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A Guide to Choosing Your Child’s Primary School

Are you thinking about your child’s primary school? There are so many questions and so much information out there, it can be impossible to know where to begin.

Samantha Scott who has been a teacher for a number of years in both private and state schools and is now a headteacher, shares what helped her.

Samantha Scott Heathcote

It seems unbelievable to me, that a decade ago my husband and I were starting to consider which primary school would be best for our daughter. At this time, as a primary teacher and previous Deputy Headteacher I felt certain I would know the school just by looking at its website and reading through the most recent inspection report. However, this did not prove to be the case and as we delved more deeply into the plethora of choices in our local area I started to become increasingly anxious. I wanted a school that would support my child academically of course but I also wanted it to be nurturing, kind and caring and provide creative and sporting opportunities to ensure my little girl grew to be an all-rounder. Furthermore, I was pregnant with my son and although I knew very little about him personality wise I felt a duty to ensure the school would provide for children with varying strengths, talents and needs.
Primary school choices basically split into two categories: independent schools (fee-paying) and state schools (maintained e.g. faith schools, free schools (non-government), academies, and special educational needs schools). With independent schools, the parents are able to choose from a wider catchment usually as there isn’t a geographical restriction placed upon the school, the family chooses the school based upon the opportunities it offers their child, usually the child has taster sessions and settling periods/lessons/days and then hopefully a place will be offered for the child by the Headteacher. Often these schools have nurseries as part of the school and this allows for early, accelerated opportunities of learning and ease of transition. Often, as with our school, they accept nursery vouchers for this part of the child’s start at school. With regard to state schools, the parents look at local schools, considering their likelihood of being offered a place with regard to the numbers in that cohort, the number of places per year group and their locality to their desired ‘first place’ school.
Primary/Preparatory schools often follow a similar curriculum (the National Curriculum) and offer similar subjects for lessons, although independent schools may follow this curriculum at an accelerated rate due to pupil numbers in class and offer specialist subject provision (e.g. specialist language, PE, IT, Music teachers etc with additional rooms/science labs etc). Independent school classes are usually straight (not mixed) cohorts e.g. year 2, not year 1/2, and much smaller in pupil numbers per class. I believe this allows for more teacher: pupil time and for the staff to get to know your child more fully and therefore provision for the pupils is more individualised. Having taught in a state school class of 38 one year, I can assure you that the impact of large classes is considerable. Therefore, with these issues in mind it is important to spend time considering the schools on your short list and think through the following questions, deciding which are your own priorities for your child’s educational provision:

  • What do I think of their website/recent inspection report?
  • What is the transition like to school from Nursery/Preschool?
  • What is the provision for learning in the classes? Does it seem like a rich, varied curriculum?
  • Is there wrap around care? What form does this take and will my child have to travel off-site for this? Does this include before and after school and during the holidays? Who supervises the children and are they qualified/first aid trained/will know my child?
  • What are the opportunities for my child alongside the curriculum e.g. clubs, co-curricular provision, trips?
  • What homework provision is there? Is this part of a pre-planned program that progresses year on year?
  • Will my child be supported/extended for their learning to meet their needs?
  • Is there a program for individualised learning to promote their understanding/attainment?
  • What is the opportunity for assessment and how will this information be shared with parents? Reports? Parents’ evenings and are these regularly held?
  • Does the school have an active parents’ association?
  • How is school information shared with parents? Is there a termly/weekly newsletter?
  • Will this school meet my child’s needs beyond their EYFS experience e.g. sporting opportunities in year 6, 11+ provision for grammar entrances in year 5, academic success in KS2, secondary scholarship support…

Following a call and visit to the school; question if you had access to meet leadership team members – did the Headteacher make time to meet with you if possible? Are the staff welcoming and friendly? Most importantly, can I envisage my child here? Will this school enable them to engage, achieve, flourish and thrive?
Finally, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to look at the school’s website as this will give you so much information and showcase how they value their school community. Is there a warmth beyond the information? Is there recent, relevant information? Is it accessible to the school’s family that use it? Does it show pupils learning and engaged? Sometimes your personal instincts are more valuable than any written information and you know your child best. Good luck!

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The author

During the last twenty (or so!) years following graduating with an education degree and masters from Cambridge University, Samantha has taught primary age pupils including EYFS across state and independent schools. She has been a member of the SLT in several settings including the Deputy Headteacher at three schools, has qualified to inspect ISI schools and now is the Headteacher at Heathcote Preparatory School and Nursery in the beautiful leafy village Danbury, Essex. Samantha says her main joy has been to ensure that pupils receive the very best in their education, excellence for academic provision and progress alongside opportunities that go beyond their age regarding access to a wide range of extracurricular activities, sporting and creative lessons. She relishes in watching the pupils develop along their own individualised learning journey towards confidence in their abilities and position in the world and being a small part of this always feels such a privilege.

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