The vital questions to ask when visiting a school – and the things to keep an eye out for when walking around, which can reveal just as much.
When it comes to finding a school for your child, there are so many choices and decisions to make that it’s sometimes hard to keep focused and find out exactly what you need to know. Paula Burgess, Headteacher of Bramley School & Nursery in Surrey, shares her 10 most important questions for parents to ask and also gives insider tips on what to look for when visiting a prospective school.
The top 10 questions to ask teachers when looking around a school and the potential answers you need to hear:
1. What schools do your pupils progress on to?
While your child may only just be starting school, it’s important to find out what secondary schools or universities they may be aiming for in the future.
2. How do you prepare your students for entrance exams?
If you’re looking around a primary school for your child, ask how they will prepare them for exams, whether it’s through organised revision lessons or trial exams. When your child reaches the age of 11, they may have to sit the 11+ exams as well as any entrance exams for secondary schools they wish to go to.
3. What are the school’s aims for the future?
This question will give you an idea of where the school is heading. The staff may be able to give you an outline of how the school is improving, both in class and any plans for construction.
4. How do you provide a broad and balanced curriculum?
While every school has to use the National Curriculum, every school will teach in a different way. This question opens up a conversation about lessons and how your child will learn, maybe with exams, sheets, homework or creative projects.
5. How do you celebrate achievement and deal with misbehaviour?
It’s a good idea to ask how your child will know when they are doing well in school and when they need to work a bit harder. Ask the teacher how they reprimand children and what their policy is on bullying. Even if your child isn’t showing any signs of trouble, you may experience classmates who are.
6. What extra curricular activities are there on offer for my child?
Extra curricular activities may include lunchtime clubs, after school clubs, sports teams and school trips. You know what you’re child loves to do, so if your child has a passion for dance, for example, ask if there are any dance opportunities.
7. Does the school provide a home-cooked meal or do you have to bring packed lunches?
It’s important to know how your child will be fed during the school day. It will be personal preference as to whether this question and answer will affect your choice.
8. How often will my child read to a teacher?
Reading is vital for every child, especially at primary school level. Ask the staff how often your child will be able to improve on their reading skills by reading out loud and whether this will be one-to-one. You may also want to find out which books are favoured by the school.
9. How does the school encourage partnerships?
If you’re looking around a same-sex school, it might be an idea to ask whether the school has a brother or sister school that they join up with for certain lessons, just so you’re clear. Some schools also have partnerships with local charities or care homes, so this question could lead to answers about the opportunities your child may experience.
10. How do you involve the parents?
As a parent, you need to know how often you’ll be involved in your child’s learning, from parent-teacher meetings to school plays, assemblies and school trips. Every school is different but communication between you and your child’s school is vital.
When visiting a school for the first time, it will usually be on an open day, when everything is made to be at its best. While asking questions is a great way to get the responses you need, it’s also an idea to keep your eyes peeled when on your guided tour.
According to Paula, the things you should ask yourself when visiting a school are:
“It’s always a good idea to visit a school two or three times when deciding whether it is the right place to send your child. The first time may be on an organised open day, but it’s best to go back and meet the Headteacher during school time so you can see how the school runs on a normal day,” says Paula.
When you visit a school on an open day, there may be set performances for prospective parents so you may not get a proper feel of how the school runs on an everyday basis. This is why Paula advises you return to the school on a regular day.
“When you return to the school and are taken round while pupils are in class, look out for evidence of excellence. Listen to the interaction between the teachers and the pupils, and ask yourself whether the pupils are engaged in their lessons. Are they all doing the same work, or are they set different challenges?” says Paula.
The one thing to remember is that every child is different, so even if the schools’ prospects look great on paper, when looking around the most important question you need to ask yourself is “Will my child fit in at this school?”
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