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Looking around Schools

by Ben Case on October 30

You’ve been hoping that this day will never arrive, but your child has reached that age where you need to choose where they’ll start their school life from. Then you’ll get the pack from the local authority with all the forms to fill out!

You’ll start seeing ‘Open Days’ for the local schools near you, you’ll start to hear the opinions of other parents you know as you discuss starting school with them – but what do you listen to and where do you start?!

The first thing to check will be the schools that you are in catchment for. Each school will have an admissions policy, some following the local authority’s policy, others setting their own. Once you have found the schools that you are in catchment for, check out their school website as they will have lots of information about the school.

A catchment area is the term used to define the local area in which it will take pupils. It is normally organised by postcode or road, and the local council website can be a great place to start, to determine what schools you are living in the catchment area for. You can also find out more information on the school website, or on the government website here. You cannot normally apply for a school in which you are living outside the catchment area of, unless there are special circumstances. You would need to seek additional information before applying.

It may also be worth checking whether the schools you are interested in, have any social media pages, as these can really show you the day to day things that go on in the school. Be mindful of reading too much information about schools on Social Media, especially if it is a rant on an account not linked to the official school page or account. Please do also take into account other circumstances which may affect whether someone talks positively or negatively online about their child’s school.

You may also get to see some reviews from other parents! A great place to find other parent’s views of the school is ParentView. This is an Ofsted run site, that gives parents of children currently at the school, an opinion about the school. You can find most UK schools on here.

Once you have worked out the schools that you would like to consider, the next step is to visit the school.

Most primary schools in the UK, will run set ‘Open Days’ where you will have an opportunity to see the school in action and get to ask questions. For many, this will be the first time that you step into a school since leaving – it can be very overwhelming, so going with an idea of what you should look for and ask (if you get the opportunity!) can be useful. It may also be helpful to remember a lot of other parents with children of a school age, are also feeling very similar to you.

When looking around a school, things to look out for are:

  • Are you made to feel welcome?
    • Was the greeting friendly?
    • Do the staff look calm and approachable?
  • Are the children happy?
    • Is there lots of space?
    • Can you see your child having fun in the classrooms?
  • Is there a nice outside area? Early Years especially gives the children a chance to learn outside as well as in. Depending on your child, this may be an important factor in your choice.
    • Do the classrooms look engaging?
    • Is there evidence of children’s work around the school?
  • Do you get a sense of pride from the children about their work?
    • Are there resources for the children to use?
    • Are there any extra curricular clubs on offer?
  • Are these free or paid for?
    • Are they run by the school or outside groups?
    • Are the clubs often over subscribed?

More and more schools like to leave the tour to be taken by a child, such as School Councillor. This is a great opportunity for you to find out what the school is really like! They’ll take you everywhere but also answer your questions as honestly as they can. I wouldn’t suggest asking them things about school policies etc., but things like this would be appropriate:

  • What do you like best about being at this school?
  • Are you happy here?
  • Do you like the teachers?
  • Do you feel supported by your teachers when you find things difficult?
  • Do you have any brothers or sisters here? If so, how do they find the school?

It may be that after the tour you have other questions, especially if you have a child who may have additional needs. This would be the time to ask to speak with the SENCO so that you can get an idea as to whether they will be able to provide a suitable learning environment that is well supported for your child.

Once you have left the school, it is a good time to reflect on what you have seen, and whether you can imagine your child being happy at that school, which is ultimately what we all want for our children.

If so, it’s time to fill out that paperwork and start the wait for an answer in April!


Ben Case

Ben moved from teaching Primary (although he trained in Secondary!) to joining the Foundation Stage Forum (FSF) in 2019. He has taught in Reception and in Years 1 and 4. When he’s not answering Tapestry customer support queries, he can be found writing content for the FSF and Tapestry websites, browsing Twitter or running the Facebook ‘Tapestry Support Group’ account. He still dreams of being an F1 driver but makes do with watching races for now!