Children are at school for 6 hours a day, for up to 39 weeks of the year. Beyond academic achievement, schools shape your child’s outlook, values, friendships, and extracurricular interests. It’s no wonder then that finding the right school for your child is a big decision! After years advising on school choices at The Golden Circle, here are our pearls of wisdom for parents looking for the perfect school:
Profile your ideal school
Consider the different types of schools available and what will be suitable for your family, location and finances. Decisions to take include boarding school vs day school, independent vs state school, single sex vs co-ed and religious vs non-religious? Other factors which may influence your decision-making include the school run and transport options, catchment area, extracurricular clubs and SEN support. Be practical about what the next 5 years may hold and whether this criterion will still work for your family in the future.
Do your research online
Resources such as the school’s website, prospectus and Ofsted reports offer only a snapshot of information. Use The Times Parent Power to discover the highest-performing schools in your area and gain insight into the average English and Maths attainment at each school. The Good Schools Guide or Tatler Schools Guide both provide trusted, candid and in-depth school reviews.
Make a shortlist of the schools that you feel will be a good fit for your child. Each school has a different ethos and philosophy, which will influence their approach towards academia, sports, arts, and social and emotional development. As a parent, you are best placed to understand the type of environment that your child will flourish in.
Reach out to other parents
Harness the power of local networks! Use Mumsnet, local Facebook groups or Nextdoor to discuss details with parents of children at your shortlist schools. Ask the questions that are important to you – are there any scholarships available, how many students are there per class, what policies do they have on peer-to-peer support and anti-bullying, does the school nurture students that are gifted in sports, arts or music?
Attend an open morning
Visiting prospective schools will give you the most accurate understanding of day-to-day life at the school. In addition to viewing the facilities, it gives you a feel for the atmosphere, leadership style and teaching calibre. Feel free to ask the staff plenty of questions about the school’s values, the curriculum, extracurricular opportunities and their teaching approach.
Prepare for applications and admissions tests
Create a spreadsheet for your school choices detailing application deadlines. For state schools, follow your local council’s application process. For independent schools, follow the instructions on their website. Independent schools may require you to register your child 1-2 years in advance and use an admissions test or interview for children aged 4 and over. At age 4, there is nothing to worry about! The 4+ exam assesses a child’s social skills and their ability to follow teacher instructions. At 7+, 8+ and 11+ level, start preparing at least 12 months in advance. A ‘little and often’ approach often works better than a last-minute cram!
Finally, trust your instinct on where your child will be happy. When you visit a school, it’s likely that you will have a feeling about whether you can envisage your child and family integrating into the school community. It’s a really exciting milestone and adventure that you and your child will embark on – we wish you the best of luck!