As a parent who is also working or in business, you can often overlook the very important issue of choosing a suitable school for your child. This is not because you don't care or don't understand the importance of a good education. It is simply because you are time poor and just trying to cram everything in. So you think you have done the groundwork to choose the right school for your child but certain important factors may slip under the radar.
Outside of sending your child to a school which has bad teaching, a lack of equipment and the like, I believe all parents would be devastated to know that they are sending their child into an environment where they are mistreated, mocked or even physically bullied on a daily basis.
As a parent you want to know that a solid education, coupled with discipline and safety, are at the heart of the school's ethos.
To help in your quest, I've set out below what I think could help busy parents get it right first time.
1. If at all possible try to live in an area which is well known for its "good schools". You will need to know the "school catchment area". The "school catchment area" is the area around the school that you must live in to be able to attend that school as a first choice. This is significant for the "good/outstanding schools" as these catchment areas are usually full of families with school aged children. So if you are outside the catchment area of your preferred school you are unlikely to get a look in. The catchment area could be smaller than you think so check with the school first.
2. Have a look on the school website. Check that the website is updated regularly; that it offers children the opportunity to do extra work online; that the headteacher is involved in the running of the website - a nice smiling face with a "word from the head" is a good sign; and that an informative school newsletter is sent out regularly.
3. Observe the school playground. Stand a safe distance from the school so as not to cause alarm and if appropriate let a school official know what you are doing. Look for such things as: how well the children are supervised during breaktime; how the children interact with each other; obvious signs of bullying. I know you're busy, but try to do this a few times at different times of the day - it may save you many trips to the school later on.
4. Take your child to see the school with you before you make a decision. It's a lot easier for a child to settle into a new school if they have been there previously and had some input in the decision.
5. Forget trying to charm the school receptionist. The decision of placing a child in a school has been removed from the school and is now the duty of the local authority. The local authority does this through their admissions and appeals department.
6. Work closely with the Schools Admissions & Appeals service. The Schools Admissions & Appeals department can tell you which schools have spaces now or how long the waiting list is. You can use this service to decide whether now is the right time to change your child's school especially if you have just moved home or are thinking of moving.
7. Find out who the school governors are. School governors effectively make key decisions about the school. They appoint teachers, decide how the school budget will be spent, agree school policies and act as a "critical friend" to the school. Look at the backgrounds of the governors. Do they seem to have a varied past and experiences? What, if anything, do they stand for? How accessible are they? You should be able to get this information from the school website.
So there you have it, Prashin Premchand Rocharam's top tips for choosing the right school for your child. I have four children in four different schools so I decided to work it all out for other parents.
It's worth mentioning that not all parents (and children!) get a place at their preferred school. If you're not happy with the school your child is offered you have a legal right to appeal. You also have the right to educate your child at home, without them going to a school at all. You can either start the process yourself or get help from a Solicitor.