How to find out about local schools and what to look for
Research Ofsted reports
For most people, the first port of call when weighing up the pros and cons of different schools will be Ofsted, the government regulators who rate each school following an inspection. Although Ofsted reports are a good place to start, they’re only a small part of the bigger picture, so bear this in mind during your research.
Find schools within the catchment area of your new address
Make sure the school you wish to send your children to is in the catchment area of your new address. The gov.uk website is a good place to start for finding primary, secondary and special needs schools or colleges within certain catchment areas, while you can also find Ofsted reports and other financial information by inputting a postcode.
Visit the school on open days
Nothing gives you a better ‘feel’ for a school than visiting in person, and most schools have regular open days where you can explore the classrooms and facilities, and chat with staff and students. When you visit in person, take your time looking at the displays of children’s work, and asking the teachers lots of questions.
Consider staff turnover
Staff turnover can be very telling, and if a local school has a very high turnover of teachers it’s worth considering why. On the flipside, good staff retention often indicates that the school is committed to delivering high quality education in a supportive, forward-thinking environment.
Check the news
Local newspapers and online news sites are great places to discover school achievements and find out how integrated the school is within the wider community. Look out for news and events, as well as new teacher appointments and any other associated stories.
Chat to local parents
Some of the most insightful information about a particular school comes directly from parents and students, so it’s worth having as many conversations as you can before making a decision. If you can’t chat in person, look online for reviews and recommendations, chat in forums such as Mumsnet, or read blogs written by local mums and dads. Social media can also be a good source of opinion, whether you ask for school recommendations on local Facebook groups, or monitor direct exchanges between schools and parents on Twitter.
In-term admission policies
If you’re moving house in the middle of the school year, it’s worth finding out more about school admission policies from the local council or the school itself. Do you go directly to the school, or will you need to get in touch with the local council to get a place for your children? While some schools will exchange information via email and telephone, others will ask you to come in for a chat or even a more formal interview, so make sure you factor in enough time to avoid last-minute decision making.
School bus services
If you are moving to somewhere beyond walking distance of the school your children will be going to, you should find out about the local transport links. There might be a free school bus which will be handy if you are unable to pick them up and drop them off every day. If so, find out if there is and where the drop-off point is, both near your home and the school, to ensure they can travel safely. If there isn’t a bus route, there might be local trains that stop within walking distance of your home and the school.