Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent.

Open Days can help, if you know what to look for...

It’s time to head back to school for a new academic year and for many parents, it is time to think about choices for your child’s first, or indeed next, step on the education ladder. Schools know that decisions will be made over the coming months, so are keen to show themselves off in the very best light. In other words, it is the season of the school Open Day.

Open Days are a wonderful opportunity to explore potential schools but how accurate a picture can you get from an organised tour? Inevitably, the school will seek to make everything look as attractive as possible, but you can still get a good feel for a school.

Do your homework 

Look at the school website before the Open Day. Read the latest inspection report. This will give you a basic knowledge of the school before you arrive there.

Listen to the headteacher 

If they give a welcoming speech, do they have a vision and passion? Does it come over as a well-polished performance or do they speak from the heart? This is the person who leads and shapes the school. Did you feel inspired?

Take your child with you 

Don’t forget it is your child that will be going to the school every day. Ask their opinion? Has the school inspired them? They may pick up on things you may not notice.

Decide for yourself 

Take the chance to talk to teachers and pupils. Are they enthusiastic about their school? Would you like the staff to teach your child? Are pupils confident and assured? Would they be good role models for your child?

Size matters 

Consider class numbers and the size of school. What is the staff to pupil ratio? The higher the ratio, the more individual support will be available for your child.

Look beyond first impressions 

A building may look great but the quality of the education experience within that building should be a priority. Are the classrooms stimulating environments? Do you think your child would thrive there?

Look at the pupils’ work on display 

Don’t just concentrate on the quality, look at how many pupils have work shown. Are they are just showcasing the work of a few talented pupils?

Read the noticeboards 

Is there plenty going on? Most importantly, try to get a feel for what goes on in the school when it isn’t an Open Day.

Extra helpings 

Find out what extras the school has to offer. Does it have out of school clubs and sports available? If cost is an issue, are they expensive? Is there support for children who show particular interest in music, languages or art? Does it have an enhanced curriculum that does more than cover the basics?

Think ahead 

Your child will probably remain at that school for several years – so look into how it provides for older children as well as the younger ones. Are children progressing as they should?

Remember the purpose of your visit is to get a feel for the school 

If there is anything you want to know, this is your opportunity to ask questions.

What next? 

If you like what you see, then arrange to come in for a personal visit on a normal school day.

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