As we roll on towards the autumn and before the C-Word becomes synonymous with daily life, many parents will be embarking on the daunting process primary schools admissions applications for their little people. That was us this time last year and I can tell you, it was something of a rollercoaster ride that I did not expect!
As admissions generally open from November and close in January (check your local council’s website for deadlines as it varies from area to area) you’ll start to see adverts for schools in your local press, open days will be promoted and you will commence the grand tour of local educational institutions. It can be quite an intense period so I’ve put together a couple of tips that may help from someone who has come out the other side relatively emotionally intact and at peace with the decisions that were made;
1. Look beyond the league tables
The default quality marker for all parents is naturally going to be related to Ofsted ratings and league tables but it’s worth remembering that these only provide a very small snapshot of the school and don’t necessarily reflect the culture or teaching style that would best suit your little one.
2. Meet with the Head Teacher
The Head, as the leader of the school, is a pivotal force in defining the way in which the school operates and how it serves its pupils. Is it someone you would like to work for? Do they inspire you? If you can relate to them then it’s likely you may have a match in terms of values and communication styles to suit your child. Also, they are the person you’ll go to if you have a serious problem – can you have faith in them that they’ll do their best for you?
3. Look beyond the facade of the building
Sounds harsh but when we looked around schools, our first choice was a brand new high-tech building with an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating. We were lucky enough to get our second choice (primary schools are ridiculously over subscribed where we live) which is a Victorian building with a ‘good’ Ofsted rating. What we didn’t appreciate was the extreme dedication of the staff to the children meant that they could be giving lessons in a tatty old tent and still get great engagement from the children. Look at the people not the place.
4. Choose the school that best suits your child and not you
The aforementioned first choice of school was also very results driven and almost business like in its approach. Very much in my comfort zone. But on reflection, my arty and creative 5-year-old may not have been quite as well suited to such a setting and the amount of creative freedom he gets from his current school (perfectly balanced with the correct level of phonics and numeracy of course) means he couldn’t be enjoying it more.
5. Speak to other parents
Try and track down parents who’s children go to the schools your are considering and get them to give you an honest opinion of their experience – it may not be quite what you’re expecting but you don’t need to base your entire decisions on someone else’s view. Just take it into consideration when you’re looking at all the pro’s and con’s.
6. It’s natural to get emotional
This bit surprised me. I think that choosing a primary school feels like such a monumental decision and whilst of course it is incredibly important, the school setting is just one aspect of support for your child’s educational and emotional well being. The most important aspect will always come from you. You are central to your childs life and school of course is fundamental in terms of an educational grounding, but the UK has a pretty good school system in place and we are lucky to have so many great schools to choose from here so you can’t really go wrong.
7. It’s not entirely your choice
This bit, ridiculously, took us by surprise when we didn’t get our first choice of school. With it being our closest school (we can literally see it from our house and it’s less than 0.3 miles close) I didn’t think for one second that our eldest would not get a place. And when I found out that he hadn’t (after logging on to the local council website at 4am) I was pretty gutted…….but that’s another story entirely. Remember that places are allocated by straightline distance primarily and then preference. Essentially, where schools are over subscribed, preferences go out of the window and it’s entirely a case of geography. Essentially the postcode lottery is exactly the same as it’s always been.
8. Don’t get stressed
As parents who have ‘come out the other side’ of the whole process and who didn’t get our first choice of schools (oh yes, we were ‘those parents’ who went to appeal and everything) I can whole-heartedly reassure you that sometimes things have a way of working out for the best. My son could not be more settled at the school he has ended up at and we have been amazed by how awesome the teaching team are and how dedicated they are to the children – they are truly inspirational.
Essentially, the whole process creates this primal and visceral passion to ensure that you absolutely make the right decision for the future wellbeing and educational achievement of your child………but calm down and remember, primary school is just one part of raising an emotionally balanced human with a level of functioning intellect. It’s not the ultimate arbiter of the adult your child will become.
Stay calm, take a balanced decision and remember, it will all be ok.
I’d love to hear from you and your experience about the school admissions process – leave me a comment.
And, if you’re think about secondary school admissions and appeals, Matr.org have written a blog with lots of advice from parents and top headteachers.