They say to teach is to touch a life forever.

It’s a profound sentiment, and a terrifying one if you’re the parent responsible for choosing the school for your child.

choosing a school

How do you compare one school to another? What should you look for, and what questions should you ask? It can all seem overwhelming.

We’re about to apply for the middle one’s school place, and luckily our choice of school is a no-brainer because his older sister already goes there.

It was a different story first time around though, when we’d never been through the school application process before and were met with a plethora of (often conflicting) advice and information to digest in a short space of time. So, what should you look for when choosing a school for your child?

If you’re applying for a school place for the first time I asked 10 mums and dads who have been there, done it and got the t-shirt for their best advice.

What should you look for when choosing a school for your child?

“When choosing primary schools, I go by three things,” says Cheryl who blogs at Mummy of 5 Miracles. “The first is definitely the Ofsted report. This is important to me as I am very big on education and like to know my children are getting the very best start in life. Secondly, I ask other local mums about the schools. How their children find it and if they’ve had any problems. The third thing I look at is distance. How far it is from home, how they will get there and if it’s possible for them to join in after school activities.”

“I really believe in going with your gut instinct,” says Lauretta who blogs at Home and Horizon. “Of course, it’s important to do the research on school results and by talking with other parents locally about what they’ve heard etc, but try to make an appointment to visit the school – either at an open day or ask to take a day tour during normal school hours to get a real vibe for the school.”

choosing a school

“The most important factor for me is their pastoral care,” says Helen who blogs at Mummy’s Gin Fund. “All schools follow the national curriculum but it’s how they look after their pupils – especially those who need extra support – that separates the wheat from the chaff. Your child may start school happy and confident, but you never know when they may need a bit of extra TLC. Those schools who have excellent and caring processes in place will ensure that your child never loses their love of learning – and that in turn will ensure that they achieve the best results they can.”

“The school and class sizes played a big part when we were looking at primary schools,” says Marina who blogs at Mum’s The Nerd. “We wanted a relatively small school with small class sizes. This was all personal preference though as our daughter copes a lot better in smaller groups.”

choosing a school

“When I visited the schools, I tried to picture my daughter sat on the mat for story time,” says Laura who blogs at Dear Bear and Beany. “Could I see her fitting into this environment? Was it right for her? When I visited the school, which I was convinced would be my first choice, I just didn’t get a good feel, I felt like she was going to get swallowed up and be a number. I then visited what I originally thought was going to be my third choice and I immediately loved it. I could picture her there, the environment suited her. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to make a bold move. We did and three years later we are so pleased we did!”

“For us, where the school was and how we would get there was a big factor,” says Hayley who blogs at Miss Manypennies. “We have three kids (only one in school so far) and getting them all out in the morning is a challenge anyway! Living in a village, being able to walk to school in five minutes is really helpful.”

choosing a school

“Make sure the school fits your family and children first and foremost,” says Jen who blogs at Style Brief. “Find this out from talking to a range of parents at the school already and understand if they have the facilities, processes and support that your child will need. Yes, Ofsted is important but it’s not everything. What are the school’s values, what do they stand for and how will they shape your child into a well-rounded individual?”

“I just went on a gut feeling,” says Gail who blogs at Yammy Mommy. “It wasn’t the ‘poshest’, wasn’t excellent in Ofsted but the decider for us was the day we viewed we went around with the head and all of the children were so excited to see him. He knew all of their names and I could see he genuinely cared about them. I knew he was the guy I trusted to lead a team that cared for my child.”

choosing a school

“It’s really important to go and look at the schools and you’ll have a feeling for which ones are right for you,” says Victoria who blogs at Travel Vixta. “On paper I had ruled out one school and was certain I would love another. Once we looked at them, I absolutely hated the school I thought I’d love – the headteacher was bizarre and the school felt very clinical. The school I thought I’d disregard was actually fine. The teachers were lovely, and it was so colourful, vibrant and welcoming. I’d definitely say to look at Ofsted for a bit of guidance, but to view the schools and decide for yourself.”

And Suzy who blogs at Our Bucket List Lives has this tip:

“We love the government’s Compare School Performance Service. You can add all the different schools that you want to compare and it compares them against each other. It was great for us as we couldn’t get into our local one, so we had two others to choose between. This website showed us right away that the smaller school not only was performing better but it had a better rating in averages for writing, reading and maths than the other school. There’s so many different things you can look at on this site and it links to Ofsted.”

choosing a school

What do you think? I’d love to hear your point of view and I’m going to be live on Mumsnet’s Facebook page at 12.30pm today (Friday November 9) with the Girls’ Day School Trust talking about this very subject. If you’re around please tune in, or if you missed it and want to catch up the video will be on Mumsnet’s Facebook page.

Do you have a little one starting school next year? Are you in the process of choosing primary (or secondary) schools? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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