What do parents value when picking a school?

Pupils at Northgate High School eager to join in a discussion during their personal, social and heal

Pupils at Northgate High School eager to join in a discussion during their personal, social and health education lesson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

As the deadline for primary school applications looms, education correspondent LAUREN COPE asks parents what really matters to them when picking a school.

Year six SATs are taking place this week. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Year six SATs are taking place this week. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

There has never been more choice when deciding where to send children to school.

The evolving education system –changing to accommodate free schools, academies and, down the line, more grammar schools – can, and will, make the all-important choice somewhat daunting.

Today, parents and carers around the region will need to have applied for primary or junior schools they hope to see their youngsters attend in September.

And while Ofsted ratings and league tables might be traditional measures of a school's performance, parents having gone through the process have urged others to take more factors into account.

Pupils at Northgate High School enjoy their personal, social and health education lesson. Picture: D

Pupils at Northgate High School enjoy their personal, social and health education lesson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016


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Emily Haines, a mother-of-two from Norwich, said she had initially picked an outstanding-rated school for her daughter, who is now eight.

'It just didn't work for us,' she said. 'The teachers were great, but I didn't feel like they really understood what my daughter needed and how she learned best. She would come home upset, so in the end we decided to move her elsewhere.'

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The second school, which had a lower Ofsted rating, ended up being a much better fit. For parents making their minds up, I'd say to go with your gut. It's better to go with somewhere that you think will suit your child, rather than going with somewhere because you think you should.'

Of the 40 parents we spoke to, just five said Ofsted was the most important factor, while 18, the majority, said a good reputation came top.

Others were split between location and how it felt during a visit, with a handful saying league tables mattered most. Meanwhile, just one person said they decided on a school before making any visits, with

21 saying their mind was changed after they visited a school.

One of the parents urged others to 'do their research', while another said: 'I knew which school I wanted my daughters to go to when on the first day back after holidays I saw the kids in the playground run up to the headmaster and hug him and say they were glad to be back. And I'm talking about Year 5 and 6 boys. Made me certain this was the school for us.'

Today marks the deadline for children who:

• Were born between September 1, 2012, and August 31, 2013, who are hoping to go primary school in September.

• Were born between September 1, 2009, and August 31, 2010, who are at infant school and are moving on to junior school in autumn.

Parents, who will find out where their child has been offered a place on national offer day on April 18, are advised to state three preferences and include their catchment school as one.

For more information or to enrol, visit Norfolk or Suffolk County Council's websites.

'Nothing is better than looking around'

Andrea Eke, a mother and governor clerk at five schools in the area, said 'nothing is better than looking around the school'.

'It could be the top school in you area but may not be the best for your child,' she said.

For parents making a last-minute decision, she advised them to consider how approachable the staff and headteacher were and not to give too much importance to results.

'Results aren't important without context as you may not be aware of how a cohort was made up and what the school has done to get the best out of every child,' she said.

'If it is your first child there is no easy way to find this out and we did make a mistake with our first child, thinking the local school was good, but just because everyone goes there around you it may not be the best option.'

For those relying on Ofsted reports, Mrs Eke – who admitted the process was 'daunting' for parents – said it was important to consider when it was made and who was the headteacher. 'Lots can change in a year,' she said.

Nine out of 10 get their choice

Last year, more than 90pc of pupils in Norfolk and Suffolk landed a place at their first-choice school.

The figure reached 92pc in Norfolk and 90.7pc in Suffolk, despite year-on-year rises of the number of children applying for places.

The population boom and immigration are expected to see the number of applications continue to increase over the coming years, raising demand for the available places.

Last year, an official forecast from the Department for Education said an extra 750,000 school places would be needed in England by 2025 to keep up with demand.

It said schools have faced 16 consecutive years of rising school places.

• Do you have a story about your school? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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