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?

by

Related 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.

  • The school 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.

  • School open evenings

    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.

  • Appealing for a school place

    Despite all you’ve heard about competition for places at the school you want for your child, it’s still a huge shock when your secondary offer comes through for Unpopular Academy instead. Don’t despair  - you have a legal right to appeal to any school named on your preference form. But it’s vital to have a back-up plan alongside going through the appeals process.

  • From embryo to eighteen - how to survive the education highway

    A lively look at education planning for children of all ages and their parents. We guide you through the schooling stages from 0-18 in both the independent and state sectors, and tell you what to plan for and when.


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

Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1,100+ schools.
 Overall school performance by GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark
 

The Good Schools Guide subscription

 GSG Blog >    In the news >

Newsletter

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

Freezing dormitories and terrible food


3rd editions of Good Schools Guide - London North and South now available, all entries fully revised with 2016 results. Buy now...