Choosing a First School


Carrie Symes tackles the tricky subject of choosing a school for your child. 

Your child’s first day at school: it’s a day to remember, a day for keeps but arriving at that day involves a huge amount of time, effort, research and discussion. The process can be fraught with uncertainty, indecision and fear of Getting It Wrong.

The choices presented to us can seem overwhelming. Our divisive two-tier education system, for example, private or state? For many of us, there is no choice; either there is no option financially or there is simply no good state school in the vicinity. Add faith schools, academies and free schools into the melee and it’s not surprising that you’re up burning the midnight oil. People often say, “Look at your child and think what type of school might suit him/her.” I found this particularly unhelpful. I didn’t really KNOW what kind of 4-year-old child I had.

For state schools, you need to apply through your local council. Go to for comprehensive guidance. Read the latest Ofsted report and visit the schools’ websites. For primary schools the application deadline is usually the January preceding the September they will start school, with results available mid-April.

If you are looking for a list of private schools in your area, log on to, and, of course, the a&u Schools Directory, which is updated and published every year.

Things to Consider

A list of useful questions to ask before making that big decision

Looking Ahead

What about secondary school? Things to think about in terms of progression, will your child move at 11+ or 13? Where will they go?

Knowledge is Power

Tips on how to find out what a school is really like, from reading its Ofsted report to visiting as many schools as you can. 

What to look out for when visiting a school

How to gage the atmosphere and ask the right questions when visiting a school 


Each school has its own criteria for registration so you must be vigilant and aware of what's needed and when. 

Independent Advice

Whether to follow the advice of a schools advisor and what services are out there

Trust your instincts

Trust your instincts, and don't forget to take a photo!