By Graeme Jones, chair of governors and chair of finance at Micklehurst All Saints CE Primary School
WHEN I was a lad, you went to your nearest primary school with all your mates who lived on the street.
This is still a valid section criteria because there’s a view that children should go to their local school as it’s a reflection of the community in which they live and play.
However, these day’s parents are fortunate to have more of a choice – but it can be a terrifying prospect! Having to select the place where your child will spend the next eight years of their life can be daunting.
What if you don’t make the right decision and your child hates school? Or they are not pushed to become the best that they can be and you’ve scuppered their chances of becoming Governor of the Bank of England or the next Professor Brian Cox?
Fortunately, all the schools in Mossley are rated ‘good’ by Ofsted so you’ve a strong basis on which to build.
Unfortunately though, at this time, the most significant tool in your selection box is not available – the open day or evening. So what should you do?
You need to find a school whose driving philosophy, values and aspirations best match yours and which can fully meet the needs of your child. Most schools’ philosophy will include promoting a combination of academic excellence, social development, high standards of behaviour and attendance and emotional health and well-being, with schools placing a slightly different emphasis on each.
A good starting point is the school website which should give you a flavour of its ethos and values.
Do they have a welcome video or open day video or virtual tour?
Does it give you a feel for the staff and importantly the headteacher? The headteacher is the key person steering the ship that your child is about to board. Having to disembark your child mid-voyage will be problematic, upsetting and unsettling. What has the headteacher and senior leadership team done to help you make an informed decision?
If your child has additional needs you also need to consider the quality of SENDCO provision and the school’s approach to inclusivity. The website should allow you to navigate around all of these questions.
Class pages should show children engaged in learning and give you a feel for the atmosphere.
They should also show you a broad range of curriculum based and other activities rather than just a focus on how children have done in SATS.
That’s not to say that SATS reports aren’t important – of course they are, as are Ofsted reports, and as governors we have a responsibility to ensure the school is delivering on these.
However, read them carefully. As an example, some schools with mixed demographics may have lower than average starting points but outstanding progression and above average results at the end of Key Stage 2; others may have higher than average starting points but similar end results. It’s as much, if not more, about progress as attainment.
These days, schools are competing against each other for your child’s place and the funding that comes with it. Empty seats in classrooms are a real issue for schools managing already tight budgets. A full school means it is well resourced, has the right amount of professionally qualified staff and has a clear long-term development plan to ensure continuing success.
If the website doesn’t answer all your questions, call the school – their response will also tell you a lot.
Are office staff helpful? Remember they will be the people helping you to look for lost PE kits, paying dinner monies and bumped heads! Is an appropriate member of staff or headteacher available to call you back in a reasonable and timely manner? They are busy people, especially at the moment dealing with very different ways of working and teaching, but your call should be important to them.
Do you know anyone with children already at the school? What are their views and experiences? However, qualify this feedback with what you know about what’s important to them and the differences between your children.
In terms of managing Covid-19, this is where you can be sure all schools are the same and adhering to government guidelines and local authority requirements.
It is still unclear as to when prospective parents might be welcomed back into schools to look around properly. So with the deadline for applications for Reception 2021 opening early November 2020 and closing mid-January 2021 you need to start formulating your views now. Reception applications are done online (www.tameside.gov.uk) while nursey admissions are dealt with directly by schools so you will need to call them to request an application form.
Finally, after all the research and stresses of selecting the school you want your child to attend, if it is oversubscribed then you need to have a back-up plan. You will need to have a second and third choice of school and make sure you are familiar with the LA Schools Admission and Appeals Process, both of which should be on the school website.