Primary School Deadline Day - photo of school and cursor over button to apply for a place

It’s time to decide. The deadline for making the primary school application for our daughter is here and choosing our preferences has not been an easy task. 

Infant schools, combined schools, town schools, village schools, walkable, driveable, faith schools, feeder schools. No doubt about it, there’s plenty to consider when it comes to choosing your child’s first school and that’s before you even begin to compare Ofsted ratings, attend open events and weigh up which schools you’ll have any chance of getting into.

In some ways we’re fortunate in that we live in an area of good schools – every school is rated good or outstanding. However with reputation comes competition and the house prices in close proximity to the most coveted schools can be eye-watering to say the least.

For us our big decision was whether to go for our nearest school or take a punt on something else. Choosing a school isn’t something that’s just been occupying our minds either – conversations at the preschool gates and activity classes have awash with the pros and cons of various schools in the area.

Of course there’s nothing better than going and seeing a school for yourself. It’s an unusual experience, as generally once you’ve left primary school you don’t step inside another until its time for your own child to attend one, a couple of decades later. They’re cute places with tiny chairs, charming pictures, impressive story writing, but I couldn’t help but feel a little bewildered by the experience. They all seemed pleasant in their own ways, but how could I tell which would be most suitable for my daughter?

As the town schools around us generally have limited catchment areas, our main option beyond our own catchment school are village schools. Delightful Victorian buildings in picturesque rural settings, the villages they serve can’t provide enough children to fill them so they’re generally relatively easy to get into, despite their modest intake of 20 pupils a year.

Having toured half a dozen schools, the big issues we were contending with have been:

1. Big town school by foot or small village school by car

Daughter Tilly has a highly sensitive nature and is no fan of busy places, so on the face of it having small classes could be a plus point. However the price of small classes would be the necessity to drive each day to a village school. Although the villages are charming, we’re not within their community. We’d have to venture there each day. Alternatively we’d have to contend with year groups of 60 but at a school in town we could walk to. We simply don’t know how she’ll get on with the bigger, busier surroundings of school. Preschool has been a great practice so far but it is on a smaller scale. Walking into a busy, unfamiliar place can set off a strong ‘flight’ reaction from Tilly. However at the same time, visiting her own preschool when a busy fair is on doesn’t lead to the same reaction, so it’s possible that with a bit of time she’ll simply learn to manage the new surroundings of the school. We just don’t know and it’s one of the factors we’ll just have to take a punt on. The pros of our local school is that she’ll certainly know a good number of children going as they’ll be moving on together from preschool.

2. Faith status

We initial found the faith status of schools something of a challenge. Like with many if not most families in Britain these days, we don’t practice a religion at home and we found it odd that in some a multicultural country so many schools still have a faith associated with them, typically Church of England. This said, our concerns have been somewhat allayed through talking to the school heads, who explain that the beliefs are presented as what Christians believe but there’s no pressure to adopt these beliefs. There is perhaps also something to be said about gaining an understanding of the stories that make up many common idioms, so we’ve offered an olive branch to the idea of a faith school, for infant school at least.

3. The nature of the school

Weighing up each school has also been tricky, as they’re all different but also rather similar. Each has a head with their own style of leadership and set of school values. Each school is arranged in its own way with differing facilities inside and out. In each case children seemed to be engaged in their work and there were similar staffing ratios, so there didn’t seem to be much to call between them on that front.

Taking the long view – all roads lead to the eleven plus

In our area we have both a three-tier system – infant, junior and then secondary school as well as the eleven plus, so we’ve found that we’ve been unable to just make a decision about one school without considering where Tilly might go next and in turn how this will position her for the eleven plus. It does seem a little crazy to be considering the eleven plus when Tilly has yet to turn four, but that’s how things are in this area. It’s a fiercely competitive arena with many families vying to get their child into the top local grammar schools, which are rated as some of the best in the country. While we’ll not be able to match the masses of money spent by some families on tuition to get their children to pass the eleven plus, we do want to the best for her and give her the best shot we can with our choice of school. So no pressure there, then!

Now comes the waiting game

We’ve made our choices, submitted our preferences and now we wait. Whether or not we think we’ve made the right decision it ultimately comes down to places and the council will have the final say in a few months time once they’re all allocated. Having worried about lots of specifics earlier in the process, we’ve contented ourselves that whatever the result, we should do okay and we’ll certainly make the best of it and ensure Tilly is as happy as can be come September. We’re a little bit wiser about primary schools having done all this and are gradually coming around to the idea of the transition to school which before Christmas seemed a world away and is now looming large.

Are you choosing a primary school this year or perhaps you’ve gone through the process in the past? Share your experiences in the comments section.



5 thoughts on “Primary school decision day

  • 16 January 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I feel for you, this was us last year. I had a much less conciliatory attitude to our local faith schools, and only put one down as the end to make up numbers. We ended up with choice 3 (actually my choice 2, but that’s another issue about this – agreeing with your partner), but she’s loving it. Like you, while we don’t 11+ here, we’re right on the border and will likely try and get in our nearest one if she’s up for it at the time.

    • 16 January 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks Simon. In an ideal world we’d be in the coveted catchment for the outstandingly rated non-faith. As it is we’ll likely have to compromise, either on it being a faith school or the distance. Either way though, I suspect we’ll be okay.

  • 16 January 2017 at 10:45 pm

    Did this last year. We too were lucky to be surrounded by Good or Outstanding schools. But it’s the wait between now and April that’s the worst part. Good luck. I hope you get the school you want.

  • 18 January 2017 at 7:11 am

    Ah so you have the 11+ in your area? While many would disagree, I think that’s a bonus. Dreadful as it sounds, when it comes to schooling, I have exceptionally sharp elbows and I want a certain element of selection. As for faith schools, there’s a lot going for them: extra funding from the diocese, higher levels of teaching support, nice grounds (as they’re owned by the Church and so not under pressure to sell). Whatever happens, best of luck.

  • 27 January 2017 at 2:08 pm

    We were lucky and got our first choice place. It does feel like something of a lottery though.

    On the issue of faith schools it’s pretty amazing they are allowed to exist in this day and age. I’d be surprised if this does not change in the next decade or two. By all means let schools teach about the different religions but I imagine at a faith school you need to sing hymns etc like it used to be when I went to school, and some faith schools prioritise entry those who follow the religion, which is unfortunate if your local school happens to be a faith school and you are not religious.


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