10 things to ask at a school open day

PUBLISHED: 17:18 07 November 2013 | UPDATED: 17:18 07 November 2013




Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your child. Here, Janita Clamp from The Good Schools Guide shares some handy hints on how to get the most out of a school open day – and come away with a clear decision...

No sooner have schools welcomed back their pupils – all shiny shoes, sharp pencils and relieved parents – then it’s open season for open days. State, independent, grammar or academy? Co-ed, single sex? You only get one shot at this so before stepping onto the educational merry-go-round, here we provide you a handy checklist of what to look out for…

1 What do you want for your child? Make a list of what matters to your family and the kind of education you think would suit your son or daughter. Much depends on parents’ own educational experience and this can raise strong emotions – schooldays are not always fondly remembered. And don’t forget to ask your child what he or she wants…

2 Is it looking good? A school should appear at its best at the start of a new academic year. This doesn’t mean everything should be new, but if the fabric is already looking shabby or dilapidated (ditto the staff), that could tell you something about resources or morale.

3 How’s the head? Try and attend the head’s talk – does she fire you with enthusiasm? Did he make you nod off? This is a head’s big moment and if you leave feeling uninspired it might be time for a rethink.

4 What’s it really like? Take a tour with pupils – it might start out polite and formal but if you’re friendly and ask enough questions you’ll learn plenty ‘off message’.

5 Top marks? Parents consistently put academic performance at the top of their checklist, but league tables don’t 
tell the whole story. Great exam results may be the desired destination, but what of the journey? School websites usually publish past years’ results so look at these for trends.

6 Can your child achieve their full potential? A selective school that creams off the brightest students will always perform well, but what about value added? This is the differential between the attainment levels of pupils when they enter and leave; if your child isn’t a high-flyer, you need to be sure that the school can support and enable him or her to achieve their potential.

7 Have you read the small print? Some independent schools don’t include lunch in the basic fees; off-site options such as sailing or riding are also costly and instrumental lessons are always extra. And then there’s specialist sports kit for team tours etc (not to mention the team tours…). Be prepared to shell out more than you bargained for almost every term.

8 How are things behind the scenes? Good Schools Guide writers analyse results and sit in on lessons, but they also check out lunches, lavatories and litter. Little things can make a big difference to a child’s feeling of wellbeing and, by extension, their ability to learn.

9 Sport for all? Prospectus designers love actions shots – rugby, tennis, hockey, polo even – but check out the fixtures. Is it only the A teams that get matches and specialist coaching?

10 What do the neighbours say? It’s worth checking out a school’s local reputation, especially if you are new to the area. Ask taxi drivers or nearby shopkeepers and chat to people with children of a similar age to yours.


For full reviews of over 1,100 top state and private schools plus plenty of advice, check out The Good Schools Guide whose experts have been reviewing schools for 25 years. For more information, visit their website at goodschoolsguide.co.uk

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