Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Choosing a school - an experience

A couple of weeks ago, I had a really great moment with Monkey. I was driving to collect Missy Woo from her last day at nursery. Monkey was with me as he wanted to come and say goodbye to them as well.

We got talking.

Me: "Do you miss nursery?"
Monkey: "Yes, Mummy."
Me: "Did you like it a lot then?"
Monkey: "Yes, Mummy."
Me: "But you like school as well though?"
Monkey: "Oh yes, even MORE, a lot MORE!"

He then went on to catalogue all the things he loves about school.

You can't begin to imagine how great that made me feel. You see, choosing a school was a bit of a nightmare for me and I ended up pretty obsessed with choosing the right one.

It should have been simple. I lived here for 6 years before I had children and there's a lovely school within walking distance. I had assumed my children would go to that one. Then I found out two years ago that our neighbour failed to get her son into the school. It was massively oversubscribed, thanks to a huge new estate being built nearby (houses first built 2001, school due 2011!) and more to the point, it was a faith school where you got priority if you attended church regularly. Now, I just don't do that kind of thing so we were faced with the prospect that we might not get a place. Worse, the local authority only allowed one choice and if you didn't get it, they allocated you the nearest school with a place. My neighbours were initially offered a school 4 miles away.

This forced me to look further afield. There are lots of primary schools in the immediate area, luckily all pretty good. I researched hordes of information about all of them, then started visiting. The first school we visited is the school that Monkey now goes to. I guess you could say we only needed to visit one. It wasn't meant to be like that - it just happened to be the first one we visited but from the second we walked in, it felt right. We loved the place, the teachers, the setting, the children, everything about it. Nothing seemed to match up to it - we looked at four as a family and I went to the open day at a fifth. When went to see the school nearby, I wasn't convinced that it was right for us anyway, plus I wasn't convinced we would even get a place, although the head tried to convince us we would be fine.

I still don't know if we would have got Monkey a place there. From what I know, it would have been touch and go. Occasionally, Monkey asks why he doesn't go there as a couple of his pre-school friends do. To add insult to injury, they have red uniforms - his favourite colour - whereas he has to wear green which rankles with him but they are minor niggles.

So, you can understand how vindicated I felt at that moment in the car. He has never once hated school, he didn't miss a day last year and virtually runs into school every morning. It's not just him - when they open the doors at school even on a dry day, the kids come running from all corners of the playground. I love that. If you visit the school, you never see anything other than happy faces.

September is the time of year when parents everywhere start to think about which school to choose for their child as applications for places open. What I learnt going through that process was that the most important thing was to do what feels right for your child (and you) and look for a school that suits them. Visiting a few schools really helped me realise they were all so, so different. Read the Ofsted reports and look at the league tables by all means but they should inform your thinking rather than make the final decision for you.

It also makes me sad that people assume that faith schools are automatically better because it has created a big rush towards them by parents from certain social classes which, in turn, makes the school appear better. If those parents had rushed towards a non-denominational school, the same thing would've happened. It's not the school what did it in other words.

A good school is a good school because it provides an all round education. It's not about numbers, league tables and Ofsted reports (although they provide a useful independent check). It cares for the children in their care as well as teaches them. If it doesn't do the first job, it might not do the second. If your child isn't happy at a school, is it really going to learn well, even if it is the top school in the area?

If you are applying this year for your child's school place, good luck with making your decision and I really hope I haven't scared you!

If you have experience to share relating to choosing and applying for a school, please feel free to leave a comment below (or link to it if you've blogged about it). Likewise, feel free to comment or ask questions if you have that joy to come. 


  1. Really interesting post Kate. I may take it up on the Head's Office if that's OK?

  2. We moved back to the NE partly down to schooling. We didnt want to have to feel that it was private or second best, which is what it would have been. We live in a large village which takes all the children from the outlying villages too. SO we have one large school, but we did look at another smaller school in the neighbouring village and one of the faith schools. I didnt get the right feeling in the faith school - it didnt meet Maxi;s needs. So we chose the local school and he feels the same way as Monkey. I dont even get a kiss (we do that at home) as he wants to be the first in. He loves school.

  3. Brilliant post, glad your little one loves it so much, really makes it easier!

    I can relate as I did a post on schools too, but mine is from the perspective of someone new to the system from another country.

  4. I've had to choose schools twice for my DD (year 2) as we moved this summer. First time around I had inside information as I worked in lots of local primary schools and saw what they were like on a day to day basis and not just on open days. Yes I looked at Ofsted etc but this only was part of the decision.

    Second time around I was moving to a new area and knew nothing about the schools except the official stats and reports. I tried for nearest school to the house but it was full. So instead I looked at another school's website and on liking what I saw there took DD for a visit. We both loved the school straight away and she settled in very quickly once the new term started.

    My son will be going to school in Sept. I have put down DD's school but there is no guarantee he will get in there as we are out of catchment! Luckily we can put 3 "choices" down so I put 2 other schools that look good on paper. Apparently 98% of 1st choices were successful last year so its fingers crossed. No school in our town is "bad" so its more a case of convenience and getting right atmosphere for your child.

  5. Already replied on Twitter, Julia, but you know that is fine! Thanks.

  6. That's mine too. Mine leave me at the gate. I just stand and watch they get in the classroom. We looked at 1 catholic and 2 CofEs. We quite liked the Catholic one but OH went to catholic schools and was not keen. In addition, it is across the way from their school and it was unlikely we would have got Monkey in as he's not a baptised catholic (he's not a baptised anything actually!)

  7. It's really confusing, isn't it? Made worse by the fact it's quite diffferent and seems to be forever changing. In Lancashire, they've now gone back to 3 choices, and have moved deadline dates back but I believe it's to bring it all into line with the rest of England.

  8. Thanks for your comment. I don't get catchments at all really. In LCC, they don't have them except for a few schools, presumably where it can be unfair on people living in certain places. They just bring the tie down to distance from school which seems fairer. G

    Hope you get what you want for your son. I know vaguely of people with kids at two different primaries and that sounds like a nightmare to me. I don't think that should ever be allowed to happen.

  9. I put my son's name down for a school when he was born, is that strange? I just wanted to make sure :\

    I can imagine it's a nerve-wracking time for parents. I'm dreading it. I'm so glad that Monkey loved it. It must be such a reassuring feeling for you.

    Becca x

  10. I really have no clue where to start but am thinking that with Boo at 20 months now, I really should get moving! Thanks for the reminder Kate!

  11. The thing about putting their name down, Becca, is that it does nothing for their chances of getting in a school. All it does is register an interest so they send you the right information when it's your year to apply. putting your name down first or applying first gives you no advantage - most of the criteria are based around children in care, siblings and distance from school (and faith criteria if it's a faith school) and they are applied after admissions have closed.

  12. Liz - don't stress it at 20 months. Start looking about and asking by all means but you won't have to apply for another two years. Perhaps in the summer term before you could visit - thats when we started although we went to look at some in Autumn term too. Schools should be happy to let you look around.


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