Finding the right school for your children is one of the most important decisions you will ever make for them. Providing enough information here on which school that is would take a whole new website. But the fundamental key to choosing the right school on which all experts agree is to find out as much as you can as early as you can in order to help you to make an informed decision about which schools to apply to.
Ask yourself what you – and your child – need from a school, and start gathering information early so that you can visit your preferred schools and make applications on time. DON’T leave it too late! For private schools in particular you have to apply a lot earlier than you think and even state schools which consider applications straight away encourage applications to be make in good time: the admissions process begins around the start of the autumn term for entry in the following September.
What to look for
- Do your research. Don’t just presume your nearest school is your only option. Read individual school prospectuses, performance tables and Ofsted reports.
- Don’t be afraid to enquire directly to each school about tours and open days. And if you have missed an open day, then ask about individual appointments to see the school. Most schools will willingly oblige. When looking around the school, consider how welcoming the school feels, and whether the children and the staff seem happy and relaxed; is the school well equipped with sport and computer facilities; and whether the school has a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) – the PTA may be able to give you more information about the school and advice on admissions
- Consider how your child will get to school – think about safe routes, transport and the length of the journey
- Consider what your child is like – sociable, sporty, creative, musical? This can help you focus on a primary or secondary school that has facilities that enhance these skills and interests
- Consider your child’s needs – whether your child has physical or mental needs that demand specialist attention or is what is considered ‘gifted and talented’, local schools must provide for the whole spectrum of abilities
- Also consider if, due to your working hours, you will need breakfast clubs or after-school childcare and find out if the schools you are interested in supply such amenities
- Visit the Ofsted website who inspect all schools in England and publish their findings. Here you can find the most recent reports concerning schools you are considering
- You can also get information about schools from your local authority’s website
Make sure you know what the key application dates are for your local area, missing deadlines can mean you miss out on your preferred choices. Each year, local authorities produce a prospectus booklet (known in most areas as the ‘Information for Parents’ booklet). Usually published in the summer, the booklet is available free to parents. It will have detailed advice on a number of important areas, including:
- the application process and deadlines for all ages from Reception Year (age 4) up;
- the number of pupils at each school; and
- how places will be allocated if the school is oversubscribed (the admissions criteria)
Do your research two years before a change of school to allow time to check options and the council’s long application processing period.
Before submitting your application, it’s very important to read the school’s admission criteria; different schools have different criteria. If the school you’re interested in is popular, the admissions criteria will give you a realistic idea of your child’s chances of getting a place there.
There are important dates by which you need to submit your application. The dates vary between local authorities so it’s best to check with your own local authority and send off your form or apply online in plenty of time. It’s important to remember that you may jeopardise your application if you miss the deadline.
For secondary schools, admissions authorities send out offer letters on 1 March. Primary school offer dates vary, so it’s best to check with your local authority. Sometimes schools do not have enough places for the number of children who have applied. If your child does not get a place at the school you prefer, you have a legal right to appeal. Find out how the appeal process works and what happens once a decision has been reached.
Public / private and free schools
- If you want to apply to a ‘free school’ or direct to a private school, check out their websites as each establishment will have its own specific process.
- It is advisable to plan a few years ahead in case your child needs to go through any preparatory education before joining a particular private school. This includes under-4s education. Most secondary private schools have “feeder” schools from which they take the majority of their first year intake. Find out which these are
- For more about considering private education, go to the website of the Independent Schools Council.
Your child’s opinion
Ultimately it is your child’s decision as to whether a school that you have chosen for him/ her is the right one or not. Include your children in any discussions about schools as they will certainly know other children who are going to the schools that you prefer and have heard about their experiences at those schools. Don’t always look to the schools where your children’s friends will be but bear them in mind as possibilities. Take your child with you to visit the schools and take on board any comments or concerns that they may have. You may think it’s the best school in the area but if your child isn’t going to be happy there, it’s completely the wrong one. Finding the right school where your child can grow and flourish is the best that a parent can hope for.