N starts school in September, which does seem to have come round really quickly which means its time for all the primary school visits. Many people I’ve spoken to in the same boat are really sad that their child starts school but I’m a bit more pragmatic as I know he’ll be ready to move up from nursery, and it’s another step in him growing up.
I do hope that he’ll get more interested in learning and doing the activities that are set out in the timescale. At the moment he’ll pretty much refuse to read any book that’s come home in his book folder from nursery school, and whether he’ll do the ‘preparation for writing’ activity sheets is another matter. Pot luck comes to mind. (Although this week they got wise and sent him home with a tractor book, which he wanted to read on day 1.
I’ve already done some school visits, and need to book in a couple more at other schools who don’t do their open days until later. Always worrying as I prefer to get my choices done early so I don’t have to worry about anything else, just the actual day of allocation in April.
The first school I visited is our local one that is always oversubscribed. We’re within catchment (nice box round the farm to put us in!), and we’ve worked out that after those with siblings we should be ok unless a couple of families with twins or more move in to the village.
I had a huge list of questions to ask the head when I went in for my tour and chat, and only had to ask 1 of them, because she’d answered everything else in what she’d already told me. She’s spot on with her PR about the school, and told me lots of things she’d like to do, and that were in her plans. Although having now spoken to parents with children already there, some of those plans seem a little un-thought through. Hopefully they’ll get tested out before N gets there!
I did love that the children were coming over unprompted to the head to show off their work, and she knew all of their names. Lots of positives, although it was a shame I didn’t get to see the reception teacher actually teaching, as he was on a study/deputy task break, and there was a regular supply teacher in.
The funniest bit was seeing N’s cousins in class. The eldest just stared at me, my god-daughter just looked mortified when the head pointed me out to her (I would have done the same as her too), and the youngest denied knowing who I was!
It’s great having other parents to talk to, although you do then hear about the horror stories rather than the good bits. With the rest of the family having gone through, or at the school currently, it’s a no-brainer that’s going to be our first choice. It would definitely make life hard if he doesn’t get in with pick-ups and drop offs. I just hope that the after school club that’s being planned, does actually happen as very few of the village schools near us are large enough to have them.
So then the debate comes…to put down a second and third choice, just in case. I’ve heard conflicting things, but will likely put some down. I’d rather have some choice, than none.
I then visited another school. We’re outside catchment and outside the county (as we live nearly on the border), but the school is undersubscribed and is always rated good by Ofsted. This visit was very different – my initial expectation was fast and efficient admin in response to my emails (from the head at 11pm one night, 2 hours after my email), but I’d heard some disappointing things about people taking children out and complacency by the head.
Although it was an open day, I was the only person looking round at that point, so it was a good opportunity to ask questions. The school is an old building, typical school that needs a bit of care and attention. I do think a head teacher should be singing the school’s praises and pointing out the good things, and not the bad, so I don’t think the head helped herself or the school really. I did find it strange that reception were in a class with not only year 1, but also year 2.
Despite their sizes, both schools offer music and languages, although on a term by term, class by class basis, so you’d still need to have after school private groups or lessons if children wanted to choose an activity to do long term. Wraparound care is non-existent in most of the village schools near us, but fingers crossed for our nearest school getting theirs set up.
I now need to visit a couple of others, neither in catchment, one in our county and the other just over the border. They’ve both got temporary heads, so the schools may change from September anyway.
I do quite like having a nosy round the schools (a throw back to me as a student showing parents round on open evenings), and I always take my list of questions with me otherwise I’d never remember what I needed to find out.
Questions to ask at primary school visits
Depending on your circumstances, you need to think about more than just how they settle in the children. Think about how they manage lunches, drop off and pick up, wrap round are, opportunities for after school clubs, bullying policy, how they look after children with SEN in and out of the classroom, staff turnover. Teacher parent communication options, homework, how they prep children for SATs and how they avoid stressing the children at that time. Think about longer term not just reception year.
If you’re doing school visits in preparation for choosing primary schools for your child, then you can download a copy of my list: Questions to ask on primary school visits. Just click on the image below.
Are your children starting school next year? What questions would you add to the list?
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