It’s perhaps unsurprising, but choosing a primary school for a child is one of the most frequently voiced concerns that we receive.
With reports suggesting that access to the best schools is a postcode lottery for many families, it’s no wonder that parents often start planning years in advance.
And when a child’s future happiness is at stake, it’s also no wonder that worries can be great,
Today, the experts try and allay one parent’s concerns over choosing the right school. Get in touch with your own education question and see it featured on Telegraph Education (details at the end).
Question: How can I be sure I am choosing the right school for my daughter?
My daughter is seven-years-old, very outgoing and very confident. We tried to get her into three independent schools in our local area and she sat the 7+ exams last January. She failed them all.
We have been attending a tuition centre to help her a little and we applied for a prep school for which she sat the test for Year 3 entry last week. She has been offered a place.
My problem is that the prep school is only opening in September 2016. There will only be a Reception class and a Year 3 class. I’m sure my daughter was offered a place based on getting the numbers for the classes. I’m uncertain if going from a bustling state school, where there’s so much social interaction and extracurricular activities to a very small all girls prep will do her good.
My daughter is not very happy at her current school although her teachers and peers are very fond of her.
Frances Mwale: Meet the headteacher and go prepared with questions
7+ exam success is often not entirely about ‘pass or fail’: for very popular and heavily subscribed schools, it may be a question of selecting the top 50 or 60 in terms of results, equating to the number of places available in that year group.
Some tutoring for a period of time, to close the gaps or boost test performance can be really helpful, but to tutor to the point of artificially inflating scores can be detrimental in the long-term.
The prep school just starting up will have places that need to be filled: this does not in itself make it a wrong choice. However, the school is, at this point in time, not tried and tested and something of an unknown.
Try to find out about the ethos of this new school – will the learning environment provide plenty of hands-on activities. Frances Mwale
Your daughter is confident and outgoing, but not happy currently. Do you know what it is that is making her unhappy at school? If it is that she is finding it difficult to cope with the learning she is offered, you perhaps need to find a school that is more nurturing and supportive, with great intervention programmes in place to meet her needs.
Try to find out about the ethos of this new school – will the learning environment provide plenty of hands-on activities, opportunities to collaborate and showcase her work? How will the school boost her self-esteem, after the knock-back of rejection from other prep schools?
My advice would be to meet with the head teacher and ask about what really matters to you and your daughter’s education. What opportunities are there beyond the curriculum? How much of a testing regime is there? How will they help her to settle in?
An in-depth conversation, using carefully prepared questions will allow you to get a ‘gut feel’ as to whether this school is a great fit for your daughter.
Frances Mwale, prep headmistress, Farlington School
Susan Hamlyn: A new school has everything to do to prove to parents it’s up to scratch
One can never be completely sure. All one can do is make the wisest possible choice on the available evidence.
In this case you know i) that your daughter is not happy where she is and ii) that her basic skills (literacy and numeracy) are not yet at a level – whatever her actual intelligence – to impress in prep school entrance tests.
Your supposition that your daughter gained a place at the new school because they need pupils is, doubtless, spot on. Your concern that the school may offer less in social interaction and activities than she is used to may be true – or may not – so the first thing is to ask.
The chances are your daughter will get lots of attention and opportunities while the school establishes its reputation. Susan Hamlyn
There is, at present, a shortage of prep schools in London and other urban areas. Places in new schools are snapped up fast. However, a new school has everything to do to prove to its new – and potential – parents that it can deliver what they want. This, in most cases, means excellent teaching, flawless pastoral provision, a rounded programme of extra-curricular activities and, increasingly, wraparound care.
If this is not on offer, parents will look elsewhere. So – the chances are your daughter will get lots of attention and opportunities while the school establishes its reputation.
I would go in and raise your concerns. What are their projected numbers for Year 3 in September? What will they do to ensure your daughter is stimulated – socially and culturally? What arrangements will they have for activities with other schools? Expeditions? Sporting and artistic opportunities?
If the answers do not reassure you, you may need to think again. On the other hand, you may be in at the beginning of something rather special.
Susan Hamlyn, director of The Good Schools Guide Advice Service
Vivienne Durham: From day one, all schools are subjected to inspection
Please give yourself a pat on the back: nothing is more important than choosing the right school for your child.
I’m sorry to hear your daughter is not happy and nothing is more guaranteed to induce real worry than seeing your daughter (or son) miserable at school. As the adage goes, “Parents are as happy as their unhappiest child.”
Have you had an opportunity to discuss your daughter’s unhappiness with a senior member of staff at her current school?
Before accepting a place at another school, it might be wise to try to understand what has made your daughter unhappy, since her teachers and peers seem fond of her and she is out-going and confident.
Has something happened at school which your daughter has not mentioned to you? Could there be any concerns about bullying?
Congratulations on your tenacity in achieving a Year 3 place for your daughter at a newly established prep school.
Trust your instincts: if the new prep school inspires confidence in you, it is likely to be the right move for your daughter. Vivienne Durham
Your concerns about transferring your daughter to a school in which she will be a pioneer are understandable, but likely to be unfounded.
From day one, all schools are subjected to inspection and have to meet stringent criteria laid down by the Department for Education (DfE). Also, small schools tend to excel in nurturing their pupils and in strengthening self-esteem.
I assume you have visited this potential new prep school a couple of times and had an opportunity to meet the head teacher, in person? If not, before accepting a place, I would request a meeting with the head and voice your concerns about a successful transfer for your daughter from a bustling state school.
A good school – new or not – should want to understand what has caused your daughter to be unhappy in her last school and seek to allay your anxieties.
Trust your instincts: if the new prep school inspires confidence in you, it is likely to be the right move for your daughter and a “risk” worth taking.
Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park