Five tips on how to choose the right school for your child


Guest blog by CEO and Founder of SchoolGuide.co.uk, Victoria Bond

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It’s Open Day season and school corridors across the country are spruced and ready to welcome a new wave of applicants. Whether it’s your first foray in to the world of blackboards and playgrounds since your own school days or your child is at primary school and you are looking ahead at next steps, these five practical pointers aim to help you narrow down your selection and find The One.

Be prepared.

It’s always a good idea to start looking at your local options around two years ahead of when you have to apply. For the key transition to secondary school, do your first round of Open Days in Year 5. It’s good to narrow down your options and then, once your child is approaching the age when you need to apply, go back again.

Visiting a school offers a great opportunity to meet the teachers and, importantly, the head teacher who will most likely be the single greatest influence on the ethos and culture of the school. Also make sure you ask yourself these important questions: Can I imagine my child in this playground with these children? What do I think of the other parents? Is this like my old school and is that why I like or have concerns about it? Take a notebook and jot down your impressions during your visit. If you see several schools, it’s a helpful way to prompt your memory when you come to compare and contrast later on.

Do your (digital) homework

It can be hard to get all the key statistics and inspection report information at your fingertips but School Guide displays all the official performance data from the Department for Education and Ofsted and gives each school a colourful snapshot of results as well as a summary Star Rating. But even data geeks like us know that statistics only tell half the story and the highly ranked A* academic dazzler may not be the best school for your child. School Guide also offer Parent Reviews, essential feedback from those-in-the-know, a School Noticeboard, where schools upload news and photos to add light and shade to the raw data.

Take a language lesson

The way a school describes – and sells – itself can be brilliant indicator of whether it’s right for you and your child. Click through to each school’s own website and look at the words and images they use to capture their school experience. A simple sentence can say so much. You can also do this by flicking through local magazines that often run Open Day specials and adverts in the autumn term. Here’s a few examples of the first sentence I see when I look online at a selection of schools in my area: ‘A friendly and spirited community’; ‘The most improved school in the South West’; ‘Over 47% of our pupils achieves A or A* in their 2015 science GCSE’; ‘Excellent academic standards’; ‘Nurturing a love of learning’; ‘Pure joy. Exceptional results and the happiest of education.’ Which one stands out to you?

Does the bus stop here?

When you find a school that ticks all the boxes for you in term of results and atmosphere, don’t forget to look at the practical aspects of life for your child at the school. Is there a bus that serves the school from your area? If you plan to drive, is parking difficult? Will there be other parents who can share the school run with you? Also, it’s a good idea to look whether there is any provision before or after school for your child, and, even as young as Year 1, school clubs can be important. Ask what they offer and when you visit the school, check out noticeboards for extra curricular activities such as music lessons.

Finally, what about the school dinners? Post Jamie Oliver’s ‘Ban the turkey twizzler’ campaign, many school kitchens offer excellent meals and a canteen can be a key social focus of your child’s day. Are meals cooked on site and is there plenty of flexibility and understanding of special dietary needs? At secondary, do the kids get free reign and, if so, are there nutritional guidelines so they are not allowed to eat crisps every day for lunch? Food for thought.

Trust your instincts

This is something I feel passionately about: you know your child better than anyone else and are best placed to make this decision at the next steps in their education. The school decision-making process has become more and pressurised in recent years. I talk to many parents who say, ‘I’m sure my parents didn't worry about choosing a school like this.’ The fact is that there IS more pressure on our children to gain good exam results but there is no need to pass that pressure on to them when they are setting out on a new and exciting journey. Remember: no decision is irreversible and, if we try and block out the noise of worry and listen with confidence to our head and heart, we will realise we are the experts when it comes to our own children.


Victoria Bond