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Location actually has nothing to do with it...

‘My child is still in nappies,’ I hear you cry, ‘I don’t need to think about the best schools near me!’.

Of course, you don’t have to think about schools yet. But if you’re planning to move house, as many new families do, it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of research into what kind of school would be best for your child before you pay over the odds to be in a particular school’s catchment area.

Even if you’re not moving and your child is young, any information you can get on potential primary schools might help you make big financial or lifestyle decisions (should I look for a better paid job to pay for private education? Should I make more effort to go to church to get my children into a religious school? etc).

To get you thinking, headteacher at Brighton College Richard Cairns, talking at Tatler Schools Live, had the following advice on what makes a good school and how to pick the right one for your child…

  1. Focus on one child at a time. The logistics of school runs and multiple uniforms are less important than your children being in the right school for them. ‘I was one of five children. My eldest brother loved his school, the rest of us hated it,’ said Cairns.
  2. Keep an open mind while choosing schools. There are good schools in all categories (single sex vs co-ed, private school vs state school, grammar school vs church school etc).
  3. That said, as with buying a property, make a list of negotiables and non-negotiables. Be clear on what these are. They don’t need to be academic, but could be features such as good sports facilities or excellent pastoral care.
  4. The latest research also shows that, academically, there is no difference between single sex and co-ed. The best performing schools in the country do happen to be single sex, but league tables need to be taken with a pinch of salt (see point 8).
  5. Go to the open days of between six and eight schools. For such a huge decision, it would be strange not to visit several schools, Open days are particularly good as there are so many parents there that you probably won’t be guided by the headteacher and the headgirl. You’re more likely to be shown around by a child who’ll give you an honest opinion of the school.
  6. Don’t pick a school because it’s close to where you live. Kids, unlike adults, don’t mind a commute and, in fact, it gives them a chance to catch up with their friends so they arrive at school feeling settled and ready to work.
  7. If you’re lucky enough to be choosing between a town or a country school, ignore National Trust-style properties and grand buildings. Little Hugo doesn’t care about architecture, he wants the teachers to be nice and whether he’ll make good friends. Location of a school can have an impact on what type of teachers you have, however. City schools tend to have younger teachers, whereas country schools tend to attract older teachers who have moved out of town after having families.
  8. School league tables are of use but not for the obvious reason. Use them to pick the right learning environment for your child’s academic ability. The best-performing school is not the best school for every child. Also bear in mind that league tables can be self-perpetuating. Third-tier schools, for example, can struggle to hold on to talented teachers, simply for their position in the tables.
  9. To get a good feel for the school, talk to all the staff you come across. The cleaners can often tell you how nice or awful the kids actually are.

:: How did you choose your school? Did you get your first choice or did your second choice work out ok in the end? Please let us know below