10 tips to help you find the right primary school for your child


If you have a child who is due to start primary school in September 2016, you have from now until 15th January 2016 to formally apply for a primary school place.

Navigating the Bristol Primary Schools Admissions Process can be tricky. Although you can’t actually choose which primary school your child goes to, on the primary schools admissions application form you are able to state which primary schools are your first, second and third preference.

It is therefore important to be sure that you are happy in your second and third preference of school as well as your first.

Ultimately, schools are allocated to children according to three factors. If a child has special educational needs or is in care, they will be prioritised over other children. The third factor taken into account is proximity; i.e. how close your child lives to the school.

But, before you apply, here are 10 tips to help you find the right primary school for your child with some great advice from some Bristol Mum readers.

Please see the Bristol Mum Facebook page for lots more advice!


1) Think about your values and your child’s personality

There is often no wrong or right in terms of primary schools; it is simply about what primary school will be the best fit for your child.

For example, think about the size of the school; would your child thrive in a large school or might a smaller school suit them better?

And, what do you value in terms of education? Would you prefer a school which has an emphasis on good academic achievements or would you prefer a more holistic approach? What approach would suit your child better?

Do you have any particular religious beliefs? If so, would you prefer a primary school which supports these beliefs?

Asking such questions will help you become clearer in your mind on what would be a better fit of school for your child and also what you would like for your child in terms of their education.

One reader explains how she decided on a primary school for her child:

“We visited 2 local schools and picked the one that we thought would suit our son best. He had been to a Montessori nursery so we chose a school that would challenge him in the same way. It also helped that they had a quick induction period.”

2) Look at school websites

Visit the websites of the primary schools in your area as these will offer a wealth of useful information. Information such as the size of the school, school SAT results, school trips and events that have recently taken place, will all help you to get an understanding about the school and what it could offer your child.

You will also be able to get an idea of what the school values. For example, there may be a particular emphasis on academic achievements of children or on a particular religion.

3) Ofsted reports

Have a look at the latest Ofsted report for each of your local primary schools; you can access these online here. Ofsted grade a primary school’s quality so Ofsted reports will be helpful to you when considering each primary schools.

However, don’t be guided by just the overall grade, have a read-through of the whole report. I would advise looking at particular areas of concern, rather than simply just looking at the overall grade as something which a school has been marked down on might not actually be something that you would be particularly concerned with.

4) Ask other parents for opinions and recommendations

Accessing the first-hand, insider knowledge of people whom you know is another useful way of finding out about local primary schools.

One reader found talking to others very useful in deciding on primary schools: “We found that talking to other parents with school-age children really helped with recommendations.”

5) Go to local primary schools’ open days and fetes

This is super important and it is advisable to visit all the primary schools in your area. Visiting a school yourself on open days, having a look round, chatting to teachers, looking at the facilities and grounds will all provide useful information and will give you a feel of the school.

 School fetes and other similar events will also give you a great feel of the school, as one reader explains:

“If you’re spoilt for choice go to a public event the school hosts. You can tell so much about the community at a school at these events.” 

And, if possible, bring your child with you when visiting a school; their thoughts and reactions will be useful in making a decision!

6) First impressions of staff

If you have the opportunity to visit a local primary school on an open day, observe how the headteacher and staff communicate.  How do the teachers communicate with the children? Does the headteacher communicate with you, the staff and the children in a respectful manner?

In particular, one reader advises: “…watch how the teachers interact with the head as leadership influences everything in the school.”

7) Observe the children at the school

If you have opportunity to do so, observe the children at a primary school. Are they happy? Do they look interested and stimulated or bored? How do they interact with staff? Observing can provide useful information about the school.

One reader described how other children at the school they visited interacted with her daughter helped her make her decision:

“In the school we chose every child we came across said ‘hello’ to her without prompting or spoke a few words to her and helped her to reach things she couldn’t, etc. It gave a sense of ‘family’ and that she would be helped by other children.”

8) Observe the school building, facilities and layout

Look at the building, grounds and facilities. Is there green space – if not, would this be a deciding factor? Ask yourself whether you think the building would be an ideal space for your child and if you would be happy with them spending time there.

9) Location

Location is an important factor. If your child goes to a school close to where you live, other children at the school are likely to live nearby which will give your child more opportunities to catch up with them outside of the school.

Also, if the school is within walking/scooting distance from your home this will make the school run a whole lot quicker and easier!

One reader named proximity as the most important factor in choosing a primary school:

“Definitely closeness to home. Your kids need local friends to play with outside of school. They won’t manage to walk a long way home and you don’t want to be adding to dangerous traffic outside the gates (not to mention the massive inconvenience of rush hour driving and them falling asleep on the way home and screwing up bedtime and poor sleep ruining their concentration at school the next day.”

Another reader explains how proximity to her children’s school has been important to her family:

“I have found that an important part of school life for us all has been the walk there, being part of a local community where my kids go to school with the other kids on our street and you don’t have to drive them about like a crazy person and struggle to park etc.”

10) Gut feeling!

Going with your gut feeling about the school is important so listen to it!

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I hope you fund this post useful. Please do give the Bristol Mum Facebook page a like to keep up with even more articles and information for parents raising children in Bristol!