What to expect when visiting primary schools in your area

Overwhelmed, nervous and full of questions – What to expect when visiting primary schools

The Primary School applications season is underway and if you are like some of my friends you’ll have already applied. If you are like others, you haven’t got a clue! Its hard to know where to start but visiting primary schools was one of the most important things for me. I started looking into everything in August and it was easy for me to narrow down our options to three schools. The application allows you to enter three choices but I didn’t know which I would prefer Spike to go to, without visiting. Which is why I arranged the visits. Read on to find out how each visit went and how they differed.

Our three schools

I’ve written before about my options for schools in our area. We have decided to risk the going out of catchment a bit due to not wanting to move prior to applications closing in January. The three schools I narrowed down our options to were three of seven schools in my area that fitted our ideals. These were either none-church schools, or weren’t religiously focused all the way through Primary education. The three chosen all offer after school provision, but happen to be the furthest from our house. This makes our application process a bit tricky as we will have more chance to get Spike into a school closer to us. However the closer ones don’t have the after school provision we need for a start. They also have stricter criteria and not as good reputations.

Arranging a visit

As I researched visiting primary schools I was shocked to find that open days weren’t really advertised. Secondary school open days are completely different. They have set evenings that the school put on to showcase what they have to offer. Every primary school in my area said if you would like to arrange a visit, call the school. I called each one and two of the three said I could visit anytime. This meant we could arrange the visits one after the other on the same day to make it easier for us. The third had set visiting days which you could book onto.

The first school

The first school is definitely out of catchment, one and a half miles from our house. But it’s undersubscribed and I hoped, apparently correctly, that might help us get in. It’s also on T’s mums road! We’ll need her to drop Spike off at breakfast club, so that would help things! We were nervous with it being the first school to visit, but I looked into the type of things you should ask and had an idea of things I wanted to ask while we were there, including our chances of getting in, being so far from the school itself.

What happened during our visit

We arrived early and were asked to take a seat while the headteacher finished up a meeting. He arrived, introduced himself and started showing us around. One of the first things he talked about was improvements that they had planned and things they had put in place since he started at the school last year. He put us at ease immediately and as he showed us into each classroom we were met with friendly faces and pupils eager to tell us about what they were learning. We saw first hand some of the steps the teachers put into place to help keep the students focused and get feedback from them which was brilliant.

What you won’t see from a school prospectus

The head had answers to all our questions and let us know that despite being undersubscribed now, he’s got a 5 year plan to help change that. Obviously I’d expect that kind of ‘selling’ from any head. But the way he talked about things I could see how enthusiastic he was! The best thing about this school was how eager the pupils were to talk to the headteacher. Some even before they saw us, so it wasn’t because of any extra audience. The head knew all of their names – even having only been there a year, and knew their achievements. That stuck with me and I think it made this school my favourite.

Our second school

This school was a funny one for us because despite not wanting Spike to go to a church school, it is CofE. However, only the infants is linked to the church and the juniors is a normal state school. Therefore only 3 years would be focused on religion, and we thought perhaps that would mean there wasn’t as much focus as other schools. The kids club option was fantastic and its over the road from our current nursery – meaning we knew that we can easily do our route to and from work without much distraction!

Visiting the second school

We again arrived early. They had just had a Coffee Morning so we hadn’t chosen the best time as the head was busy with the PTA. But she welcomed us within minutes and started talking about how involved her parents were in the PTA. She showed us around and helped us get our bearings, explaining that the school had an open plan policy. There were two classes of 15 kids in each year, however they were in large open plan spaces with partitions separating them. This was a shock to me as I’ve never seen anything like it and I wasn’t expecting it. It helped me understand the difference between different schools. Also, the one to one nature of this visit definitely helped me understand the benefits of that kind of layout. The structure of the visit was very similar to the first. We walked around each classroom, with the head telling us all about the changes implemented and those which are in the plan.

The third school

Our final school to visit is the one that many parents want their child to go to in our little town. Its the furthest away, at 1.7 miles from our house and was oversubscribed last year. It has a fantastic reputation, a great kids club, a forest school and is round the corner from T’s mums house. It looked amazing on paper and we were eager to visit to see if it had the same feeling in real life.

How visiting this primary school differed

We booked onto an allocated time slow for this school, so I figured there would be other parents there. However I didn’t expect it to be so busy. There were around 50 people in this session so we were split into two groups. One went with the acting headteacher and the other with the assistant headteacher. We were with he acting headteacher who showed us around the communal areas and just let us wander into each classroom as we saw fit. There was a little less pressure with this visit, but it felt a little strange being in such a large group. There wasn’t as many opportunities to ask questions and as such we were there for a much shorter period. The acting head did mention that there were plenty of opportunities for questions later and stuck around at the end.

What I took away from this visit

It is a fantastic school. It is as good as it looks on paper. But the visit showed us that we have very little chance to get Spike in. Ultimately we live too far away and there are too many children closer by. Plus, the teachers didn’t come across as enthuisiastic as the other schools. I guess they know they are fantastic, so didn’t need to sell it as much.

Things I took away from visiting primary schools

The visits were very different to how I imagined them to be in some ways, and not at all different in others. I expected to be shown around by the headteacher – though T did not – and I think this is the same for most schools. There were opportunities to ask any question you could think of. And new questions will pop up as you walk around. It’s also best to see things for yourself. You cannot get a grasp for the staff and how the school feels from looking at a website. Also taking someone else’s word for it is not ideal, as so many people want different things! And most of all, sometimes you need to visit to get the answers to things they won’t provide in paper form – like how easy it is to get your child into after school clubs and things like that!

Visiting primary schools in my area was an eye opener for me. It brought lots of interesting things to my attention which make me even more excited for Spike to begin her next chapter! Have you visited any schools in your area? What were your experiences? I’d love to know!