Choosing your child’s first school

school pic

I expect that if your child is reaching school age and you happen to live in a nice little village somewhere with a lovely little village school then you are probably not too worried about this application process that we are all expected to go through sooner or later. However, if, like me, you live in a relatively large town in the South East of England with at least 7 or 8 different schools to choose between then its a bit more complicated.

JJ just missed the admissions round this year, being an early-September baby, so some of his (slightly) older friends have started school recently and therefore I already have some insight into several of the local offerings. There is no substitute for doing your own research and getting your own feel for the likely candidates though, so I’ve thrown myself into the round of open days currently available. I had three specific candidates with one being the likely favourite in my mind (being as it is, our catchment school), however I now find myself in a bit of a dilemma. Each school has its pros and cons but is there really any substitute for that instinctive feeling you get when you first walk into a building? Its a bit like house-hunting and knowing instantly that you love or hate a place when you walk in through the door – I could live here – I want to live here! I wanted to love our catchment school – I certainly haven’t heard any bad reports – but it seems almost too big somehow. Its true that it has one of the largest intakes of pupils of any school in the area – 90 pupils for Reception year – and so it seems to lack that intimate feel of a smaller school.

Another factor that comes into play is the fact that the town I live in is considered to be ‘an area of deprivation’ (I got this on good authority from one of the staff at the local library who refused all forms of identification I tried to thrust at them when I joined – apparently they need no such proof – its obviously only those snobby middle class townsfolk who should be treated with suspicion when it comes to the safety of desirable library stock). We border two quite well to do Surrey towns where anyone like ourselves, may have been born and raised. However working in the public sector and struggling with the cost of living, lots of like-minded people are also moving into places like this in their droves, changing the town dynamic year on year. There are definitely benefits to living somewhere ‘up and coming’ – investment in the improvement of facilities and services, restaurants and businesses keen to get in ahead of the rush. This phenomena also seems to be true when it comes to schools – the more deprived the area and the more struggles the school has to meet any kind of targets, the greater the investment, funding and the higher the motivation of staff to continue through to the point where they are exceeding expectations and excelling above and beyond their more middle class neighbours. I certainly noticed this about one of my three top choices – a school I really warmed to.

But where do the pupils go from here? And how important is this first stepping stone anyway? Does all this waking up at 4am buzzing with thoughts around this decision have any merit whatsover or are we destined for (at the very least) ‘good’ schooling which may or may not lead to our children excelling either academically through further education or vocationally later in life?

Answers on a postcard…Or – go ahead and comment if you think I should be taking it more or less seriously.

3 thoughts on “Choosing your child’s first school

  1. Interesting to hear about so many different kinds of schools. I’ve worked in a few schools now and the most important factor in how well the children do is the quality of leadership. So if you are seeing a school that looks good even though it’s got a tougher catchment area, chances are it’s got great leadership.

    Also sounds like you’ve got quite a few good schools to choose from, which is nice. I mean good in the sense of it feeling right, not the OFSTED good. Although I work in schools’ data and spend a lot of time as a governor with an eye on data and results, I actually think how you feel about it is the most important part of the choice, because each parent’s decision is unique to their child. I think you’ve made some shrewd observations about the schools you’ve seen.

  2. I think it’s good to have a choice, but yes, that then makes it feel a huge decision. I know you’ve read my post on this very subject, so you’ll know what I was looking for. I wanted somewhere where my kids self-belief would continue to grow and an environment in which they’d enjoy learning. I was fortunate to get that gut instinct feeling there, fully supported by chats I’d had with friends with kids who already go there. It is important, but don’t have sleepless nights over it as I can’t see what you can do other than make the most informed decision you can and it sounds like you’re doing just that x

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