Picking a school for your child could be one of the most important decisions that you make with regards to their qualifications and career. Therefore it can feel like you are under an enormous amount of pressure to make sure that you pick the right one. It is worth noting though, that it is normally possible for you to change their school if you feel that it does not suit them. With primary school you can change them as you wish as long as the school has the places. With secondary school you may need to be in the catchment area and there needs to be places and so it may mean that you have to move house. However, although this can be inconvenient it does mean that you can change your mind, but it can be better and less unsettling for the child if you do make the right decision the first time. Si how can you be sure that it is the right decision?
Visiting the school is really important. It will give you a chance to get a feel for the school and what it is like. You will be able to meet staff members and talk to them as well and possibly even some pupils that attend there. It is important to take your children with you as well. Remember that even if you find the teachers hard to get on with this is not really important compared to how well the children get on with them. They will need to be working with them each day and so they will need to judge that as well as you. Make sure that you take the opportunity to ask a lot of questions about the school so that you can find out enough to be able to compare it to other school that you visit.
Look at their website
A schools website will have different information on it compared with what you can gain from visiting the school. Do not judge it by the way it is set up as it could have been designed by a parent or using a template provided by the council, particularly if it is a primary school. However, look at the type of information on there. See what activities have been documented, read the school newsletters and look at the photographs so that you can get an idea of the sorts of things that happen on a daily basis in the school.
Talk to parents
Talking to local parents about experiences they have of the schools can be useful. However, it is worth finding out what sort of child they have. For example if they have a child who is very sporty and your child is much more academic, then it is likely that they will suit different schools. You may find that parents have bad things to say about schools as unfortunately we tend to focus on the bad rather than the good. However, if you talk to enough parents then you can get a really good idea of what it might be like in a selection of schools.
Look at their results/league tables
Some parents want to make sure that their children will do as well as possible in their exams and so will look at the league tables or exam results. This can be helpful but it is worth remembering that this is determined by how bright the children are that enter that school as well as the teaching in the school. A grammar school is bound to have better results because they take in the most capable students. If you child is capable then they should be able to do well in any school regardless of how well other students do. Schools tend to put children in sets according to their ability, even in primary school, which means that they will get the level of teaching that suits them.
It is also worth thinking about how close you live to the school. With secondary schools, entry will be decided on location and so they will take children from within the catchment area before they then select others. They also have other criteria such as whether the child is in care and if they have siblings at the school and they may have an entrance exam as well. These will vary depending on the region that you live and the particular school. Location is important when it comes to getting your child to school and extra-curricular activities. If you are taking them to school then you do not want it to be too far out of your way or along a route which is really busy if you are in a car. You may prefer it if they can walk to school. If they are likely to do after school activities you need to make sure there is a way that they can get home. If you can collect them that is fine, but if they have to make their own way back you need to make sure that they can either walk or there is a bus that they can get.
There are websites where schools are reviewed. You have to pay to be a member of some of these sites but there is a certain amount of information that you may be able to get without subscribing. You can sometimes find information by past parents or past pupils as well as official reviews which can be handy. However, they may be out of date. It is also worth noting that one child may have a completely different experience in a school to another and so you may find that although some people are not keen on the school this is not going to be true of everyone.
Phone the School
It can be good to telephone the school reception and ask a few questions or email them or both. This will give you an idea of how well they deal with general queries and how friendly they are. As a parent you are likely to have questions and queries across the years that your child is at the school and it is useful to know whether they will be delay with in a friendly and efficient manner.