How to Choose a School for Your Child

How to choose a school. School books in a pile with an apple on top and coloured pencils on the table by the side of the books.

It is that time of year again. School place applications for September 2019 opened on 1st September 2018.


This year it is your turn to choose a school for your child, but you haven’t walked into a school since you left as a teenager so how do you pick? With Ofsted reports, league tables and friends with older children throwing different bits of advice your way it may seem rather overwhelming. Where should you start?


Catchment and Local Area Knowledge

Depending on where you live, school catchments may play a huge factor when you choose a school. If you do not know what your catchment schools are then the Government website can help you. Pop in your postcode and it will help to direct you.


We live in a catchment of two schools. However, that doesn’t mean we will automatically get J a place in one of them. Our local area is very popular with families and each year the radius of places allocated changes. Some years it may only be as far as 0.3 miles away, other years it may be 0.5 – 0.9 miles away. You can call your local school admissions office to find this information out.


School Admissions Criteria

The next place to look to help you choose a school is the schools admissions policy. This will tell you how many child’s places are allocated for the school. It will also tell you how the places are allocated if the school is over subscribed. Some schools place greater emphasis on siblings or religious commitments.


How to choose a school for your child. Sharpened colouring pencils on white background.


School Website

The school website will help you to chose a school as you will get a general feel for some key aspects and policies, such as their ethos and behaviour policy. You may also be able to see photos of some of the classrooms, displays, or trips the children have been on. If the website has class pages or parent information that may be useful to read before you visit the school.


The school website may also give a list of clubs and before and after school child care arrangements. This is very helpful for working parents. If it doesn’t have any listed, ask about them when you visit.


(I find that a lot of school websites are not very user friendly or are not updated frequently. Please don’t judge the school on this aspect as the teachers are far too busy teaching children to even think about the website and may have little input to it and budgets are very stretched.)


Ofsted Report

When you choose a school for your child it is advisable to read the Ofsted Report. This is usually available on the school’s website, however, it may be well hidden and is probably easier to find via the Ofsted website. This section comes with a caution. Definitely read the report because it may give you some useful information and you may wish to ask the school about some of the points made in the report. BUT…

Ofsted is NOT the be all and end all and it shouldn’t be the only way to choose your child’s school.


Ofsted is flawed in many ways and that should be considered. From three schools in an area local to us I would have sent J to the one that was rated Requires Improvement. One was Outstanding and the other Good.


The ethos and size of the Requires Improvement school would suit J far better than the other two. The head had only been in place a short time and I had great confidence that he was going to turn the school around, which he since has.


Ofsted inspections take place over a very short space of time and two different teams may award a different result within a short space of time.


Don’t forget to check when the report was published as a report from 4 years previous won’t give you much idea of where the school is now.


Parent’s Views

Before you choose a school and ideally before you visit the school seek parental advice. Ask any parents who have children who currently attend the school what they think. They will probably know lots of other families who attend the school and have a good understanding of what the general consensus is. They may also be able to answer any questions you already have.


If you don’t know anyone who attends the school you could ask your child care setting as they are likely to have worked with the school in the past with the transition of previous children. Alternatively, check out any local Facebook parent groups and ask there.


Coloured aprons on pegs. How to choose a school for your child.


School Visit

I would recommend booking a school visit for any schools you may be interested in. More than one is useful so you can compare. I will be going to visit 5 for J. This is because I am not sure that we will get into either of our two catchment schools and I want to see what the alternatives may be. Most parents I know have looked at between 2 and 4 schools to help them choose a school. Not only will you need to decide which three schools to choose to put on your application form but also which order to put them in.


Take a list of questions that you may have with you to ask if they are not addressed during your visit.


When you are on the visit, ideally you want to see all areas of the school, not just the Reception classrooms, as they will be different. It is also useful to see communal areas, such as the hall and the playground so you can compare facilities between schools. If you have a chance, have a look at the displays in the classrooms to see examples of children’s work. Consider how attractive the display boards make the classroom environment for your child and the quality of work completed.


Ensure that when you visit you keep your child’s interests and needs in mind.


J needs space to run so ideally we will be looking to choose a school with good outdoor space and larger classrooms who may run sports clubs at lunch times. He also finds large environments daunting to eat in so we hope to find a school where lunch is eaten in the classroom. J has allergies and some additional needs so we will be asking about these to see what the response is and how it varies between schools.


Some schools are happy for your child to accompany you on your visit. This can be very useful to see how your child responds to the environment and also how the staff respond to your child although it may depend on your child. We have chosen not to take J at this stage as we think he will become too anxious. However, it may be advisable to check before you arrive. One of the schools in our area refuses to allow any children on their tour, even babes in arms.


Painted hands. Choose a school that matches your child's talents and interests if you can.


Don’t forget the practicalities.


Other factors to consider when you choose a school include practicalities. You will be spending the majority of your year visiting this location twice a day for between three and seven years (depending on the type of school). While you are visiting the school, check how far it is from your home.

  • Can you walk it?
  • Is the route safe to cycle?
  • What is the parking situation like?

These factors may make your life miserable and inconvenient for years to come, so make sure that you find a school that works for the whole family.


The final decision…


When you need to fill in the application form use all of the information you have collected to make your decision as it may come down to little details. Remember the application deadline in England is 15th January 2019.


If you have any questions please ask them in the comments below or visit me on social media.


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