Choosing your child’s primary school

Recently, I read an article on The Telegraph website giving advice and answers to parental questions about their child’s primary education. I couldn’t believe the first question:

Question: Should we map out our son’s education?

“We are expecting our first baby in June. Friends are telling us that we will need to register him at schools we like practically on the day he is born. Is this true? Is it possible to map out a route through schooling from 0-18? Is it necessary and is it sensible? We live in London which seems incredibly pressurised but we don’t want him to miss out on any vital opportunities through any slowness on our part.”

This was only in 2016!

Granted, you want to make the best choices for your little darling right from the start, but this seems extreme. What do you think about waiting a bit then, say until your tot reaches the grand old age of two? A thread on the ‘netmums’ website shows two mums discussing how early is too late of all things!

The reality is that your child doesn’t have to start school until the September after they turn four, but if your child was born between 1st of April and 31st August you can delay this for a year or what is called a ‘prescribed day’ after their fifth birthday (These are 31st December, 31st March and 31st August, basically the end of each term). Mumsnet advises that you begin looking in the autumn and apply in the following January if your child is due to start school in the next September. If in doubt contact your local council for advice – they will have information on their website, and may also have One-Stop Shops where you can call in for information or telephone lines to deal with queries.

That’s the legal stuff dealt with, but how can you as a parent make sure you are making the best choices for your child? Here are a few ideas supplied by Mumsnet.

  • What types of schools are there?

There are a lot more choices now than when I chose where to send my daughter to primary school!

  • Community schools, formerly County Primaries. These are run and maintained by local authorities and are not affiliated to any religious groups.
  • Foundation schools, formerly Grant-Maintained. These schools are owned and run by the Governing Body, although the local authority is represented.
  • Voluntary Aided schools usually have a religious affiliation. They are funded by the local authority, but owned and managed by the Governing Body who may select pupils based on their religious affiliation or with siblings already at the school.
  • Voluntary Controlled schools are similar to Voluntary Aided, but the Governing Body is mainly appointed by the local authority, which is also in charge of admissions.
  • Community and Foundation Special schools provide education for pupils with SEND. Admission arrangements are similar to their ‘mainstream’ counterparts.
  • Free schools are funded by central government but fall outside local authority control. They do not need to follow the National Curriculum.
  • Academies are basically publicly funded independent schools. They can set their own curriculum but must follow national rules on exclusions and the like. Academy Trusts may cover a cluster of feeder primary schools with their linked secondary school, or even a chain of secondary and primary schools.
  • Independent schools included pre-preparatory and preparatory schools for children up to the age of 13. They are not publicly funded and can set their own curriculum, although many will aim to cover and exceed the requirements of the National Curriculum. This of course comes at a cost to the parent/guardian.


  • What is my catchment school?

Check with your local authority. You could still apply for other schools in the area, but having other siblings at a particular school or being affiliated to a religion can boost your chances. Remember: – claiming residence at an address close to your favoured school, faking relationship breakdowns with children living part-time with each parent and providing bogus baptism certificates constitutes fraud.


  • When should I visit the school?

School will usually have Open Days for prospective parents/guardians, but you can also request a visit at a time that may be more convenient to you. Remember that schools, like sales people, want you to ‘buy in’ to their product, so they will be showing off their best side during your visit.


  • What should I look for on my visit?
  • Welcome – how do staff and pupils welcome you to their school?
  • Appearance – does the school look clean, tidy and well-maintained? What sort of facilities do they have? During my days as a peripatetic teacher travelling to lots of different schools, I quickly realised that you can tell a lot about a school and its ethos by the standard of toilet facilities available to staff!
  • Relationships – between pupils, staff and senior leadership. This can show you a lot about what is important to the school.
  • Displays – look for quality, how recent the materials are and evidence of children’s work rather than just staff creations.
  • Behaviour – most primary schools will have some level of noise and activity. Check that this is controlled rather than undisciplined, but likewise observe how quiet the school is. Obviously some lessons or parts of lessons may need quiet times – it is useful to see how the pupils transition from this to other activities.


  • What questions should I ask the school?
  • What reading scheme do you follow?
  • What systems do you have in place for rewards and discipline?
  • What provision do you have for pupils with SEND? Good support and integration can lead to a better education for everyone, even if your child does not have any specific needs.
  • Non-teaching times – how are lunch/breaktimes/wet play managed?
  • What policies do you have? This can include everything from healthy eating to e-safety and child protection.
  • What peer support do you have? Many school have buddies and mentors.
  • What extra-curricular activities are available? These may take place at lunchtime as well as after school.
  • What staff are available in each class? Check if any Teaching Assistants are there for a specific pupil or the whole class.
  • Do you have any breakfast/after school/ holiday clubs?
  • How active is your Parent Teachers Association?
  • Do you bring in specialists for non-core curriculum subjects or manage them in-house? This can include PE and music.
  • What technology do you use with pupils? It can help to be a step ahead of your little one!


  • Should I look at school league tables and OFSTED reports?

Reports and tables are just a snapshot of what a school is really like, but visiting the school and talking to parents with children already attending can give you a more complete picture.


  • Where else can I go for information?

The Good Schools Guide website is another source of information. It has a listing of ALL UK schools, including location, contacts, links to OFSTED reports and school websites. Going back to my teaching days, when I got my timetable for the academic year I would check out the school website to see how up-to-date it was and what sort of things were going on there. Trainee teachers are also encouraged to do this prior to their teaching practice as an aid to how best to plan their teaching.


Choosing your child’s primary school may seem a huge responsibility, but if you approach it carefully and don’t let yourself or your child get stressed about it, you can ensure that their school years are both fun and rewarding.

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