Choosing Your Child's School
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
A short guide to the school application process in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
It seemed like a lifetime away, and now suddenly the time has come to start exploring your little one's options for big school - ultimately making the difficult choice of where your child will spend the next 6 or 7 years in education. This can seem a daunting task, but we are here to give you some advice and guidance.
This applies to all children born on or after September 1st 2015 up to 31st August 2016. They will start school in September 2020.
THE DEADLINE TO APPLY IS 15th JANUARY 2020
First of all, it's worth saying that this year your child will grow and develop so much. At Performatots - they will embark on their 'Preparation for School' programme that includes early phonics, maths skills, independence skills and making 'big school' a very exciting transition through stories and conversations in key groups with their teachers. We are very lucky at Performatots, as we have 3 qualified reception teachers on our staff team who have all worked in schools and know exactly the skills your children need to be developing now, in order for them to be fully prepared for that big jump to reception.
“Choosing a school is like buying a house. You need to visit, meet the teachers, see the pupils in action and you will get a 'feeling' that you've found the right place for your child. Trust it.''
Every school is different, which is great, because every child is different! You will be spoilt for choice in our lovely town, we have so many great schools. Ofsted reports are definitely worth a look but, take it from a teacher, they are far from the be-all-and-end-all! It's very much one persons thoughts on one day, so whilst they will give a snapshot of the school, the best thing to do is book on to one of their open days and go see for yourself.
Remember, you can take your child on most open days and we recommend you do. Not only can you see how they react in the new environment, you will see whether any teachers or pupils interact with them also.
What should I ask...?
We've put together a list of things you may want to consider or even ask the school:
1) How long will the school drop off and pick up journey take?
It may be you want to choose a school across town from where you live, but it's worth trying that early morning and afternoon journey at peak times. As much as your friends may be choosing that school and love it - will you love a 30 minute trek across town (and then back again?) That soon adds up to 5 hours sitting in traffic per week, just to get your child to and from school. Trust us - that novelty soon wears off! The location of the school does matter and it is nice to walk in summer months if possible too. The schools near to you fall into what is known as your 'catchment area' and this is high on the list of priorities for NYCC when assigning you a school.
2) Does the school have breakfast club and after school club?
If you're a working mummy or daddy, you'll need to take into consideration whether the school operates an on site holiday club, and whether those hours help or hinder your current work situation. It's surprising how the usual 3pm end of the school day comes around quickly and obviously this doesn't suit most working patterns. What is the wrap around care like? Can you visit it? If there isn't any, can you explore childminder pick up options?
3) Does the school offer extra-curricular activities?
Getting involved in sports, drama club, gymnastics, choir, lego club etc is an important part of a well-rounded educational experience for children in their primary school years. Ask about the activities on offer - some schools offer lunch clubs too. If there aren't too many options start looking for extra curricular opportunities in the area now, some have long waiting lists and it's never too early to look at ideas. We would however recommend you give your child a while to settle into big school first, all the changes can leave them exhausted at the end of a school day.
4) What is the school's ethos or mission?
What does the school strive to give it's pupils? What are the core values at the school? How does the school develop this ethos in it's pupils? The spiel my sound fantastic, but if you can't see this embodied by the staff and pupils, it's not going to give you that warm, fuzzy feeling, because it won't ring true - it will just ring alarm bells. Go with your gut and look for honesty, a genuine sense of community and a school that clearly puts children at the heart of what they do.
5) Can you get involved as a parent?
Ask the school for ways they involve parents in the life of the school. Do they have a PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) This is always a great way to meet other parents whilst raising funds for the school too. Do they need parent-helpers for guided reading for example? How do they communicate information or children's progress to you as a parent? Do they have events that parents are invited to be a part of? Being a 'school detective' you can always go along to a school fair and get a feel for the school at these type of events. Are they cliquey or friendly? Are they run by parents or do the children take the lead on the stalls? Are the teachers involved or standing to the side and chatting among themselves?
6) What's on the school dinner menu?
Take a look at a sample menu. It's worth noting that children in reception are entitled to free morning milk and free school meals - fantastic! This will not only save you a small fortune, but also a lot of time and arguments over what to put in a lunch box! Teachers usually sit with pupils to monitor how much your child eats, so don't worry that they won't know what to do or they won't eat anything - sitting with friends at lunch is a really nice moment of the day.
7) What is a typical routine in reception?
Ask the teachers what happens in a typical day. It will give you a feel for the kind of things your child will be doing. Remember that the early years curriculum your child has started at pre-school runs right up until the end of the reception year. This is a play-based curriculum, so there should be plenty of opportunity for your child to have the freedom to play and keep on learning those social skills and building confidence through independent choice.
8) Don't be fooled by 'Shiny and New!'
Some of the best schools we've worked in have paint peeling off the walls and the equipment is very much 'played with.' GOOD! it should look like it is used a lot, that means the children are active in their learning. The children may be learning in an 'older' building, which is harder to maintain as 'shiny and new!' but frankly - it doesn't matter! What matters is that the children are happy and engaged, the teachers are friendly and interested in what the pupils are doing, and there is messy play, sensory experiences, glitter on the floor and a chatty learning environment in reception!
9) Ask to see the older pupils, ask about the progression into Year 1 and above.
Although your child will be joining the Early Years Department at the school, soon enough they will be entering the National curriculum and KS1, which brings a new way of learning and teaching style. How does the school manage that next transition? It's worth taking a look into some older children's classrooms to see how these operate. Some schools let the older pupils do showarounds - it might not be the most informative, (or it might be the best source of what it's like to be a child at this school!) either way, how fantastic they are giving their older children a chance to take on responsibility and grow in confidence through this task! Happy, confident, well-motivated learners show a successful school.
10) If your child has SEND or EAL needs, what support is available to them?
Children who have additional needs must be supported well, in order to keep developing at an appropriate pace. It's worth asking about the specifics of the support available for things like dyslexia, dyspraxia, ASD, speech and language delay, or even English as an additional language support etc. This should be on the schools website, but don't be afraid to ask.
11) What outdoor provision is there?
All schools will have an outdoor area, but how do they use this? We've worked in schools with a fantastic looking field, but it was only really used for sports day! Town schools may not have grassy space, but do they use the stray, like we do here at Performatots - we like to think we actually have access to the biggest school field in the town! Here, we place great emphasis on getting out and about - what trips does your school organise? What's nearby that the pupils can use for learning experiences? Parks? Shops? Theatres? Churches?
12) Should they be going to the School's own Nursery?
Absolutely not in our opinion! Despite what scaremongering you've heard about not being allocated a school place or your child not making friends before school - rest assured its all 100% urban myths! The LA decide the school place - NOT the school itself! Attending has NO bearing whatsoever on your allocation of a place at that school! There is NO reason your son or daughter needs to be attending the nursery or preschool run by the school. For a start the ratios differ hugely from private and independent pre-schools, school-run nurseries can have a much lower ratio of teachers to pupils, set by the government. At Performatots, we believe our children shouldn't have to settle for this type of environment in their crucial early years; they deserve exceptional interactions with highly qualified and engaging staff - this is what enables them to develop so quickly and confidently. Often state school run settings are only sessional times and don't offer working hours or a full day of pre-school education/care, so it's worth looking at the wrap around options.
Regarding the 'friends' myth - we all know children can make friends in a car park! Who wants their child to already be in a clique before starting school anyway? Children literally don't care -meeting new friends is exciting, and at schools, everyone is coming in fresh faced and new to the experience. For example, at Performatots, we had confident, capable children going off to 16 different schools in the area!
Creating unnecessary upheaval for your child and trying to settle them into a new nursery can create anxiety for little ones, not to mention a whole journey of a teacher getting to really know them again, before sending them off to another teacher a year later. The best thing for your child to be right now - is happy. Their well-being is the most important thing, and don't worry about the urban myths, let them have a fantastic, fun childhood in a place where the teachers know their quirks and can plan for their development as an individual, not a number. There's plenty of time for them to be shoe horned into a school education system and become a statistic (this may be another article!)
Lastly, this is VERY much an individual choice. Don't be swayed by others opinions or comments. It's very important to go into this decision-making exercise with an open mind, and a clear mission to find the best fit for YOU.
Once you've found your top 5, make sure you put them ALL on your application form, otherwise it may be assumed that you'll take any school given to you if your first choice is over subscribed. You apply online, through a form. The link is below:
If you're not sure your child will be ready, you have a legal right to defer their school entry until the term after their 5th birthday. If they currently attend a pre-school, ask your child's key-worker for advice, or alternatively, apply for a specialist pre-school place like Performatots now - there's no better place to be preparing for that transition.
Best of luck with your choices!
The Performatots Team x