Skip to main content


Will you find a welcome on the mat, team-talk and an abundance of activities? Will the school give your child a sporting chance....or leave them out in the cold?

Every school says it has plenty of extracurricular activities, but don’t take their word for it. The only drama on offer might be staff fleeing, when the whistle blows.

Sports and arts

Academic excellence is important but don't underestimate the value of great pastoral care, trips, sport, music, the arts...and how welcome parents are - or not.

  1. What happens, when? Ask for a timetable of what happens and who is eligible. Are the choir and the dance club by audition only? Does the trampolining club actually happen, or is the teacher on maternity leave for a year?
  2. Music - does it strike a chord? How many pupils learn a musical instrument, and for how long? Are there ensembles, choirs and orchestras? Do only the elite get a chance to perform?
  3. Sport for all? If your child is keen on sport but unlikely to make the First XI, find out the school’s attitude. Are there house teams, fourth and fifth teams, sports clubs open to everyone? Or does the school concentrate all its efforts on the top performers, with no opportunities for those who play for fun?
  4. Sporting choice? Are there options for the boy who refuses to play rugby or the girl who loathes hockey/lacrosse or wants to avoid team games altogether? What about those who trip up over their own feet? Are the facilities on site or a bus ride away?
  5. Are budding thespians well served? Are there plenty of productions, and opportunities for everyone to get involved, backstage or front?
  6. Travel for work and pleasure? If you think school trips are important, find out what actually happens. How many times a term will the average class get a trip? Is the German exchange open to everyone, or is it first come, first served? Are curriculum trips compulsory? Who gets to go on sports tours?
  7. Are there plenty of clubs for all interests, from chess to macramé?

Pastoral care

Parents may panic about headline issues but there is more to pastoral care than sex and drugs.....

  1. Who is responsible for pastoral care? Who does you or your child contact to discuss problems?
  2. Who will be overseeing your child? Form tutor? Head of year? Are there houses?
  3. What does the school do about bullying? Bullying is universal, ‘We don’t have it here’ probably means they don’t look and there’s lots of it. A good sign is frequent examples of dealing well with it.
  4. What happens when a child is ill?
  5. What is the food like? Prepared from scratch, or brought in a reheated? Is it healthy and plentiful? Do the staff eat it?
  6. Do they notice if pupils skip meals?  Does the tuck shop sell good food or junk? How aware is the school of the dangers and signs of anorexia, depression or self-harm?
  7. Is there a cafeteria system or a table laid and ‘table talk’?
  8. Water - deluge or drought? Are drinking water fountains placed conveniently around the school? Are pupils allowed to take water into classes?
  9. What is the temperature at the school in the winter? A question for Scottish and seaside schools particularly. Does it get too hot in summer?
  10. What form do punishments take? Are prefects allowed to mete them out.
  11. Sex and drugs. What is the head’s attitude to discipline? Drugs? Sex? Alcohol? Homosexuality?
  12. Rule breakers. What happens to those who steal? Use bad language? Or break the more petty school rules? How many have been excluded/expelled in the past three years?

Parental involvement

A warm welcome or left out out in the cold? While some schools roll out the red carpet for parents, others are more likely to issue a red card - with parental visits strictly by appointment only.

  1. How welcome are parents at the school? How involved are they with school life? Are they encouraged to attend mid-week matches, weekend chapel or special assemblies?
  2. School report. How does the school report to parents? How often are parents’ evenings? How often are school reports issued? You would be surprised how many schools only provide one written report a year.
  3. Are there regular parental socials? Is there an active Parents' Association/PTA? Are parents invited to end of term celebrations?
  4. Parent portal? Is there special provision for parents on the school website? 
  5. Getting in touch. Can parents talk to (or email) teachers when they want to – and will they get a response?

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Choosing a school - thoughts for parents

    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.

  • State boarding schools

    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. Read more... State grammar schools 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. Grammar schools are located in 36…

  • Catchment area cheat

    Pressure for places in the UK’s best state schools is intensifying with state grammar schools leading the way. Popular schools see upwards of 10 applicants for every place. In 2014, almost half of children in some areas have been rejected from their preferred secondary school. Catchment areas are already shrinking as parents who had planned on private schooling join the battle for places in the best state schools.

  • Visiting a school: what should you look for at an open day?

    They may not truly reflect day-to-day life at a school (this will be school at its best) but they'll give you a flavour of what's happening and allow you to soak up the atmosphere. They are your chance to have the upper hand, get a feel for the school and chat with pupils and staff. Do visit more than one school: it’s useful to compare and contrast.

  • When to put your child’s name down for a school

    A handful of schools literally demand that you apply for a place as soon as your child is born, which means it’s never too early to start planning your child’s education. In fact, it’s a process that can start even before you’ve conceived – and that goes for all parents, wherever they want their offspring to go to school. From embryo to 18, read on to find out how to survive the education highway. Our lively look at education planning for children of all ages and their parents aims to guide you through the schooling stages in both the independent…

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, A level or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools.
Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools by year of entry.
School data comparison by results, relative success and popularity.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >    In the news >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter
The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

The school that offers hope



For a limited time get one month's Good Schools Guide subscription free with any purchase of The Good Schools Guide to Boarding Schools.