Article published 29th August 2011
Is someone near you putting together a Free School?
It's a very tempting prospect: a school that is created by its community, that you can play a part in shaping, that suits you rather than the educational establishment. We have a couple of planned Free Schools near us - a secondary that is just out of reach and a primary that our daughter will be too old for when it gets going. Rats.
But if you have a Free School close by, how do you judge a school that, in many cases you can't yet visit, with no results to show or current parents to consult?
Prospectus promises and pitfalls
The prospectus is a work of fiction. Who knows how things will turn out?
So pay more attention to the spirit of the prospectus than to the promises it contains.
- Are the school's ambitions in tune with yours?
- Are they grounded or tenuous?
- What does the prospectus reveal of the school's attitude to parents, and to children's wellbeing?
- What is the focus and breadth of the curriculum?
- Are they committed to getting your child on to the sort of secondary school or university that you have in mind?
Your child and the school will be setting out on a journey together – they’ll have to be in tune to make it a happy one.
As the boat exists only on paper, pay most attention to the crew.
The head should have a strong CV, a clear vision of where he or she wants to take the school. A leader, then – but not just any leader. One who will be good in the crises that you should expect to hit a new school.
Look at the governors too: they have to provide the experience and judgement. And if they have appointed a teacher or two, spend some time with them: if the school is to be a good school it should be recruiting the best.
Taking the plunge with Free Schools
If you choose to give a Free School a go, keep your critical senses sharp. It is hard enough to make a success of an established school. Have a Plan B, and don’t be afraid to use it. But being part of a new school is a great adventure, inspiring and involving, and could make a real difference to the future of your children.
Some special needs are easy to spot, others are only determined once a child has experienced considerable difficulties, frustrations or social and emotional problems.
Over the years, diagnosis of and provision for SEN have improved, but both can still be a minefield.
Identifying different kinds of special educational needs
Few children fit a condition perfectly – if they do, we tend to say they are a ‘classic’ case. Most will not be straightforward: perhaps a dyslexic with dyspraxia and a touch of ADD, or a child with ASD who also has Down’s syndrome.
Just as special needs are hard to…
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Counties such as Kent or Buckinghamshire are ‘selective authorities’ and most families will have at least one grammar school close to where they live. Elsewhere, for example in Reading or Kingston-on-Thames, there are just one or two grammar schools and competition for places at these is ferocious.
How to find a state grammar school
Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston,…
As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell and Charlotte Church standing. And for some extraordinary - though totally understandable - reason, everyone but us seems blind to our offspring's God-given artistic gifts.
If you think your child would benefit from a boarding school education, but are put off by the high fees and consequent limited social mix of a typical independent boarding school, you may find that a state boarding school is the answer