It always amazes me how little support there is for parents when applying for a school for their child for the first time. Support seems to come in the form of chatting to other local mums and dads and finding out from them what to do when the time comes...
I recently chatted to a dad friend of mine who hadn't realised that his three year old would be starting reception the following September and had no clue which schools to apply for or how the process worked. This handy tick list should ensure that you have done your research and that you are ready to go fill in that form when the time comes.
1. Know the law!
Legally, a child doesn't have to start school until the start of the term following their 5th birthday. If you'd prefer, your child could attend part time until they reach compulsory school age.
You could also defer your child's start date until later in the same academic year or until the term in which they reach compulsory school age. If your child was born between April and August there is also the option to defer their entry to reception until the following September.
Different county councils have different processes for this and some are more stringent than others so it is important to call your local council or check out their website on what you will need to do to ensure your child's entry is deferred.
2. Look at your options
There are many reasons why a certain school might appeal to you including the distance from your home or the latest Ofsted report, it is however important to consider your options rather than follow the crowd, thus finding the right school for your child. A really great website is www.locrating.com which is essentially an interactive map where parents can search for their postcode and then filter their search by school type, primary verses secondary for example. The map will then show schools nearest to you colour coded by their Ofsted rating with links to the school site. Who knows there may be a new school you didn't know existed or you can use the links to the Ofsted reports to print off the latest inspections and compare schools in your area.
Priorities differ from family to family when looking at schools but there are several points to consider when looking at a school that in my opinion cannot be overlooked:
a) The most important thing of all - will your child be happy there? Of course nobody has a crystal ball to look into but I am amazed when I meet parents who select schools that they have not visited at least once to check out the vibe. Important factors are the size of the school, the ethos, how strict or relaxed the school is, how diverse its intake, even access to outdoor space is important. It is about being in your child's shoes for the day and if you can take your child with you to the visit to really get a feel for how well they would fit in.
b) When was the last report conducted? It is not all about the rating as things can change quickly with Ofsted. Personally an outstanding rating is not the most important thing for me when considering a school but for other parents it takes top priority.
It is important to note that good or outstanding schools are inspected less frequently and some outstanding schools may not have had whole school inspections for many years, as there will have been nothing in the assessment data or other issues to trigger such an inspection. This does not mean however that an inspection won't happen soon - ask yourself if that rating changes will you feel differently about the school - really the only way to answer this is to be happy overall with the school, its ethos, the staff and the environment when you look round.
c) How long has the head teacher/senior leadership team been in place? Are they going to make changes? Is there currently an interim head?
d) How creative is the curriculum at the school? Is the planning repeated every one or two years? Are the children's interests taken into account when planning the topics?
e) How does the school ensure work is appropriately differentiated for all children? It is important that we all recognise that children do not start school at the same developmental stage, how do the school account for that? If your child can read or knows some sounds for example (if you have been using your Story Frog phonics pack to introduce sounds and mark making!) then will they take your child on from their starting points?
f) What opportunities are there for outdoor learning? School trips? Walks in the community and general enrichment activities? It also might be important that you feel part of the school community and know how you can contribute.
4. Find out when school open days are - from September start emailing schools and checking out websites to find out when you can go and visit. Go and look at more than one school! It is amazing how different schools can be isn't it!
Go and see more than one, after all it isn't a guarantee that you will get your top choice.
5. Explore the admissions criteria, each school will have it's own set of criteria for example considering distance, a sibling rule, special educational needs or looked after children and religious background can be an influencing factor in the likelihood of your child getting a place. Is your school over or under subscribed?
6. Fill in the form and return it in good time and remember to list all of your choices in the order that you want them - do not just put one school on the list otherwise you run a greater risk of being allocated a school that you didn't want.
7. Be positive, listen to the opinions of others and go with your gut instinct. No school setting is perfect, there is always a compromise but consider what is important to you and your family and think about your child's complete wellbeing, emotional and social development as well as academic achievement.
8. Finally make the process exciting for your child, involve them in every aspect of the run up to school, be positive and proactive. Good luck!