The thought of your child putting on a uniform and starting primary school can seem like such a big step. It can be made much easier if you give yourself plenty of time to think about what you want for them and get a feel for the primary schools that are in your area before the application deadline is looming.
How do I apply for school?
In the UK most children start primary school in the September following their fourth birthday, although they don't have to legally attend school until the term after they turn five-years-old.
It is advisable to contact your local authority for a list of local schools, if you intend for them to go to a state primary school, and information on how to apply. You must apply for a primary school place by 15 January for your child to start later that year.
State schools have different admission criteria. Common criteria includes priority to children who:
- are in care, looked after or adopted
- have a sibling already attending
- live close to the school
- are from a particular religion, in the case of faith schools.
If your child has special educational needs or disabilities, their statement or education, health and care plan will recommend a school for them. That school must give your child a place if you apply.
Essentially, remember that if your child is already attending a nursery at a school you will still have to formally apply for a place there and are not guaranteed to get it.
How do I check a school's quality?
As with nursery provision, all state schools are inspected by Ofsted which makes judgements in areas including how the curriculum is taught and the quality of teaching.
There are also school league tables based on compulsory national curriculum tests, or SATs, taken in Year 6 (the last academic year in primary school).
While these results are important to consider, they only give part of the picture. How well children do in writing, reading and maths is a good indicator of the school's quality but what if the school is ‘teaching to the test’ rather than giving your child an enriching wider curriculum? They do not show whether children are being exposed to music or forest school, for example.
For this reason, nothing beats visiting a school in person and deciding whether it's the right place for you and your child. Some schools advertise open days but they should also welcome you to have a personal visit which you can organise by phoning the school directly, or even calling in.
What should I observe?
Above all, as you walk into the school grounds you should be asking yourself whether it feels a welcoming place and whether you think your child will be happy there.
You may speak to local friends who all rave about one particular school but you know your child best and should follow your gut instincts.
Things to consider include:
- Are the reception staff welcoming?
- Is the building well-maintained and clean?
- What outdoor provision is there and is it well used?
- Are there informal, friendly interactions between staff and children ?
- Do corridors and classrooms appear calm?
- Do children appear happy and motivated?
- Are there wall displays showing a range of the children's work?
- How long have teaching staff been at the school?
- What extra-curricular activities are offered?
- How often they go on school trips and welcome visitors?
- What a typical day will be like for your child?
- Does the school provide wrap-around care?