Applying for School or Nursery? Here’s what to Look For
September may seem like a long way off but for parents whose children start school in 2020, now is an important time to be deciding which school to choose.
For many parents, knowing what to look for in a school or nursery can be difficult, so we got in touch with the very experienced Early Years and Pre-Prep leadership team at Prince’s Mead School. Whether you’re looking for a Nursery/Preschool, State or Independent school, Shelly O’Siochain, Head of EYFS and Abbey Fecher Head of Pre-Prep offer their thoughts.
A co-ed school for children ages 3-11, they’re opening the doors of a new Nursery in spring 2020 to provide an invaluable option for parents looking for high-quality pre-school education, with excellent facilities that are open year-round.
With knowledge of both Nursery and Reception applications, this seemed like the perfect place to get some advice.
All schools should be welcoming and safe
Whether it’s nursery or school, your child is going to be spending many hours in this environment. Abbey Fecher emphasises how important it is to go and look at a school. “The key advocates are the children. Look at the children and if they’re smiley and happy, that paints a really positive picture. Also, see how they engage with staff and other pupils.
Any parent, looking at prospective schools, ideally wants to sense a family ethos. Ask yourself, can I see my child here? Are they going to be happy here? The most important aspect for us is to make sure a child is happy and settled, then we can focus on the learning.”
As a parent, who also used to be a teacher, I want to see friendly, passionate staff: if a school is a lovely place to work, it’ll likely be attracting talented teachers.
High-quality teaching and learning
We all expect this to be an essential part of any school, but it does vary. You can see examples of the quality of work the children are producing by looking at wall displays in classrooms. Shelly encourages parents to ask questions about children’s learning or to see examples of pupils’ work.
Abbey also recommends looking through a school’s ISI or Ofsted report. “It’s really important to read the inspection reports as they provide parents with important information regarding a school’s performance.”
It’s also worth considering how important it is for you to have qualified staff within the Early Years setting. With a national shortage of qualified staff in nurseries, it’s something to bear in mind.
Abbey makes it clear that having qualified staff supports the Nursery pupils with making a seamless transition into Reception. “Nursery/pre-school is the most precious first year of a child’s education and when we say education that’s not just about the core subjects but all the other aspects of learning: socialising, having fun, engaging, learning to be kind individuals and building friendships.”
Abbey also suggests looking at schools’ social media “Social media pages offer parents the opportunity to find out more about extra-curricular activities and the exciting events that are woven into school life.
School facilities and wrap-around care
Whether it’s a school or a nursery, it’s important to think about the extras that are important to your child and you as a family. Will you need wrap-around care or a bus to meet you at the station? Do you want your child to have access to specialist subject teachers or an outdoor learning area?
Shelly thinks it’s important that you pick the environment that considers your child’s needs. For example, many nurseries have a Forest School so Prince’s Mead has woven this initiative into their own Gray’s Wood for all pupils in the Nursery and Pre-Prep to access.
Shelly offers this advice: “Parents like their children to have that nurturing environment within the classroom and outside the classroom. It’s important for the pastoral care needs of pupils to be fully catered for so we ensure staffing is in place to support the daily needs of the children.”
Something for the parents
As much as choosing the right setting is about your child, don’t forget that it’s also a source of social life for many parents. How many times have people told you that you’ll make loads of new friends once your child starts school?
It’s true, and if it doesn’t happen organically at the school gates or through a Facebook class group, then it’s great to know that the school community encourages social events for the parents as well as the children.
Your child’s school life will become an integral part of your life, and your child will feel more secure knowing you’re involved.
“Ask yourself, can I see my child here? Are they going to be happy here? The most important aspect for us is to make sure a child is happy and settled, then we can focus on the learning.”
Strong and supportive relationships between parents and teachers are also a great way to ensure your child feels secure and to support their learning. It also helps to create a feeling of being a community.
Shelly relishes the community feeling, both as a teacher and as a mother: “I can bring my child along to a school event such as Bonfire Night and when the pupils see me with my family it adds to that community feeling, which is exactly what I would want from a school.”
Whether you’re struggling to order your school preferences, deciding if school fees are more manageable than you’d first thought, or touring the local nursery that combines outdoor space with qualified teachers, there is still time to consider your options.
It’s not a decision to be rushed. Most schools will happily give prospective parents tours outside of open days if you phone and ask.
Prince’s Mead School next open day is 7th February 2020 but private tours can be booked at any time.
Prince’s Mead’s Nursery opens Easter 2020. Early Years Funding and all forms of tax-free childcare vouchers are accepted.
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