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Finding the best schools for your children

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Moving house can be a stressful experience, especially for your children. Having the tools to research schools near your new home before you move can help make the process easier for everyone.

School is much more than a place of academic learning for your children. Its where they practice social interaction, make friends and learn how to deal with people who are different from themselves, where they develop a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, and where they discover and develop their talents. School also has a key role in teaching right from wrong and in forming your childs core values and attitudes that they'll take through life.

Each school offers a different blend of pastoral care, academic achievement and preparation for life, depending on its leadership, its teachers, its culture and history and the profile of its students. So when considering where to move house its important to do your homework on prospective schools.

There's no substitute for visiting schools and meeting parents for an honest appraisal, but if you're considering a number of potential locations how do you make choosing a school a manageable task?

Three steps worth considering:

1. Work out your priorities

Ask yourself some questions before you start, so you're clear whats important to you:

Would your child be happier and more confident in a smaller or larger school?

Do you think a single-sex or co-ed school will be better for your child?

How much weight will you give to independent inspectors view of the schools?

What are the key academic criteria important for your child? For example for the Primary phase, that might be:

  • none at all, you may feel its too early for that and your child feeling safe and being happy are much more important
  • the proportion of students attaining Level 4, the Governments expected standard in numeracy and literacy, in Key Stage 2 tests
  • if you think your child is particularly able, the proportion attaining Level 5+
  • value-added scores– these show the relative progress students make from 7 to 11, taking into account socio-economic factors that might have an impact on attainment

What are the key academic criteria important for your child? For example for the Secondary phase, that might be:

  • the proportion achieving 5 good GCSEs and/or 3 A-Levels
  • the average points score per pupil in their GCSE and A-Level exams
  • value-added scores, showing the relative progress students make

If your child has one or more special educational needs, how well will those be met?

How important is the profile of the other children at the school?

Is the inspectors view of the quality of teaching or class size more important?

Can you afford or do you want to pay for their education?

2. Make this a manageable task!

If you have a shortlist of a number of possible locations this can feel like a daunting task!

For each of your shortlist of locations, start with some quick school comparisons using publicly available data for those criteria you’ve decided are important for your child. Use those to weed out those schools that aren’t a good fit. Use something like this free RM School Finder site makes arriving at a shortlist of schools a simple task.

Remember:

  • Especially for Primaries, choosing to buy your home just a couple of miles from your original location can dramatically change which schools your child will be able to attend, while not significantly increasing your commute or distance to family and friends. So it’s worth widening the net a little at this stage so you can compare all the neighbouring schools too.
  • Most state schools’ catchment area is agreed with their local authority (LA) and available on the LA’s website. However, catchment areas can change annually so it’s worth discussing with your preferred school before purchasing your property.
  • If you’re planning to stay in your new home for a while and have young children, it may be worth giving some consideration to what the local Secondary is like and whether it’s onan improvement trajectory.

3. Meet the school, see the students and talk to a few parents

Once you are down to a few prospective schools, phone them and ask to visit to meet the Head. The school leadership team is usually crucial to the success of the school; they set the tone and aspiration for the staff and young people in their care. A few minutes with the Head will give you a much more rounded view than any amount of data. Some things to consider:

  • Think about what you really want to know ahead of that visit and prepare some questions. Rereading the latest Ofsted report the night before your visit is a good start. If any of the Areas for Improvement within that report concern you, ask the Head what his or her plan is to address them.
  • Make sure you discuss whether there’ll actually be space for your child to join mid-year, if the timing of your move will make that necessary.
  • Check whether your preferred properties will fall well within the school catchment area, and ask whether there are plans in discussion to change how that catchment is measured.
  • Try to visit during term-time so you can see whether the students look happy and confident.
  • If you time your visit so you leave just before the end of the school day, on your way out you may be able to ask a few parents what they think of the school and whether they’d recommend it. Remember to ask a few parents, and separately, so you get a representative and balanced view.
  • An alternative to asking parents in person is to request opinions via social media discussion sites. Again, you’re after a number of parents’ views.

Article courtesy of our friends at RM Education.

A free-to-use RM School Finder site helps you quickly and easily choose the best school for your child. It pulls together the key publically available inspection and results data all in one place, making comparison between schools much quicker.Through a new site for parents, RM At Home, you can see a carefully selected set of RM’s fun and proven education products, bought by thousands of UK teachers, to help you boost your children's learning at home

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