Choosing a school - thoughts for parents

Finding the best school
What is your child really like? This is your starting point for finding a school to suit him/her rather than you. Having decided what your child is really like, ask yourself: What do you want for your child? What do you want from a school? Will it be a good school for a child like yours?

What do you want for your child?

State school or fee-paying? Day or boarding school? Single sex or co-education? It helps to have a game plan, even if you change it at a later date.



What do you want from the school?

Undoubtedly you want to find a great school, one that's ideal for your child, with great teaching and possibly good facilities to match.

It is crucial you decide what is really important to you and your child.

Make an honest list for yourself of everything that you want for your child, however ambitious, frivolous or peripheral it may seem. 

  • safety
  • happiness
  • a nurturing environment
  • social status
  • very local - very convenient
  • before and after school care
  • a traditional approach or a relaxed outlook
  • beauty of architecture
  • state of the art facilities
  • a stepping stone to a top-notch senior school or university
  • curriculum flexibility 
  • offers Japanese
  • choirs, orchestras and ensembles
  • sport for all
  • help with learning difficulties
  • support for gifted, talented and able....
  • awards and scholarships/bursaries (for independent schools)
  • religious outlook
  • parental involvement


And for boarding:

  • full or flexi-boarding
  • exeats/holidays that fit in with your career
  • doesn't cost too much (if anything).
  • all in fees or flexible extras?
  • environment - bustling town or away from it all country setting
  • care and support
  • contact - how much, how often and how?
  • Saturday school


The list is endless, so where do you begin? 

Beware the danger of judging a school exclusively by the bottom end because your child is young; look at the end product

Choosing a school is a process of elimination. It is vital you see several schools, even if the first school you visit feels right, you should visit others to confirm or counter this instinct.


  • How, and where, you want your child to end up.
  • Your gut reaction - the atmosphere should be tangible and excite you.
  • The head - is he/she impressive? You don’t have to like him/her but it helps; the head really does make or break a school.
  • Staff - Is there a member of staff at the school who is on the same wavelength as you? If your child is boarding there must be someone you can turn to and feel in tune with.
  • The pupils - do you see your child sat amongst them?

Do be prepared to revisit, refine and re-prioritise your wish list.


Did you walk into the school and feel at home; did you come out from a school visit feeling good? If it doesn't feel right, it isn't right.

Next steps

We have a whole series of articles and advice to help you every step of the way; whether tentatively embarking on choosing a school, or part way through the school choice process.

We also have our own Good Schools Guide Advice Service. Our advisors - our most knowledgeable and experienced writers - work one-to-one with you to find the best school for your child. Visit: Consultancy Services .


Next steps in choosing a school

Results, performance, care 

As well as great advice (see reading list at foot of this page), Subscribers to The Good Schools Guide Online will find detailed exam results and performance information on schools via their individual school pages.

If you haven't yet identified schools of interest why not use our Advanced Search to Find Schools - here you can search by any or all of:

  • Location - town, postcode or Local Authority (but not by county*) 
  • Type - Independent/State school
  • Mainstream/Special
  • Gender
  • Boarding/Day
  • Religion
  • Review - limit your selection of schools to those reviewed by The Good Schools Guide (or not)
  • Age - Specify ages that must be included
  • Features - IB, Ofsted Outstanding, CReSTeD, International Study Centre, Polo and more!

*Schools tend not to record county so we exclude from search




Remember - ask not only 'Is this a good school?' but:

'Is this a good school for a child like mine?'


Fortunately, Subscribers** may use this site to find out:

  • How well a school performs.
  • Which schools do best by the brightest, the average or below average child. 
  • Who adds the most value.
  • Which schools a particular school recruits from and where children move onto.
  • The universities sixth-formers go on to and the courses they follow. 
  • The types of courses available - just GCSEs and A-levels or vocational, IB Pre-U and other options? 
  • What subjects are popular at a school and where the best results are.


Even good schools can have weak links:

  • great results can mask a poor showing in an individual subject or department - make sure it isn't a subject that matters to your child.
  • try to establish how many children are having extra tuition outside of school.

If it is an English state school (or independent senior with at sixth form) you can even see the value a school adds to its intake.

The graph below shows the overall value added, separated by gender.

Value-added data


For examples of the university information we carry please see University Entrance Data.



Once you have a short list of schools why not compare school performance

My Schools list

If you are a registered user you can save lists of schools to 'My Schools'.

Simply save your schools to my schools

You must be a subscriber, not just a registered user to compare school performance by:

  1. Selecting schools they are interested in and saving them to 'My Schools'
  2. Once selection is saved click on the My Saved Schools box (located near top menu RHS just under find a school).
  3. Select the 'View All Saved Schools' link within My Saved Schools
  4. You should now have a list view of all saved schools - click on the 'Compare' button.





You could opt for the school that has the uniform you like best or, if you are a subscriber,  you could compare the schools via My Schools to see which really is best for your child. 

Do consult our check-lists of questions to ask when visiting schools (see below). 


Can I find the best schools for say chemistry and geography at A-level?

Yes, if you are a subscriber you can either:

  1. Use My Schools (see above) to find the best performing schools from your selection or
  2. Use Six of the Best - which ranks schools according to the criteria - you choose.



Searching for the right school? Agonising over the options?

The Good Schools Guide online subscription gives you:

  • Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of 1,200 schools in the UK.

  • Easy to digest exam data for English schools.
  • Interactive catchment area maps.
  • Exclusive university admissions results for every school and university course.
  • Articles giving comprehensive advice* on state and independent schools, tutors and special needs.
  • The ability to save a list of possible schools and compare their results and performance

Subscribe to the Good Schools Guide. Only £9.99 for one month.

GSG 19th Edition book cover


The Good Schools Guide 19th edition is out now available from our bookshop.

Authoritative, sought-after, truthful...

Click here to buy online...

The Good Schools Guide on pupils

… we asked what one thing would improve their school. The answer was unanimous: girls! Apparently girls would ‘make the place tidier’ and ‘help with questions’. Dream on chaps.

"It is highly opinionated: the only guide that offers parents a genuine flavour of what a school is like." The Daily Telegraph


Further reading

For those new to the process:

From Embryo To Eighteen - How To Survive The Education Highway

Mix and Match State and Private Education

Sussing Out Independents School and Horses For Courses

Choosing A School For A Talented Child

Inspection Reports From Ofsted And Others


For those visiting schools:

School Open Evenings

Questions To Ask Staff When Visiting A School

Questions To Ask When Visiting A School - Academic Matters

Questions To Ask When Visiting A School - Financial Factors

Questions To Ask  When Visiting A School - Beyond the Classroom

Visiting A School - Questions For Pupils


For those contemplating the admissions process:

State School Admissions - How To Secure A Place

Independent School Admissions - Insider Information On Getting In!

Independent School Admissions - It's Not Just Ability To Pay 

SEN Admission To Independent School


For all:

The Good Schools Guide advice services  provide personal, one-to-one consultancy advice for finding schools at home and overseas. Our most knowledgeable and experienced school experts work with you, to find the right school for your child.

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