SCHOOL OPEN DAYS
While the traditional school smells – waxed floors, disinfectant and gym shoes – may bring back unpleasant memories and make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, it does pay to visit any school you’re considering for your offspring.
September and October tend to be the favoured months for school open days and, if your little Johnny or tiny Tamsin is due to move to a new school, you should really take advantage of them. And it pays to do a little bit of advanced planning.
Have a look at the school website in advance. Google the school to see the sort of news stories they appear in – regular photo stories of pupil successes tend to be a good sign. And check out the last Ofsted report.
League tables – first introduced by the John Major Government of 1992 – can tell you all about results, but they tell you nothing of the environment, the staff, or existing pupils. A visit, either during a school day or at an open day, allows you to experience almost everything from the cleanliness of classrooms and toilets to the sorts of extra-curricular activity advertised on the noticeboard.
If you’re looking at a senior school it’s worth ascertaining what links the establishment has with local businesses, sports clubs, colleges and even universities. If your child enjoys sport, music or drama, make sure you check out the playing fields and sports hall, the music facilities and enquire about school productions.
And talk to the staff, not just the head teacher or, increasingly, the marketing manager – don’t be swayed by a slick Powerpoint presentation that glosses over the personal touch. On a day-to-day basis your child will be interacting with members of staff and you can make a judgment for yourself whether or not they regard pupils as a pleasure or a pain.
Sample the available refreshments – chances are they’ll have been prepared by the same people responsible for the school lunches.
And, finally, bear in mind that teenage children don’t tend to tell you how they really feel about school in front of their form master, so refrain from making a judgment based on the demeanour or comments of your pupil guide for the evening.