The Education Insider: How do you choose a school?

In her tenth post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez looks the different factors you should consider when choosing your child’s school, and shares her advice on making sure you’re making the right decision.

Over the last couple of months I have been mostly trapped at home after my second in line to the throne was born in December. With two sons now in tow, it’s harder to get out and about, but I am finally beginning to return to the land of people. In a whirl of play groups and soft play centers (to entertain my three year-old while the newborn has a feed), I have been chatting to a lot of people about schools. Not from my usual work perspective, however. I am mostly starting to think about my eldest, who is due to start nursery in April.

When talking to other mums, I am hearing a lot of similar fears from them all. Firstly, they get all in a tizz about Ofsted results. One parent has a child already at school but the most recent inspection was less than favourable. Now, personally, I don’t take much notice of the overall readings of schools but I do pay attention to the comments on how the school/nursery needs to improve.

For example, when still living in London I had looked at nurseries for my son, aged 7 months at the time. The local nurseries all had a Good rating from Ofsted. Closer reading however showed comments such as “The heating was too high in the baby room.” (Something that I am sure was rectified with a quick flick of the thermostat before the inspector could get home and put their feet up!) Another read along the lines of “Not enough maths vocabulary on display in the toddler room.” My child is bright as a button obviously but even he doesn’t need to know his decimals and fractions just yet, so I took all of the reports with a pinch of salt and visited them instead. Make of this what you will but we actually decided to move out of London and live on just one wage and have a stay-at-home dad instead of any full time nurseries. Essentially, though, the Ofsted reports didn’t bother me as the targets were fixed within days of the visits.

School reports are generally more complex and this leads to a bit more digging. So I recently checked out the progress results for some possible schools for my son. I really do not want to go into details of them all but the results across the range of schools showed very marked differences. All have similar catchment yet some have much better progress than others, despite all faring apparently the same with Ofsted in gradings terms.

Some mums have then told me that their child’s school has told them it is because of the new curriculum. And here I am now stumped. You see I do want to give the benefit of the doubt given that I know these changes and how hard it has been for schools. But it is such an early stage with these being the first round of results that it is impossible to know why the schools fared so differently despite having similar cohorts and the same time to prepare. Could it be down to how the school has adapted to the new curriculum? Or how good their assessment is, which ensures they know exactly where gaps are? Could it be schools who have fared badly have not adapted well? Or just that this one cohort was trickier? Or maybe a staff turnover? There are so many factors that I find myself, and other parents I speak to, are struggling to use any of the Ofsted and results data to advise us on the school.

So I am visiting them all. And I am asking about their results in nice polite ways in the hope of gleaning insight. But I will essentially go by the feeling in each school and encourage other parents to do the same. I also would urge schools to put forward the positives of what they are doing rather than shrugging it off as “new curriculum” as this is here to stay, so hopefully there are ways to work forwards with it. Longer term I hope this all irons out but with parents being so used to checking results and Ofsted reports when choosing schools, I wonder if the change in curriculum is now throwing up yet more problems. I definitely advise the DfE to have a read up on change management if they wish to shake things up this much again!

Jodie is an award winning ex-primary teacher who now works as a Freelance Edtech Consultant. Her interest in using technology in education has led to her working with a number of educational technology businesses since leaving the classroom. Most recently she has been Head of Education for an assessment system provider and has specialised in helping schools to transition to the new curriculum and leaving levels behind. Follow her on Twitter here.

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