Following on from my questions to ask schools post, I’ve now done my school visits I’d planned. I shouldn’t be astounded by how different schools are, but I am.
Round by us it’s all small village schools. Most have a good reputation, although you do hear horror stories about some ( less so in the villages and more as you get closer to town), and obviously you need to take into account the fact that a lot could change in the time before your child starts school and leaves.
I think I have lots of expectations about what I want to see in a school, but I’m also realistic in knowing that things are very different to when I was at a village (albeit a large village) primary school.
I want to see:
An enthusiastic head teacher
I want a head teacher to sell the school to me, especially If I don’t know the school. In a small school I’d expect him or her to know all the pupils’ names, and potentially teach some classes. But I definitely want to know the positives about the school, why people like the school so much, and what changes are afoot – realistic and the blue sky ones. That’ll help me see how on top of things they are, or whether the head is just spouting rubbish to impress the parents.
I don’t want to hear, like one headteacher showing me round on an open day, about all the old and tired things and how she wishes she could change things. I also think, if you’ve got a headteacher with no personality and no chit chat, then don’t let them show prospective parents round. The latest literally pointed out the rooms, said I could stay and chat with the reception teacher, but otherwise told me nothing about the school at all until I asked questions, and even then it was hard work.
How the children react in classrooms
In one school I saw, the children were coming independently to tell the headteacher what work they were doing, and to show her their work. I was impressed with that and it shows that the head is an approachable figure for even young children. I want to see artwork on walls throughout the school, and want to see the children at work or play – a little buzz is good rather than total silence, but it’s also nice to see how they’re being taught both formally with the teacher at the front of the class, and while they’re walking round supporting the children at their tables. In 2 schools on open days they were doing special events like dance and music. That’s nice, but it’s not normal everyday…I don’t really want to hear a class of children squeaking through a music recital, I’ll have to listen to that kind of thing enough when N’s at school!
Breadth of education.
I think this is largely the norm nowadays, but even when I was a child we had good opportunity to learn instruments and play lots of new sports. Now it’s more important to me that there’s the choice for these in school, especially because if I’m working, after school lessons or clubs outside of school are unlikely to be fitted in. I do want to make sure there’s plenty of choice, for both breadth of education and non academic activities. For me sports (and play) are really important and I definitely want a school to celebrate competition and winning, not just the taking part.
Luckily the schools I’ve visited do have external teachers come in to do music and sports activities, as well as them being supported by the teachers as well. Although there seems to be a tendency towards the ukelele in every school as well. Odd choice, but maybe it’s down to the size. I’m musical, but I don’t think I’ve really come across a ukelele until adulthood. It’s not really an instrument that could lead to being in an orchestra or band, so I’m sure there would be more appropriate instruments for pupils to be able to get the most out of any musical experience.
I was lucky as a child in that my mum didn’t work until we were older, so she was heavily involved with volunteering and helping out at the school. Working, I don’t know what will be possible, but I also don’t want that to be held against me (or N) which can happen if the school cliques get together. I want to ensure that schools value the input from parents, and how the communication happens. Plus of course if there’s the opportunity to feedback at times of the year, all the better.
A thought out and working plan for lunchtimes
Meals are very important to N, and he’s been used to eating hot meals at nursery, so I’m hoping that once he’s got used to the noise in a dining room with older children, he’ll be fine. However, I want the schools to be confident in supporting the reception children, and ensuring they get settled quicker into the system they have.
One school had initially asked new reception children to bring lunchboxes for 8 weeks while they got used to eating in school. I’d have gone ballistic at that a) because you’re then missing out on the free meals and b) because I want N to have a hot meal, and luckily other parents thought so too. The school changed their mind after parental feedback, and instead made sure the reception class went into the hall 10 minutes earlier to get settled before the rest of the school turned up. Then gradually change it so they’re in the mix with the other children. Having a school that can be flexible is something I feel strongly about.
Maybe my expectations are too high, although I think they should be fairly standard things. I saw a lovely school last week, the reception teacher was nice, the facilities were reasonable, there’s a nearby after school club, but crikey, I’d have not let the head teacher do the tour! Thankfully he’s only a temporary head, and by September the head should be changing, but it does put a downer on a school is something’s obviously poor in one area.
I think having a choice makes it all much harder. If we all just had one school for them to go to and that was it, it would be much more straightforward, and we’d all make the best of it.
What expectations did you have or do you have before your children started school? Were they realistic once at school?