Five smart rules to inform home movers when applying for school.
According to one survey, one in four families in the UK have moved house or changed address to obtain a school place for their children. As if moving home by itself is not stressful enough, when adding ‘finding the right school for your child’ it can be downright crazy.
Finding a school place is an established ritual: school open days, chats at nursery drop-off followed by restless nights tossing and turning over which schools to prioritise when the window for primary applications opens. No wonder some parents are turning to ‘pew-jumping’ – the sudden attendance at church despite a previously agnostic existence – just to secure a place for little Jonny or Esmerelda.
The thing is, it really doesn’t have to be this way. According to the latest available figures from Ofsted, there are 16,777 primary schools in England alone, of which 18 per cent are rated Outstanding and a further 69 per cent are ‘Good’. Taken together, therefore, 87 per cent of schools have a good or better Ofsted rating, with only 1 per cent finding themselves in special measures or rated Inadequate. The chances of moving into a new area and being within reach of at least one good school are high, it would seem. Few parents should be worried about the standards of education near their new home.
The issue for many movers, however, is that an Ofsted rating doesn’t reveal the full picture; an inspection represents such a small ‘snapshot in time’ and might not accurately reflect the wider context in which a school operates, which is why it’s so important to do additional research.
Ofsted is a great source of insight, but looking at things like absenteeism rates, or performance of pupils on entry can reveal even more about the school. In other words, does the school suffer from a high rate of persistent absenteeism (which might be a sign either of challenging conditions in the school, or a challenging catchment area around it)? Another indicator of a strong school is the support they draw on a strong local area with good nurseries and Early Years Foundation Stage.
A school can be ‘outstanding’ at taking children from an underprivileged catchment area and driving standards and results, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the children leaving the same school will be outperforming those from a school that ‘Requires Improvement’, but which draws from a stronger, less disadvantaged neighbourhood.
The devil is in the detail: there has even been evidence of schools and other settings marked down because of their toilet facilities; would this be as off-putting to parents as a school that has been marked down for different reasons, but which receives the same overall rating?
Fortunately, support is on-hand, there are things parents moving into a new area can do to empower themselves. Here’s a 5-step guide provided by Property Detective for parents beginning the process of school applications:
Get familiar with Ofsted
Reading a single Ofsted report isn’t enough; make sure you read all the reports for the local schools and pay close attention to how each aspect of the school is rated. Sometimes an Ofsted report is more useful for the things they don’t say, as much as the things they do.
If in doubt, look at the Ofsted data in detail
Some information might not be available in an Ofsted report alone. By looking at the underlying data (published on the Ofsted website) you can see more detailed analysis of how well a school performs across a number of criteria.
Look beyond Ofsted
The Department for Education publishes a range of information about all schools in the country and this can provide insight into a number of points, including how well pupils perform in national tests, rates of persistent absenteeism as well as an assessment of how ‘ready for learning’ pupils are when they start at primary school. After all, schools pick up where local nurseries leave off. Sites like Property Detective bring data in one place, helping paint a more holistic picture of a school’s overall personality.
Befriend a teacher – ideally at a different school to the one you want to send your children to
By far the most useful insight into the local education landscape comes from teachers themselves; the world of education is small and the grapevine is highly conductive. If you know someone who works as a teacher locally, pick their brains: they will often have the inside scoop on how local schools are performing and will be more free to speak their mind from a position of professional experience, away from Ofsted ratings and official figures. In other words: get the gossip.
And remember: the data can present an inaccurate picture
Because of the way that Ofsted inspections work, Good or Outstanding schools are usually not inspected as frequently or in as much detail as schools performing less well. But what does this mean? For parents, two things: that Inadequate schools are top of the list when it comes to local authority support, driving standards much faster, and secondly: that there’s a small chance that Good or Outstanding schools are no longer Good or Outstanding; just that they haven’t been inspected for a while. All of which is to say: check the date of the last inspection report. If it’s more than a few years out of date, or if there’s been a change of headteacher in that time, view the rating with a small degree of caution.
Barry Bridges is the founder of PropertyDetective.com, a website that lets people research a local area anywhere in the country to find information about local schools, demographics, nuisances, and other amenities. To see how family-friendly your area is for prospective parents, visit www.propertydetective.com