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?
Of course, you want a really good school, one that's ideal for your child, with great teaching and facilities to match. When picking schools to apply to, think about what motivates your child – and most of us need to remember that when push comes to shove, the school picks your child not the other way round.
Choosing a school: where to start
Make an honest list of everything you want for your child, however frivolous or peripheral it may seem. But be realistic about your little cherub. A not-very-academic child will be much happier in the top half of a non-selective school than bumping along at the bottom of a league table topper. And a not-very-sporty child could hate a school where the only high-fives you get in the playground are if you’ve been selected for the 1st XI or won the school another shining sporting trophy.
Here are some ideas:
- narrowly academic or relaxed and creative
- very local, very convenient
- length of school day; plus 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
- sport for all or top class coaching for high flyers
- an excellent reputation for dealing with learning difficulties or with gifted, talented and able children
- scholarships/bursaries (for independent schools)
- religious ethos
- parental involvement.
And for boarding:
- full or flexi-boarding
- exeats/holidays that fit in with your family life
- all in fees or flexible extras
- environment - bustling town or away from it all country setting
- contact - how much, how often and how?
- Saturday school.
Be prepared to revisit, refine and re-prioritise your wish list. But it will help you initially with your long-list, and later your short-list, of potential schools.
There are, of course, practical considerations to throw in the mix too. You may have to rule out fee-paying schools because you can’t afford the fees; you may need a boarding school because you travel a lot; or perhaps you only have co-ed schools in your vicinity, which rules out single-sex.
How important is it to visit schools?
Choosing a school is a process of elimination. And it is vital you see several schools so that you have a point of comparison and can confirm or counter instincts you have about each one. Things to consider:
- How, and where, you want your child to end up.
- Your gut reaction - the atmosphere should be tangible and excite you. If the school doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.
- 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 sitting amongst them?
- The bigger picture – it’s easy to judge a school exclusively by the bottom end because your child is young, but look at the end product too.
For more information on visiting schools, see School Open Days.
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