Our helpline often hears from parents and carers who are trying to decide which school is best for their child. It can be difficult to know what to look for when visiting a school or what questions to ask.
- Some schools have strict admission criteria (e.g. sensory impairment, autism diagnosis, etc.) so find out about this before you arrange a visit.
- Think about whether you want to visit on your own first or with your child.
- Check whether the school will allow a visit and always make an appointment. Very few schools will be able to show visitors round without notice.
- 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 make sure you get what you need from the visit and have the answers to any questions you have.
- Be on time. Schools are busy places and showing visitors around takes staff away from running the school and teaching, so make the most of the time you have to chat to them.
- Find out where you should report to when you get to the school. Most schools have a main reception area for security reasons.
- Prepare questions before you go. You might want to use some of the questions from the list below. The school inspection report might also help you think about what you want to ask. Inspection reports can be found on the school or Education Scotland’s website.
- You may be particularly interested in one aspect of the school (e.g. how support is provided)but try to get a feel for the whole school. Your child’s access to a good education will be important but what other opportunities will your child have – for example to make friends or get involved in new activities.
- Avoid being too negative or comparing one school to another. Schools often have practical reasons why their facilities or timetables are arranged the way they are 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 from the school so use this opportunity to ask for their views – 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 can be 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.
Things to think about when choosing 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? Does it feel positive and welcoming? Could you imagine your child feeling happy in the school?
- How would the school help make sure your child will feel safe and welcomed? 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 placements until children are settle in the school.
- Has the school experience of supporting a child with similar needs as your child?
- Is the school accessible for your child?
- How inclusive is the school? How does the school adapt the curriculum to meet different child’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?
- How many children are in a typical class and how big are the classrooms?
- What type of support programmes are available?
- What support staff work in school and how is support arranged?
- What assessment, planning and monitoring is in place to make sure pupils get the support they need and are able to work to the best of their abilities?
- How do school staff work with with other professionals (e.g. health, social work or voluntary sector staff)? If your child has a health issue you may want to find out what support is available in the school or how health professionals will be involved.
- What is the school’s policy on bullying, pupil behaviour, discipline or exclusion?
- How will you find out how well your child is doing or if there are any difficulties?
- How will your child be involved in decisions about their education or support? 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?
- If appropriate, what are the arrangements for moving onto secondary school or leaving school?
It can be helpful to talk to parents of children who already attend the school. Ask the school if they can 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.
When considering a school think about how your child will get there, e.g how far is the school from your home and where do your other children attend school (if appropriate). Read our factsheet Transport to school for more information.