Finding the Right Primary School

A child’s time at primary school is an important stage of their learning and education, so finding the right school for your child should be a priority.

The UK law states that all children must be in full-time education by the start of the term following their fifth birthday. It’s up to you, as parents, to put in the work of finding a suitable school for your child. If your child has attended a nursery that’s attached to a primary school, then there’s often the option of moving on up to proper school at the same location, although with the growing numbers of children seeking places today, often there’s competition for a place.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that many Local Education Authorities (LEAs) in the UK offer part-time places in reception classes for children, from the September after a child reaches their fourth birthday. So you may be able to get your child in before they’re five years old, if you so desire.

Primary school places need to be applied for in advance. For details of the schools in your catchment area, contact your local LEA. They’ll be able to send you an information pack or booklet detailing all the primary schools available and an application form for applying for a place. Be aware that the application form needs to be completed well in advance – by mid-October of the year before your child will start the school – and either needs to be sent to the school governors or back to the LEA.

Choosing A Suitable School

Before you fill in the application form, it’s up to you to decide which school within your catchment area (or beyond – although those within certain distances tend to be given priority) would be most suitable for your child. To get the best picture of the schools on offer, especially if you’ve not got any prior experience of them, then it’s best to schedule visits to all the schools.

Some schools are likely to offer open days or evenings to both parents and children, or you could make an appointment to go at a time convenient to you. Things to look out for on your visit include:

  • The size of classes – ideally there should be no more than 30 children in a class.
  • Modern, up-to-date facilities.
  • A clean, tidy and stimulating environment.
  • Friendly and welcoming staff, as well as a friendly and helpful head teacher.
  • Staff that take time to speak to you and are genuinely interested in you and your child.
  • Classes that are being taught well, with children absorbed in their work.
  • An atmosphere that’s busy and positive, not stressed and hectic.
  • Lots of examples of children’s work on display in classrooms and corridors.
  • Good outdoor spaces, such as playgrounds and playing fields.
  • Good security measures in action.

It’s fine to ask plenty of questions from the staff as you conduct your visits. If you’re visiting several schools, it may be helpful to jot down a few notes after you leave each school, as details can get muddled in your mind.