A teachers’ guide to getting the most out of open days

Open days offer a chance for you and your child to get a feel for a school and whether it's right fo

Open days offer a chance for you and your child to get a feel for a school and whether it's right for you. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Whether it's your first steps inside a school since that memorable last day all those years ago, or you're a seasoned open day attendee, there's much to learn at these important insights into potential schools and colleges. Sophie Stainthorpe asked Norfolk teachers for the inside line on open days.

Talking to pupils is a must - their first-hand experience is invaluable.

Talking to pupils is a must - their first-hand experience is invaluable. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Checking out potential schools or colleges for your son or daughter is much like house hunting. Your first stage is probably asking friends and family for their opinions on nice areas (schools), followed by a lot of online searching and researching, and culminating in a viewing or, in the case of schools, attending an open day.

If you were intending on skipping this final bit – don't. You wouldn't buy a house without seeing it, would you? And let's face it, your child will spend more of their waking hours at school than they do at home!

Just like house viewings, open days are your opportunity to see if a school is right for your family, so it's important to make the most of them – and who better to tell us how than the teachers themselves? Read on and be educated…

Why is it a good idea to attend open days?

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Open days offer prospective parents and pupils an opportunity to really get a feel for a school: its ethos, values, community and environment.

Many parents do their research well in advance of making a decision about their child's future school, but this is no substitute for visiting a school and speaking to its pupils and staff. It's your chance to explore the school, ask questions and to ensure that you feel confident in your understanding of what a school can offer your child.

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Holly Sharples, registrar, Norwich School

Is there anything parents can do to prepare beforehand?

Parents should sit down with their child and have a look through entry requirements to any potential future destinations such as university or higher level apprenticeships. Often A-levels can be the flexible route to any future path, but it is important students are studying the correct A-levels, such as chemistry and maths/physics A-levels for a medical degree.

Luke Rawling, head of Year 12, Springwood Sixth Form

Which members of staff should you talk to and what questions should you be asking?

It goes without saying that tutors are vital to speak to. After all, they are the ones delivering lessons, so they know the courses inside-out and can answer questions relating to entry requirements, programme content and future progressions etc.

It is also important to speak to student services for information regarding transport and finance, so that you can fully consider whether or not a particular sixth form or college is a financially and practically viable option.

Support teams are also on-hand at open events to talk about additional student support. This ranges from help with dyslexia and dyscalculia, to one-to-one support and counselling.

Daniel Beech, GCSE English teacher at College of West Anglia

Why is it good to speak to pupils too?

When visiting a new school it goes without saying that it is important for families to hear from teachers and senior staff. What's even more important, however, is talking with the pupils about their own experiences; this is the best way of gauging the 'fit' between your child and the school.

Pupils will undoubtedly be honest and open when answering questions and, of course, have first-hand experience of the day-to-day school life. They are also able to reflect on their own (often quite recent) journey from their previous school and what it is that they particularly value about their current one.

Nicola Hill, head of admissions, marketing and outreach, Norwich School

What should you look out for on a tour of the school?

Facilities will be the first and foremost element to consider. This can be academic facilities such as classrooms, workshops and study spaces, leisure facilities such as social spaces and cafeterias, or access facilities such as lifts, ramps and toilets.

This is especially important for students who require additional support – are there quiet spaces for them go to if they feel overwhelmed? Are there toilet facilities for transitioning students?

Daniel Beech, GCSE English teacher at College of West Anglia

Why is it a good idea to listen to the headteacher's talk?

It gives you a clear impression of the school and its ethos. You can see what the head's vision for the school is and what their priorities are. It will highlight the achievements of the school and its young people, both academic and extracurricular, and will explore the future direction and aims of the school.

You will get an excellent snapshot into the school's day-to-day life, and from that you can explore the rest of the school and ask questions based on your initial impressions. It's also an important opportunity for the school to welcome you.

Emma Bailey, history teacher at Thetford Grammar School

It's important to take your child with you to open days, but what's the best way to gauge their response?

After you have visited your selected schools with your child, make sure you take the opportunity to talk things through with them.

It's important to understand both their feelings and thoughts and yours. They will often demonstrate feelings towards what they felt was right or wrong. However, it should be a shared approach which focuses on which school will be best for their future learning.

Paul Collin, executive academy lead at City Academy Norwich

And what about pastoral care, such as anti-bullying policies – they're important too, right?

Pastoral care is so important. You need to be confident that a school would be proactive, reactive and always supportive of any issue that your child might face over their time with the school.

Will your child be seen as an individual? Can the school offer personalised support if needed? How does the school support its students, especially if they need extra care? How does the school manage the mental wellbeing of its young people? How is the relationship between the staff and the students? Teachers care about young people – how is that put into practice at that school?

Emma Bailey, history teacher at Thetford Grammar School

What if you're still unsure after attending open days?

If you have any questions or outstanding concerns, it's always good to call the school reception and ask your question. Someone will always get back to you.

Paul Collin, executive academy lead at City Academy Norwich

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