With the deadline for primary school applications now gone, did we make the right choice when choosing a primary school for our son Thomas? The decision that we made is so crucial for the next six years of his education, that we really felt the pressure to do our homework (pun intended) about each school.
First of all, we made it our business to know the primary school admission process by checking our local authority website. As our son is adopted he qualifies for a range of special benefits such as priority admission for school places. With this in mind, there is no need to concern ourselves too much with the details of the catchment area. However, this doesn’t stop us comparing our local school with another further afield.
It was always our plan to place Thomas in the most local school, somewhere he is familiar with, and somewhere his friends from nursery are likely to go. Building relationships for all children is very important and even more so for us, as our main focus point is on adoption.
As Thomas looks to us to give him a sense of safety and self-worth, we need to look at his potential school in the same way. It is worth being mindful, that our attitude towards a particular school can make a huge difference to how well a school manages the whole experience. Adopted children often feel, think and act much younger than their chronological, age. It’s as if they get ‘stuck’ at critical developmental stages which leave gaps in their development. These gaps can create challenges for them at school.
We only visited two schools in our bid to find the right school and let me tell you, this is one of the hardest decisions we have ever had to make. Research between the two schools we visited suggests that very few teachers have a working knowledge of attachment and developmental trauma. The school we have decided upon seems the most open to developing a better understanding of our child’s needs. We feel confident going forward that Thomas will be launched into a happy and fulfilling education journey.
Each headteacher was completely different. We had Mr Payne versus Mrs Williams which we found interesting due to the fact it was a male versus female scenario.
Mr Payne was 20 minutes late because he was taking a hockey class, chatted with us whilst dripping in sweat, hurried us along because he had another class to teach and gave off the impression, that we either go to his school or we don’t, either way, he didn’t seem interested in our decision.
We were shown around the school by a receptionist who was very helpful and informative. The classrooms were lovely and the children were very well mannered, a huge positive. The reception teacher introduced herself to us, and she was very nice. On passing this information to Mr Payne, he said he couldn’t guarantee she would be at the school in September because teachers ‘come and go’, he said. ‘Sometimes they get sick’, he added.
There also seemed to be a lot of teacher assistants on site and some of the teachers were not particularly, very well groomed, Mr Payne included. Not a very good example to the younger generation, in my opinion.
Mrs Williams was the complete opposite to Mr Payne. We have nothing but admiration and respect for Mrs Williams which she earned from the moment she introduced herself. Mrs William’s was bright, cheerful and very proud to show us around her school. May I take the opportunity to praise headteacher, Mrs Williams on a very welcoming and informative tour of this lovely school. Not only did Mrs Williams answer all our questions without us having to ask any, we found her very infectious and engaging throughout. From her office at the centre of the school, we saw how she is the captain of her ship, cool-headed and an astute decision-maker – Someone who trusts her colleagues and surroundings to indicate where her ship is heading. There is no doubt, Thomas will be encouraged to explore, develop and build his own skill base with confidence. Our children’s education lies in the quality and expertise of their teachers, Mrs Williams certainly knows the importance of good teachers and it was an absolute pleasure to meet her.
Mrs William’s has created a space for the teachers, where they can come together or have some downtime, a place where they can feel appreciated for all their hard work. I believe that a happy teacher really does make for a classroom full of happy kids!
School Safety is something that should be a given and in today’s world, security is a top priority. Unfortunately, many schools leave something to be desired when it comes to security. Whilst Mr Payne allows access straight into the heart of his school throughout the day, Mrs William’s has a secure system in place, not only does this protect the children, but the staff and the possessions of everybody inside the school.
The Ofsted report for the two schools in question is ‘Good’ versus ‘outstanding”. As I said, choosing a school is a big deal to us and we want Thomas to be happy wherever he goes, and to reach his potential. So just concerning ourselves with the report isn’t enough. Talking to teachers, pupils and other parents is where we gained a lot of information regarding each school.
So which school did we choose?
Well of course, with an average class size of 15 against 24, Mrs William’s scored very highly. So we are delighted that Thomas will be joining her school in September 2017. A school that is driven by enthusiasm and a desire to achieve, a school that is caring, happy and successful with committed friendly and professional staff working together with us, as parents, to provide Thomas with the very best start to his education.
In my opinion, questions to ask a headteacher depend solely on each child’s needs. Some of our questions we needed answers too are listed below.
*Will you and your teachers be able to develop a good relationship with us as a family? The more attuned the teacher, the better the experience for our child? Do you already have systems in place for this perhaps?
*Are there any other adopted or LAC in your school if so how many? Have any left recently, if so why?
*Because our child is adopted he is extremely sensitive, the slightest whiff of stress can put him into a state of alarm and his behaviour changes. How are the teachers equipped to recognise such changes? Are you open to a pre-arranged exit strategy to prevent meltdowns or shamed-based behaviour?
*Parenting an adopted child is relentless and demanding, can your school support our loving, accepting, curious and empathic attitude towards Thomas?
*How many teachers have a working knowledge of attachment and developmental trauma?
*Adopted children often feel, think and act much younger than their chronological, age. It’s as if they get ‘stuck’ at critical developmental stages which leave gaps in their development. These gaps can create challenges for them at school, where they are expected to behave with the same maturity as their securely attached peers. Do you recognise this in your school?
*Do you have visual planners to help structure the children’s day?
*Is it possible for me to come into the school and meet with my child’s teacher or the head teacher at fairly short notice if I have any concerns or issues?
*How many male V female teachers?
*Is there a recent parent survey I can look at?
*How do you support high or low achievers?
*How is progress measured and how frequently? Who tracks this?
*How many children in the school have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and what range of needs do they have?
*How many children are there in each class? How many staff – Teachers, TA’s? What’s the child-to-teacher ratio?
*How do you settle children if they get lost or seem unhappy?
*How does the school communicate with their families?
*Do you have rules for lunch?
*How seriously does the school take bullying? What is your bullying policy? Do you have a hard copy we could view? ‘What would the children say if we asked them what happens to bullies?’
*What is the staff turnover every year? What are the rates of staff sickness and turnover? How many are on long-term sickness? Are teachers covering lots of lessons?
*Does the school have a history of academic success? Is it moving upwards, or downwards?
*How many children have been excluded in the past year, and what for?
*Would you send your own children to this school?
*What are your core values as a headteacher, do you have any evidence of this around the school?
*How do you spend Pupil premium? Are you answerable to parents? Do you have a strategy that we could discuss?
Final word – We did our absolute best for Thomas.