1. MAKE LIKE A CUB SCOUT: BE PREPARED
Visit schools a year before you have to submit a school application. This takes the pressure off and means you can re-visit your shortlist just before you have to make a decision. Start in Year 5 (age 9 or 10) for secondary schools and look at primary schools anytime from when your child turns two.
2. DIARY A DAY VISIT
Many Open Days are actually held in the evening.
It's a good time to get the full attention of staff and negotiate buildings without small people. But if there is an opportunity to go back during school hours and experience a more business-as-usual approach, take it. There’s nothing like seeing a busy playground and imagining your child fitting right in to seal the school application deal.
3. DON'T JUDGE A SCHOOL BY YOUR GUIDE
Schools will always pick eloquent and well-presented children who have "volunteered" to show you around. It's useful, however, to ask them pupil-focused questions such as ‘What do you do during break times?’; 'Where do you go with friends from school at the weekends?'; or ‘What’s your favourite school dinner?’ to get a true snapshot of student life.
4. DO THE STAFF ROOM MATHS
Don’t be swayed by individual teachers but do ask teachers how long they have been at the school. A good school will generally nurture loyal staff and happy staff will create a positive learning environment. Also, trust us on this one, ask teachers about the school's Value Added Score. Good teachers love to talk pupil progress and adding value.
5. CHECK OUT THE CLUBS
What range of extracurricular activities does the school offer? Even schools that don’t have facilities on site will have links with local theatre groups, sports clubs or literary societies.
6. START A LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Take a notebook and summarise each school at the end of the visit in a few words. First impressions can be important and once you start discussing schools with other parents, you will find being able to refer back to your original thoughts very useful.
7. DOES THE BUS STOP HERE?
Work out how your child will travel to and from school. Are there good bus routes? Will you need to lift share? Is there a possibility your child can walk and, if so, are there any major safety issues on the route?
8. KEEP ‘EM PEELED
Take a good look around the school itself. Are school notice boards jam-packed with good information? Does the artwork on display reflect a good range of abilities? Are the classrooms – and some say more importantly the loos - spick and span?
9. GRAB YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND GOGGLES
Don't forget to check out the other parents during your visit. Do you feel they are similar to you, and that your children will get along?
10. TRUST A NOSE THAT KNOWS
Okay, we admit you don’t generally expect lyrics from the Smiths to feature in school tips but there's a Morrissey line that goes ‘... there’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows.’ When it comes to choosing the right school for your child, it’s YOUR nose that knows. Trust your instinct. No one understands your child better. You are in the best position to help them choose the next step in their education.