Whether it’s primary or secondary schools, choosing the right one for your child’s next step can be daunting. But there are few things you can do to make the decision as informed as possible

It’s that school open day time of the year, where parents and carers are visiting Bristol schools to find out which one is best for their children. To help make that decision, a little bit of homework before the visit will help you make the correct decision.

Do some online stalking Before stepping foot inside, check out school websites to get a feel for their values. Many schools publish information for current and prospective parents, including extracurricular activities, behaviour policies, uniform details, even lunch menus, as well as Ofsted ratings and exam results where relevant. Make a note of anything you want to ask about when you meet the school face-to-face. 

Check Ofsted ratings (with a pinch of salt) Inspection ratings and exam results give a useful snapshot of a school, but they don’t tell the full story of what a school has to offer. Read the detailed report to gain a better understanding, particularly where a school has areas to improve on. Don’t be afraid to ask about anything that concerns you, as often there will be measures already in place to address shortfalls.

Visit during school hours In COVID times, many schools will maintain a distance between visitors and pupils to keep everyone safe. However, if you can, visit when the school is open and active, so that you get a feel for its atmosphere. Look out for the small things: how do children interact with each other; is pupils’ work celebrated and on display; do senior teachers know children’s names as they move around the school?

Ask the pupils Behaviour policy, green policy, wellbeing policy – schools will have plenty of policies in place. But a school open day is your chance to dig deeper. If you get a chance, ask the pupils about things that are important to you – you’ll almost certainly get a straight answer, whether it’s about how teachers deal with unacceptable behaviour, their thoughts on the extra-curricular clubs on offer, or whether pupil’s have a chance to have their ideas heard.

One size doesn’t fit all Every child is different, so think about individual needs, dreams and skills, particularly if it’s secondary schools you’re considering. Whether they’re naturally creative, likely to make it big in the sports-world, require special educational support or have a love for languages, be sure to find out about the subjects that are important to you and your child. 

Get them involved With a particular focus on secondary schools, try and take your child with you: their opinion counts, so let them get a feel for the place, ask their own questions, meet their potential teachers and take their opinion into consideration when it comes to making your final decision. Not only is this their future, but being involved in the decision will help them feel excited and ready for the next step.