.
With regard to state schools, the parents look at local schools and consider a number of factors: the likelihood of being offered a place based on the expected numbers in that cohort, the number of places per year group and their geographic location to their first-choice school.
Both state and independent schools usually follow a similar curriculum (the National Curriculum) and offer similar subjects for lessons, although independent schools may follow this curriculum at an accelerated rate, benefiting from smaller class sizes and specialist subject provision (e.g. specialist language, PE, IT, music teachers etc with additional rooms/science labs etc).
Independent school classes are usually straight (not mixed) cohorts e.g. year 2 not year 1/2 and are much smaller in terms of pupil numbers per class. I believe this allows for more teacher: pupil time and for the staff to get to know your child more fully – allowing for more personalised provision. Having once taught in a state school class of 38 pupils, I can assure you that the impact of large classes is considerable.
Therefore, with these issues in mind, it is important to spend time considering the schools on your shortlist and think through the following questions, deciding which are your own priorities for your child’s educational journey:
- What do I think of their website/recent inspection report?
- What is the transition like to school from Nursery/Preschool?
- What is the provision for learning in the classes? Does it seem a rich, varied curriculum?
- Is there wrap-around care? What form does this take and will my child have to travel off site for this? Does this include before and after school and during the holidays? Who supervises the children and are they qualified/first aid trained/will they know my child?
- What are the opportunities for my child alongside the curriculum e.g. clubs, co-curricular provision, trips?
- What homework provision is there? Is this part of a pre-planned program that progresses year-on-year?
- Will my child be supported/extended for their learning to meet their needs?
- Is there a programme for individualised learning to promote their understanding/attainment?
- What is the opportunity for assessment and how will this information be shared with parents? Reports? Are parents’ evenings regularly held?
- Does the school have an active parents’ association?
- How is school information shared with parents? Is there a termly/weekly newsletter?
- Will this school meet my child’s needs beyond their EYFS experience e.g. sporting opportunities in year 6, 11+ provision for grammar entrances in year 5, academic success in KS2, secondary scholarship support…?
Following a call and visit to the school; question if you had access to meet leadership team members – did the Headteacher make time to meet with you? Are the staff welcoming and friendly? Most importantly, can I envisage my child here? And will this school enable them to engage, achieve, flourish and thrive?
Finally, carefully study the school’s website as this will give you so much information and showcase how they value their school community. Is there a warmth beyond the information? Is there recent, relevant information? Is it accessible to the family’s that use it? Does it show pupils learning and engaged? Sometimes your personal instincts are more valuable than any written information and you know your child best. Good luck!
Samantha Scott is Headteacher of Heathcote Preparatory School and Nursery, Danbury, Essex and a Mum of two.