As mentioned in the bio I’m a teacher turned Stay at Home Mummy (SAHM) – a career sacrifice I willingly and logically made after 5 years of teaching in Primary Schools. I get asked many stock questions when people find this out. With the January 15th application deadline looming- the most relevant currently being;
‘What should I look out for when I am applying for Primary School?’
Big question. Big decision. Huge. It is one I would probably have answered differently prior to having children. I would have gone straight down the line and told you to look for the one that made the most points of progress between reception and year 6 (Not necessarily the highest grades in the SATs- but the ones who get children to make the most progress) whilst this is still a hugely important consideration, it is not the be all and end all once you are a parent.
In all honesty when I moved to the village in which I live now I had a brief glance at the local school using my aforementioned points progress criteria and was quite happy.
Nice area: check
Good points progress: check
Then Azalea was born, grew up into an emotionally fragile but reasonable gifted little girl. Such a strange concoction of gifted and chronically introverted. Whilst her confidence has grown massively since attending pre-school- and as an October born [standard teacher time of year to birth] she will have had almost 2 full years there before starting school in September 2018- she still has that fragility in her character. We viewed the catchment school and we had no problem with it other than, instinctively, it just didn’t seem like she could ‘belong’ there. She is smart enough and loved enough to succeed in any school really- as are most children from good, supportive, loving homes. I realised in that instant looking around the school that was ‘good with outstanding features’ that I wasn’t worried about her succeeding academically at all. I would even go so far as to say that I was, more than happy to accept she would be much better off losing out a little on academic performance for me to feel comfortable that she would belong. Our catchment school is one of a commonly growing breed- three form entry. 90 children a year. In a building probably more fit for 35-40 a year. No reflection on the school, it is all down to funding but that is a whole different blog entirely.
I don’t know why it took me until the day I visited the first school to realise how important the learning environment was. I know all the rules about creating a nice learning environment, I guess until I tried to picture my own child in a school it always seemed like trite government rhetoric.
Anyway putting my digression aside, what do I mean belong? Well for me an education is about so much more than being measured by test scores. At A level my Politics Lecturer told me that teaching students helps them to pass exams whilst educating students installs an in-built bullshit detector. I always liked that idea, but to bring it down to primary level; you can train many children to pass tests. You can educate ALL children to become worthy members of society with the correct approach and curriculum. I hold it as very important that children learn how to function within society whilst they grow and learn. To me, that means having a community based attitude. No [wo]man is an island right? I couldn’t see how Azalea could find her place on the path unwinding [sorry- vague Lion King reference] amongst 90 children. Some children may be perfectly suited to that environment, it is not a damning critique, rather an insight based upon my delicate little flower. Conversely, we visited a school that was so small we were concerned she would get big fish little pond syndrome, then have the shock of her life when she started secondary/high school and realised she wasn’t the best at x, y and z. As is obvious by this point- we ultimately settled on our first choice being a 1 form entry (30 per year), believing that it would have the balance between being too small and losing that family vibe that smaller schools have.
This blog started by me saying I get asked to offer advice. I suppose it is reasonable that you might expect me to offer some advice. I will do a P.S. of general tips but I will round of my inaugural post with the wisest advice I can think of, visit, visit, visit. It’s hard- you don’t want to have to drive to school every day (we will have to now), the work schedule can make it hard to plan in visits, you always assume that your child will just go to the catchment school, will they be able to make friends if they go out of catchment? I understand all of those issues but I would remind you of this: When your child starts school in term time they will spend more waking hours at school than with you on an average week. Make sure that you trust and respect the people who will be with them. Follow your gut instinct. If it doesn’t feel right for your child you don’t need to justify that to anyone- it just isn’t right.
Thanks for reading- I really could go on and on, but I will spare you. Shoot with any questions in the comments though and I’ll do my best to answer them.
As promised my tips:
- Read the Ofsted report- the grading is not always important but I would be disinclined to send her to a ‘requires improvement’ – but at the same time bear in mind a head teacher can change at any time, as can staff and this will have huge impact on results, reports and school ethos.
- Read historical Ofsted reports- I’m a fan of consistency and improvement.
- Ask other parents, there’s likely at least one at your pre-school/nursery/playgroup setting who has older children attending local schools. Gauge their opinion.
- Have a nosey on the website. Not much point applying for the super religious Church of England school if you are completely against organised religion. If your child loves music and they have free music lessons- that’s a bonus. If your child is a science whizz- check the school for Primary Science Quality Mark. Equally feel free to ask about subjects and extra -curricular when you visit!
- Do your homework, assumed you’d get into the local school just because you live there? Check the admission criteria. If it is Catholic for example and you aren’t a Church go-er then you may well NOT get in- time for a solid plan B.
- Sibling rule is not actually what it used to be- meaning if you apply out of catchment bear in mind that any future siblings will NOT be guaranteed entry.
- VISIT – more than one school.