Things to Look Out for When Viewing Primary Schools

young boy doing artwork at school

If your child is starting school next year then you’re probably in the middle of school tours!

It can be a daunting time, and if it’s your first time looking at Primary Schools then it's completely normal to feel a little bit out of your depth. If you haven’t even thought about schools yet - don’t panic, there’s plenty of time! School places are allocated by the local councils, so check your local council’s website for more information about how to apply, as well as the deadline for applications.

So, let’s presume you’re all booked in to have a look around your schools of choice, or perhaps you’ve already visited them. In no particular order, here are some things to look out for that might help in your decision making process…

Are the Children Happy on the School Tour?

Okay, I said no particular order but let’s face it: your child’s happiness is the most important thing, right? As you tour the school, look at the children - are they happy? Hopefully, you’ll see children engaged in their lessons, smiling and having fun. 

I’m personally a big believer that your gut will always lead you in the right direction when it comes to parental decisions, and I also think you should listen to the vibe you feel. So, as you’re touring the schools, trying to decide if the children seem happy - trust your gut, and lean into whatever vibe the school is giving off. 

Look at the Classrooms

You’re on the school tour and you’re popping your head into the classrooms. What exactly are you looking for?

Everyone will have slightly different things that they deem important. For me, I’m always looking at the walls! What are the displays like - are they engaging? A teacher that loves their job will, oftentimes, put lots of effort into their displays.

I also love invitations to play, explore and learn. For younger students, this might be a play set up on a tray or shelf, and for older students, this could look like a prompting question or learning objective to inspire new thoughts and discussions.

I also like to look at what equipment the classroom has - are there lots of pens and pencils? Plenty of mathematics apparatus? Is there a quiet area for them to sit and read a book, or a comfy area for those with sensory or stimulatory needs?

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Watch the Teachers

Watching how the teachers are engaging with the children will help you to get an overall feel for the school. The teachers should exude the school’s ethos. A more authoritative school will likely have more authoritative teachers, for example.

Generally speaking, you want to see positive interactions between staff and pupils. Are children respecting their teacher and having good back-and-forth conversations? Or are they walking all over the teacher in a chaotic classroom? 

If you happen to see a teacher dealing with an incident in the classroom, this is a great opportunity for you, as a parent, to see firsthand how that incident is dealt with.

What is the School’s Behaviour System?

For me, this is a big one. It’s important to find out what the school’s behaviour system looks like, and consider how that would align with your family values. Here are some pointers to think about and questions you could ask:

  • What is considered ‘negative behaviour’?
  • What is the ‘punishment’ for negative behaviour?
  • How will you, as the parent, be informed of your child’s behaviour?
  • Are there rewards for good behaviour?

The schools we’ve visited so far all use a traffic light system, whereby ‘green’ behaviour is good behaviour, and then you have orange as a warning and red for drastically ‘bad’ behaviour. Each school has slightly different ways of monitoring this, and some schools have seemed a bit harsher and stricter than others, with different ways of dealing with moving up and down the traffic lights.

Other schools may have a completely different behavioural system, so it’s important to ask lots of questions and see if that is something you could get on board with - after all, the only way a behavioural system is going to work effectively for your child is if the school and parents work together. 

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Consider Your Journey

For some people, the journey to school might be a very large point to consider when choosing schools. For example, some people might not have access to a car or public transport, or other people might need a school that is on their route to work so that the logistics all work out. Consider how important your journey to school is for you and your family. Remember - you want your mornings to be as easy and stress-free as possible. You’ll be doing this journey nearly every weekday for five to seven years, after all!

We decided as a family that choosing a school within walking distance was very important to us. We are lucky enough to have quite a few schools within walking distance, so we prioritised those schools over other ones that would be a driving distance away.

The main factor for us was making mornings to school enjoyable - I am already an anxious person, and I just know that the thought of having to get the children in the car, drive to school, find a car parking space, get them both out the car, all whilst not being late to school would turn me into an absolute anxious wreck! No thank you. Walking distance for us!

Remember: it’s whatever works for YOU and YOUR family. Every family is different!

Don’t Forget OFSTED and Grades!

While I’m a strong believer that it’s not all about the data, having a quick glance at the OFSTED report and exam grades is bound to help you make a decision. Most schools will advertise early years results as well as phonics scores and year 6 exam results, and compare this to the national average. Unless these are really worryingly low, try not to get too caught up in the figures themselves - there’s so much more to consider than JUST grades and OFSTED reports.

Other Things to Consider on a School Tour

  • School uniform requirements - can children wear a supermarket's own brand school uniform or are they only able to wear uniform with a logo? Is there a second-hand or swap shop set up? Do the school uniform requirements put any financial stress on your family?
  • Lunches - Are school lunches prepared on-site? Will they be mingling with other age groups in the lunch hall? Is lunch served to them in a more traditional method or do they serve themselves in a buffet style? Are there separate lunchtime monitors or does that responsibility fall on their teachers?
  • Breakfast and after-school clubs - an important factor for working parents, what are the breakfast and after-school provisions for childcare? Is food included? What sort of activities are set up for the children? What are the costs of these clubs?
  • Extra-curricular clubs - what options are there for extra-curricular clubs? What are the costs of these? Is there a good variety so your child would have plenty to choose from?
  • Are there any outdoor learning opportunities? Does the school partake in forest school?
  • What are the homework requirements for all ages - how does this align with your own family values and will this work with your family timetable?
  • School to home communication - what does this look like in practice? Are there any mobile apps to communicate back and forth with the teacher?

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of things to look out for on a school tour, and there may be other things that are more specific to you, your child and your family, but hopefully, this helps to spark some new thoughts and helps you in the decision ahead. 

Most importantly: good luck! 

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