Saturday 23 November 2013

The Sunday Parenting Party - Choosing schools

(Goblin is 4 years old)

AAAAAGH! I never thought looking for schools would be so stressful.
This month we got our letter through from the Local Authority informing us that we needed to choose a school for Goblin by January*. I have been trying to stay ahead of the game, so I already emailed all the local schools in the summer asking when they were holding open days, school tours, or when we could visit - only one replied (not a good start).
After some effort searching their websites and phoning them we eventually managed to discover when the visits were taking place and book ourselves onto them. (Apparently most of them spread the word through local nurseries - seriously unhelpful if your child goes to an out of town nursery or is home educated). In the last fortnight we have visited many schools.

I realised I wasn't sure what I was looking for from a visit. I've seen quite a few friends on Facebook asking what questions they should ask and what they should be looking for when visiting schools. In fact I have posted the same question myself on Taming The Goblin's FB page. But I've realise this is not a 'one size fits all' question. Every child is different and what suits one child may not suit another. What one parent is looking for in a school may not be what another is searching for.

It took me a few visits before I was able to express in words what I was looking for. It turns out I want a school that recognises my child's individuality, and is willing to work with it rather than change it to fit their own rigid school structure. I want a school that offers creative outlets, lots of outdoor opportunities, and a caring rather than punitive discipline approach. I want a school that allows Goblin to develop at a pace that suits him, and an environment that encourages and fosters his curiosity and develops a life long love of learning. (Oh and the moon on a stick while you're at it!)

The trouble with some of the schools we visited was the approach at reception was completely different to the approach to teaching and learning in the rest of the school. So while I would probably have been happy sending Goblin to any of the reception classes, as they were all play based with free flow between indoor and outdoor, there was a radical shift between approaches at reception and Y1. And Goblin isn't only going for a year, he is likely to be there until he is 10 years old, so I need to buy into the whole school approach not just think the reception class is cute.

For me the schools that appealed were the ones where this shift between reception and Y1, 2 and on, wasn't so extreme. Where the children were still able to move around and weren't tied to their desks for long period of time. And where the adult to child ration was high enough to allow different groups to break off and tackle things in different ways without it being deemed disruptive.
(NB: If you go into a class and there are lots of adults, ask why they are there. In one school there was a policy of having one teacher and three class room assistants. In another school there were 4 adults, but it was one teacher, one teaching assistant and two learning support assistants - learning support assistants are there to help specific children with statements of special educational need, so they are not part of any guaranteed ratio of adult to child).

Other things that helped me assess whether the school would be Goblin compatible included their discipline approach, how they tackled the state mandated curriculum and their art work.
Discipline was an interesting topic - one school had a traffic light system where a child who misbehaved had to place their photo on a red or amber rectangle (while the rest of the class were in green). The public shaming did not appeal. By contrast the school we really liked had a positive reinforcement approach where each child moved up a thermometer, they could not be moved down, but they could stay where they were if they misbehaved. At the end of the day there was 15 minutes free time, but those who hadn't managed to reach the top of the thermometer spent some of that free time practicing the skill that had led to them failing to reach the top - thus helping them reach the top the next time. Technically they were very similar approaches, but the language that was used around the approaches betrayed the clear difference in behaviour management.

Curriculum was quite an eye opener. One deputy head said, "I wish we could let the children spend more time outdoors but the curriculum is so full". Where as another school adapted their lessons to allow for teaching outdoors in different subjects including maths, history, PE, etc. This school also asked for the children's input - for example the curriculum mandates that kids learn about the Romans, but it doesn't say how or what they need to learn. So this school asked the kids what they'd be interested in knowing.

I scanned the walls for art work as I visited the schools. In one school the art work clearly displayed the children's unique creativity with different pictures, styles and approaches. In another 10 identical pictures of the same thing, using the same colours and the same lay out were displayed on each display board. It was very neat and attractive to the eye, while the other display was more messy and haphazard, but the messy one for me showed a school that embraced creativity.

In one school I got the impression the head teacher had a clear educational philosophy they were following, and their school, teachers and children were bought into that. In another school I questioned whether the head teacher would even understand what the term meant. That school appeared to be teaching by numbers, where they felt driven by the state curriculum rather than adapting the curriculum to fit their own educational goals. Hublet described the school as having a discipline policy that they were trying to crowbar education into. But the school that scared me the most was the one where the children didn't make a sound and the teachers whispered in the corridors. Possibly some parent's idea of heaven, but it made me want to run screaming for the hills.

What I wanted was to walk into somewhere and feel that Goblin would fit in, that he'd feel safe and happy and that he'd be allowed to be his rather busy, and excitable self. We found that school, but we aren't in the priority area for it. And here is where the main problem lies. While we are led to believe that we have a choice of where our child goes to school, the vast majority of kids will simply be placed in the school nearest to them regardless of the preferences of the parent. For some of us luckier parents, private schools or home schooling are options which give us a further choice outside the state system. But for many that isn't an option, and they are left with a school that they may not feel suits their child at all.

For now, its a waiting game.

*The letter did mention that we have the choice to homeschool but failed to point out we weren't legally required to inform the local authority if that is our choice.

Taming the Goblin
Some great reads from last week included

If you link up to the Sunday Parenting Party please display the button below somewhere on your post or blog to help spread the word that this linky exists. Much appreciated. 

Taming the Goblin

Welcome to The Sunday Parenting Party, hosted by Dirt and Boogers, Play Activities, Crayon Freckles, Taming the Goblin, The Golden Gleam, Prickly Mom, and The Tao of Poop. The SPP is place for readers to find ideas on nurturing, educating, and caring for children, as well as honest posts about the stresses of being a parent or caregiver. Links to reviews and giveaways are welcome as long as they are relevant to the topic. All parenting philosophies are welcome with one exception: please do not link to posts promoting physical discipline, as this is something we would feel uncomfortable having on our blogs. (P.S. By linking up you agree that your post and photos are Pinterest, Sulia, G+ and FB friendly. We will be showcasing ideas on The Sunday Parenting Party Pinterest board.)


  1. Going through similar challenges ... and in London the challenge is complete shortage of places so chances of actually getting what you want can be very slim. Disappointing to see some schools not following DfE guidance on play centred learning in reception.

  2. Really interesting to read this as a teacher & it gives me lots of food for thought, especially on the disparity between the reception & rest of school. This is probably quite common but the other side is, that at least the reception teachers aren't bowing to pressure from above. In one of the schools I visited in Iceland the quietness of the children really unsettled me!

  3. This is such a big decision, isn't it? Liked reading this post, and I agree with what you expect in a school. I wish I can find one like it when the time comes, and all the best to you!

  4. Ooph. I can feel your stress about choosing a school. I've worried about that incessantly. My oldest went to a combination of public and private schools, and we're now homeschooling all the littles. My confidence is shot.

    Thank you so much for featuring me this week! :)

  5. It is so interesting to read about looking for schools. My oldest child is just in his first year of preschool, and I occasionally wonder how he'll eventually do in the public school system when he starts kindergarten...the classes are just so big! But private school here is so expensive. A lot to think about.

  6. Fingers crossed it works out the way you hope. Interesting reading about your impressions as you went to the different schools. And the way you summed up what you are looking for is great ~ sounds very Goblin appropriate :-)


I have decided to turn off comments on the blog as I am being inundated with spam. I do this with sadness as I love genuine comments from readers. If you would like to leave a comment please email me at or visit the TamingtheGoblin FaceBook page (you can access it through the FB icon in the top right corner of the blog homepage).
Thank you for taking the time to read the blog.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...