Choosing the right school for your child is a hugely important decision and with school open day season upon us, we thought it would be helpful to share some general advice on how to make the most of these visits.

Shropshire and the surrounding area is blessed with many a good school, both state and independent, and parents sometimes ask how they work out which one is the right choice for their child. How do parents differentiate between schools and how do they tell if the website and marketing is a true reflection of what happens at the school on a daily basis?

Well, attending a school open day is a great place to start because even though it is not a regular school day, an open day visit will give you a really good feel for the ethos of the school, the general atmosphere, and of course you will get a good look at the learning environment and facilities. Most importantly you will also get the chance to meet pupils and teachers, ask questions and engage with them in a way that is not possible on a school day where they are engaged in the business of teaching and learning.

Our top tips for making the best use of an open day.

  • Take a really good look at the school’s website just ahead of the open day and take time to consider your own philosophy on what makes a good education. This will give you useful benchmarks to check against as you tour around the school. Some parents make a list of questions that you would like the day to answer.
  • Read the school’s inspection report.  School inspections are rigorous and look at all aspects of a school’s provision, from academic excellence and co-curricular opportunities to safeguarding and wellbeing.  Inspections are to ensure that student provision and wellbeing is of the highest standards, and can provide confidence and reassurance to the prospective parent.  Read Shrewsbury High School’s recent Inspection Report here: SHS Inspection Report
  • If possible, make sure your child can attend the open day with you so that you can see them in the environment and consider, from their response to it, whether it might be one in which they would thrive.
  • Attend the Head’s talk – as the leader of the school their talk should be the best indicator of the culture, ethos and aspirations of the school. Hearing from the top will give you a great feel for the school and you can consider whether the school’s educational philosophy matches your own.
  • Make the most of your time with the tour guide – in most schools the tour guides will be current pupils and whilst you don’t want to interrogate them they are a great source of information on the school you are visiting so take the opportunity to ask questions. They can be really insightful voices, though don’t be put off if they tell you the favourite part of their day is break and lunch time, they are teenagers after all! You will be able to tell a huge amount about the school from its pupils, their manner and the warmth with which they talk about their school.   You should be able to get a sense of whether they feel valued and supported in school.   If you are toured by an older pupil it is also worth considering their character. Is this what you would want your child to grow into?   Most schools are very proud of their pupils and keen for you to meet them.
  • Talk to the staff, both teaching and support, and ask them about their school. Do they speak warmly about the school? Are they enthusiastic? Can they articulate the school’s vision?
  • Find out about the school’s pastoral and academic structures – who will be looking after your child on a daily basis? How do they monitor progress? What is the attitude to home work? Is student wellbeing a priority? What is their approach to bullying? Is there a strict behaviour code? Is there an induction programme and what does the school do to ensure a smooth transition?
  • Feel confident to ask about a school’s examination results – the results should be published in detail on the website but it is also worth finding out the story behind the results and asking about value added. Value added is the measure of improvement in the pupil’s performance during their time at the school. If the school has positive value added then you can be sure it is helping all of its pupils, irrespective of their starting point, to achieve beyond their expectations.
  • Does the school have specialist staff to support specific learning needs? There should be a designated Special Educational Needs coordinator and many schools will have a learning enhancement programme which seeks to stretch and challenge all, from the least confident to the most gifted. Does the school have an academic enrichment programme? A gifted and talented coordinator?
  • Ask about other specialist staff as this will give you a clue about the school’s priorities and whether they are in line with yours. For example, do they have a pastoral and/or academic lead, a school nurse, specialist sports coaches and a designated member of staff for wellbeing?
  • Look for evidence of the school’s approach to co-curricular activities. Are they valued alongside academic results? Is there evidence of a thriving House System? Check out co-curricular timetables to see the range on offer and ask about opportunities in music, sport and drama. Does the school value mass participation or is the sole focus on elite performance? Or are their opportunities for both?   Does the school encourage variety or strict specialisms? Does the school value sport and PE for the physical health and wellbeing benefits as well as the value of being in a competitive team and representing the school? In music are their opportunities to be involved irrespective of grade or level?
  • Check out the practicalities – what is the shape of the school day? What are the catering options? Does the school offer after school care, a bus service?
  • What value does the school place on parental involvement – are they parent forums, a thriving parents’ association? Is regular contact encouraged?
  • Is the school part of a strong network and/or have access to a healthy list of alumnae? Being part of a network will help raise aspiration, attainment and provide rich opportunities both during school (e.g. Former pupils as guest speakers) and afterwards in the world of work (e.g. former pupils as career mentors).
  • Ask about the destination of leaving pupils – is the school catering to a wide variety of ambitions and preparing its pupils for a range of exciting futures from Oxbridge to on the job apprenticeships, from STEM subjects to the Arts, foundation courses to gap years? Does it run an inspiring programme which allows its pupils to discover individual passions and paths or is it tightly focused on a specific Higher Education route e.g. to Russel group universities?
  • Finally, does it look like the pupils and staff are having fun? School should be a joyous journey of discovery. If the pupils and staff are enjoying being in school on a Saturday morning that is a very good sign!

We hope you find the right school for your child and that the open days prove useful. Here at the High School, we would always recommend that an open day is only the preliminary visit. A taster if you will and if you like what you see then we would encourage you to come back for a one to one meeting with the Head and another tour of the school on an ordinary school day. This will allow you to ask individual questions of the Head teacher and confirm your instincts from the open day visit.

To register for any of our upcoming open days and open evenings, please visit SHS Open Days