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.