VISITING the school is an absolute must.
And you should take your child with you.
On the day of your visit, get there early in order to ‘sniff around’ and watch the pupils arriving.
If possible, approach children, parents and staff and ask them questions… it’s amazing how telling their replies can be.
Things to look out for during the visit include:
– What are the pupils like? Do you want your child to be like them?
– Bearing of pupils – politeness, neatness – as well as bearing of staff. Do they look clean, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?
– Attitude of pupils to staff and vice versa. Do pupils flatten themselves against the wall as the head passes? Do they flatten him/her against the wall as they pass?
– Watch the interaction of staff and pupils: it should be easy and unforced, but respectful.
– Is self-confidence universal or confined to just some kids? Is the atmosphere happy? Fraught? Coerced or co-opted?
– Do you fall over pupils smoking in corners?
– What does the school smell like? What is the state of the paintwork? Check out the pupil toilets!
– Grab an exercise book or three in passing and look at the standard of work and the standard of marking – this can tell you an enormous amount.
– Ask if you can pop into a class or have a good look through the window and see what is really happening. Are the children dozing? Is the teacher dozing? Is there rapport between the teacher and the taught?
– What is the average age of the staff? All old can mean not enough dynamic new ideas or energy; all young can mean too inexperienced and also, possibly, too transitory.
– What’s on the walls? Look for evidence of creativity and the celebration of pupils’ achievements.
– Look at notice boards for signs of plenty going on.
– Where is the head’s study: in the thick of things, indicating a finger on the pulse, or still in an ivory tower?
– Observe the state of the library: rows of dusty tomes look impressive, but bright, new and dog-eared is healthier.
– What are the computer facilities like? Are there enough? How common are laptops? Is good use made of the internet, and is internet access fast? Does the school make imaginative use of computers?