Visiting primary schools

The next step is visiting schools on your shortlist.

Book a tour or a place at an open evening and consider attending school events such as the Summer fete or Christmas fair too, to get a feel for the school and how well teachers, parents and pupils work together. You could treat it as a mystery shopping experience.

Be clear about what’s most important to you and which type of school will suit your child. This will help you decide which questions to ask and what to look out for when you visit. Use what you’ve found out so far to put together questions, or use our handy list below.

When the time comes, go with an open mind — a school that’s not top of your list on paper might just surprise you in the flesh. 

Academic matters 

  • Is the classroom colourful and full of the children’s work?
  • What do they do for children who are struggling?
  • How do they stretch children who perform above the expected level?
  • How do they approach tests? Do they tell children when they are doing tests?
  • What information do they provide for parents so they can support learning at home?
  • What reading schemes or methods do they use?
  • How do they encourage children to read at home?
  • Are children taught at different levels? Look for children working in small groups using different equipment and learning tools
  • Is there variety and creativity in the children’s learning?
  • What topics are taught?
  • How many school trips are there and where do they go?

Praise and encouragement 

  • What are children praised for – good work, kindness, behaviour, helpfulness?
  • How are successes celebrated – for individuals, as a group?
  • What support is there for children who struggle with good behaviour?
  • Are there any reward systems in place?

Support and wellbeing 

  • How does the school support emotional development?
  • Are children involved in supporting each other e.g. as buddies, in class discussions?
  • How are children’s individual interests and skills supported?
  • What type of clubs are available at lunchtime and outside school hours and which year groups are they open to? (sport, music, craft, Lego, friendship, languages etc)
  • Who can you talk to if your child is unhappy at school and how will your child be supported?
  • How do they handle bullying?
  • How many teaching assistants/​support staff do they have in the classroom – for which year groups and how many days a week?

School environment and staff 

  • Look for general cleanliness and good standards of maintenance within the school building and outside in the playground. Does the play equipment or school garden look like it’s used?
  • Are the staff welcoming and friendly?
  • Is the Headteacher involved in the open events?
  • How big is the school?
  • What security systems are in place?
  • What is staff turnover like and how often do they use supply teachers?
  • Do the staff know the children by name and how do they interact?
  • Are there teaching staff in the playground during breaks?
  • What wraparound care is available? (breakfast and after school clubs)

Parental involvement 

  • Can parents help out in class/​attend trips/​help with reading?
  • Is there a parent voice group and are parents invited to have a say in policies like homework or uniform?
  • What financial contributions are requested from parents?
  • Is there an active PTA? What sort of things do they organise?

Starting school 

  • Is there a staggered intake? What’s their attitude towards half days?
  • Are there any taster sessions for children?
  • How do they manage the transition from nursery or preschool into school?