Understanding the basics 4: Choosing a school

On our helpline we often hear from parents and carers who are trying to decide which school is best for their child. Although parents don’t have a right to visit prospective schools the majority of schools will welcome visitors.

If you are able to visit a school you may find the following tips useful:

Some basic things you might want to consider before you visit:

  • Some schools have strict criteria for admission (e.g. sensory impairment, autism diagnosis, etc.) so find out about this before you arrange a visit. When considering a school think about the distance from home, where your other children attend school (if appropriate) and transport arrangements.
  • Think about whether you want to visit on your own first or with your child. You might want to arrange a second visit for you and your child together.
  • Check whether the school will allow a visit and always make an appointment. Very few schools will be able to accommodate visitors who just drop in.
  • It might be useful to let the school know the background to why you are visiting when you make the appointment (e.g. visiting a special school or unit for the first time, thinking of moving your child from mainstream, have recently had a diagnosis for your child or the local authority has suggested the school might be a good place for your child to attend). This can help the school ensure you get the most from your visit and have information to hand to answer any specific questions you may have.
  • Be on time! Schools are busy places and showing around visitors takes head teachers and teachers away from their main function of running the school and teaching, so make the most of the time you have to chat to them.
  • On a practical level, find out where you should report to when you get to the school. Most schools now have main reception areas for security reasons.
  • It’s useful to have some idea about what you hope to get from the visit. Prepare questions before you go. You might want to consider the list of issues below. The school inspection report might also highlight topics you would like to discuss. Inspection reports can be found on the school or Education Scotland’s website.
  • While you may be particularly interested in one aspect of the school (e.g. how support is provided) try to get a feel for the whole school. You will obviously be looking for a school that will give your child the best possible education but opportunities to make friends or get involved in new activities are important.
  • Try to avoid being too negative or comparing practice to other schools. Schools have practical reasons why their facilities or timetables are arranged in specific ways so ask for more information if you are unsure. Schools should be flexible and be able to adapt to meet your child’s needs.
  • You might be shown around by a pupil so use this opportunity to ask them their views on the school, whether they like it, the best bits about it, etc.
  • If your child is not visiting with you, the school may use your visit as an opportunity to find out more about them, so have a think about what you would like to say or take with you.
  • Consider taking somebody with you. It’s often difficult to ask questions, listen and look at everything in one visit so it’s good to have a second pair of eyes and ears!

Below are some issues you may want to think about when visiting a school. Depending on the type of school (primary, secondary, mainstream or special) and the reason for visiting, you may want to consider all or just some of the issues:

  • How does the school feel when you first enter? What is the general atmosphere? Does it feel positive and welcoming? Could you imagine your child feeling happy in the school?
  • What are the arrangements for ensuring your child will feel safe and welcomed (this can sometimes be referred to as transition or induction procedures)? Some schools have buddying systems or support staff who will look after children for the first few days. Others offer welcome sessions or part time placement until children are familiar with the school.
  • Has the school had experience of supporting a child with similar needs as your child?
  • Will there be accessibility issues for your child (e.g. stairs, no lift, access to toilets etc.)?
  • How inclusive is the school? How does the school adapt and differentiate the curriculum to meet individual children’s needs? Would your child be included at break times, during whole school activities, school trips etc? Does the school have an inclusion or additional support for learning policy and is a copy available to parents and carers?
  • How many children are in a typical class?
  • How big is a typical classroom?
  • What types of support programmes are available in the school?
  • What support staff work in school and how is support arranged?
  • What assessment, planning and monitoring arrangements are in place to ensure that children receive the support they need and progress to the best of their abilities?
  • What are the arrangements for working in partnership with professionals outside of the school (e.g. health, social work or voluntary sector staff)? If your child has a particular health issue or requires medicine/health procedures during school hours you may want to find out what support is available in the school or how health professionals are involved.
  • If appropriate, find out about the school policies on bullying, pupil behaviour, discipline or exclusion.
  • How will information about your child’s progress or difficulties in school be communicated to you?
  • How will your child be involved in decisions about their education? How will their views be collected and recorded?
  • If your child will be attending a secondary school what are the guidance arrangements for them? How is information about your child’s needs communicated to all their teachers?
  • What opportunities does the school offer for you to get involved with your child’s learning and the school in general?
  • Depending on the age of your child, what are the transition arrangements for moving onto secondary school or leaving school?
  • It might be helpful to talk to parents of children who attend the school. The school may be able to put you in touch with other parents or the parent council.

If you decide that you would like your child to attend the school, check first that they are able to offer your child a place. If the school is not the local catchment school or the school recommended by your local authority you can make a placing request. Have a look at our factsheets: Choosing a school and Placing Requests to find out how to do this.

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