Running a school is expensive and schools in England get money from the government based on how many children they have on roll. At the time of writing, each child registered in a primary school is worth £3,750. This is why many schools offer parent tours. But let’s be realistic, at a very basic level, your child is valuable to the school, so these open days are a sales pitch. So, as with any sales pitch, you need to be a savvy shopper. Here are five questions you have to ask when on a school tour.
1) How long do teachers stay at the school?
Staff retention is a key area of a school’s success and a very good indicator of how much the school believes in its own philosophy. If staff leave after one or two years, it is not a good sign. It can suggest that the management is not supportive of the staff. It also implies that there is not a lot of loyalty within the school. Most importantly, there will be markedly less consistent teaching. This is a big deal because it means that your child might have a very unstable Primary school experience.
The opposite can be true as well, although it is not as much of a red flag. If teachers have been at the school for decades, especially if they have never worked anywhere else, you might want to delve a little into how they school ensures they are keeping up to date on the latest teaching methods and learning approaches. Staff meetings and bulletins will only get you so far!
2) How often are public displays changed?
Classroom displays are quite a polarising issue in schools. My advice when it comes to anything inside a classroom is take it with a pinch of salt. Displays are a time-heavy burden for most teachers (that said, if an in-class display looks like a museum exhibit, you might want to ask how much learning time was devoted to it). However, public displays (the ones in the corridors) are a different matter. Those corridors are the school’s shopfront. They put the best things out there. You will often find examples of work from every year group. If you see something that is very impressive, ask how long ago it was put up. Some schools will keep their most impressive work on display for years, even after the children (or teacher) responsible has left. If the displays are more than three months old, don’t trust them.
3) What is your behaviour policy?
All schools have to have their behaviour policy publicly available on their website. I recommend having a look at it before you go. Ask whoever is leading you around what it is and check that it lines up with what you have read. Also, if you have a chance, ask a random teacher. If it is a good school, everyone should not only be aware of the policy but should be actively upholding it. If the school’s behaviour policy says that they don’t ‘publicly shame’ students, and you see names on a red traffic light, or under a sad face on the board, question it.
4) What are the plans for the next three years?
Schools commonly complete a SIP (school improvement plan) every year; however, this is not a legal requirement. Put simply, this is a long- to medium-term education plan for the school as a whole. Most of it you can ignore but I recommend asking about it because it will tell you if the school plans to become a federated partner or academy trust (if it isn’t already). This is important to ask because, if you like the philosophy and general vibe of a school that is planning to join a federation under an Executive Head (one person in charge of many schools), or becoming part of an academy or multi-academy trust (sometimes referred to as MATs) then that philosophy may well change. Staffing may change significantly. Whole policies could be rewritten. Your child is going to be at that school for potentially six years; it’s important to know what those six years will bring.
5) Is the leadership or teaching team changing?
This is similar to point number four. It is a good idea to find out who is likely to still be in the school when your child is due to join. If there is a teacher whose lessons look particularly vibrant and effective, check that they are going to be around when your child joins the schools. Likewise with the Head and Deputy, and to an extent, the School Business Manager. These people have a massive impact on the running of the school so if you’re making a choice based on them, make sure that they are still going to be around!
Obviously, we can’t predict the future and things change beyond our control but you schools should have a rough idea if particular staff members are planning on leaving or retiring within the academic year.