We answer some of the most frequently asked questions about choosing a school and how you can support your children when they start school.
For answers to more specific questions about your child's learning and development, take a look at Mumsnet Learning. You'll also find free eBooks, activities and games for playing at home with your child.
Choosing a school
1. Find out about the schools in your local area and the places available by visiting your local authority website. The Directgov website can help you to find your local authority. Even at this stage, you can be selecting the school that best suits your child by looking at the size and location.
2. Read the Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) reports for the schools you are interested in. These inspection reports are a good starting point for finding out about the strengths and weaknesses of a school.
3. Look at the Department for Education achievement and attainment tables for the schools that you are interested in, but remember that these only show part of the picture as schools, and the children and teachers in them, change from year to year.
4. Read the school’s prospectus and policies on behaviour, homework, special needs provision and anything else that will affect your child. You’ll find these on the school’s website or you can request them from the school itself.
5. Talk to neighbours and friends to hear what they think about the school – but remember that schools change, and what suits their child may not be the same as what suits yours.
6. Visit the school – this is very important if you want to get a feel for what the school is really like. Many schools have open days that give you an opportunity to see the school at its best. Try to arrange a visit on a normal school day as well, so you get to see the realities of everyday life in that school – warts and all! Take your child with you – after all they have to like it too!
It doesn’t matter how much other people tell you about a school; you have to visit it yourself to find out what it’s really like. Many schools hold open days that aim to give you a flavour of what the school is about. But remember – lots of work goes into these days, and children and staff are primed to be on their best behaviour!
To see what the school is really like, it’s worth making an appointment to come back on a normal day. Then you’ll get a true sense of how the school is run and what the atmosphere is like. You’ll also get the chance to ask lots of questions.
Things to look out for
- A good welcome: A good school will make you feel welcome as soon as you go through the door. The staff on reception are friendly and the reception area will feel comfortable and welcoming.
- A strong and respected head teacher: Watch the way the children and staff interact with the head and how the head interacts with them. Good schools are led by a strong head teacher and management team.
- Classroom activities: Look at the learning activities children are undertaking in different classrooms. Are they exciting? Can you see a variety of approaches through which children are working independently, as well as in groups? Do teachers interact well with their pupils? Do they have high expectations of behaviour and achievement?
- Teaching assistants: These members of school staff play an important role in supporting teachers in the classroom and helping children both educationally and emotionally. How many teaching assistants are in the school? Some schools are lucky enough to have them in every classroom.
- Parental involvement: Are parents encouraged to come in and help? There is clear evidence that successful schools encourage parental involvement in all aspects of school life.
- Wall displays: Look carefully at what‘s displayed on the classroom walls. It can tell you a lot about approaches to teaching, about whether the curriculum is exciting and creative and about whether or not teacher expectations are high. It can also give you information about the rewards and sanctions that are used for good and bad behaviour.
- Technology: Is there evidence of children using computers and other forms of technology to enhance their learning? How often do children go to the ICT suite, if there is one? And what access do children have to computers in their classrooms on a daily basis?
- Teaching and learning resources: Does it look as though teachers and children have enough good quality resources? Are the resources well organised? Is there a library? Do the books look up-to-date and well cared for?
- Celebration of success: As you walk around the school, can you see evidence of success being celebrated? It may be about an individual child’s achievement in or outside of school, or it might be a whole school sporting or academic achievement.
- Happy, polite children: Watch the way in which children move around the school and out to play. Are they happy? Are they respectful of one another?
- Clean, safe environment: You have to be happy that, when you leave your child at school each day, they are in a clean and safe place. Is the school building clean? Ask to see the toilets! Are the school grounds safe and inviting? Is there plenty of play equipment to occupy the children at lunch and play time?
Questions to ask
- What after-school clubs, sports and community activities are available at the school?
- How does the school communicate with parents? Does it have a text service, website, newsletters?
- How is progress and achievement reported to parents and how often?
- What are the strengths of the school? Art, music, sport?
- Is there an active Parent Teacher Association? Are parents encouraged to get involved?
- How much are the school governors involved in the school?
- What school visits and residential trips do the children go on, and how often?
- Is there a high turnover in staff?
- What is the school’s approach to discipline and bullying?
- How much homework do children get?
- How does the school support children with special educational needs and those who are more able?
- What are some of the school's greatest achievements and what are some of the biggest challenges the school faces?
Tips to make the most of your visit
- Be prepared – have your list of questions ready.
- Take a notebook and pen with you to make notes. There’s probably going to be too much information for you to remember.
- Take your child with you. After all, they have to like the school too!
Ofsted reports can give you general information about how a school is performing, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and what steps it needs to take to improve the achievements of its pupils.
Ofsted is the Government Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. It is responsible for regulating and inspecting children’s services, including schools, throughout the UK. School inspections are carried out so that information about achievement can be provided to parents, while the school can be encouraged to improve and to account for the public money it receives.
During a two-day inspection, inspectors look at documents the school has written as a result of its self-evaluation process, and at children’s results and progress. They talk to the head teacher, governors, staff and children, as well as listening to the views of parents and carers. They also watch lessons and look at how well the school is led and managed by the head and the school management team.
After each inspection, a report is written that gives information about the school’s strengths and weaknesses, recommends steps for improvement and gives the school an overall grade from 1 to 4 (grade 1 is outstanding, 2 is good, 3 is satisfactory and 4 is inadequate.) You can find all of these reports on the Ofsted website.
Whether you call them league tables, performance tables or achievement and attainment tables, they’ll give you information about the achievements of children in schools and colleges throughout England.
The tables give you:
- background information on each school, including its name, address and telephone number
- rates of absence from school
- the results from the tests taken in English, mathematics and science by children at the end of Key Stage 2, in the previous May
- a Contextual Value Added (CVA) score that measures the progress made by children from the end of Key Stage 1 to the end of Key Stage 2 using their test results. This score takes into account the fact that children start at different places, and is adjusted for factors that are outside the school’s control and are known to affect a child’s results (such as gender, mobility and levels of deprivation). Compared with the previously-used Value Added score, which did not take any of these factors into account, this score suggests a fairer picture of how a school is actually doing.
So, these tables can give you valuable information about a school – but remember, they only provide part of the picture. Read our other FAQs to find out more about how to choose a school.
Some key terms explained:
National Curriculum – The National Curriculum sets out the stages and core subjects that will be taught to your child while they are at school.
Key Stage 1 – Key Stage 1 is one of the stages of education, set out by the National Curriculum. It covers five- to seven-year-olds (Years 1-2).
Key Stage 2 – Key Stage 2 is another stage of education set by the National Curriculum. It covers eight- to 11-year-olds (Years 3-6).
Supporting your child
Here are a few reminders of things to do when the big day arrives.
The day before
Talk to your child
Discuss the next day’s routine. Ask them if they are worried about anything and make sure you don’t just dismiss any fears that they have. What may seem insignificant to you may be very frightening to a four or five-year-old.
Celebrate the occasion
Have a special meal and give your child a small gift to celebrate. Sitting round the table gives other members of the family an opportunity to share their happy memories of their first day at school.
Get everything ready
Lay out school uniform, prepare any paperwork requested by the school, make your child’s packed lunch and pack their PE kit. This will help you avoid any rushing in the morning.
Early to bed
Make sure your child goes to bed on time, is relaxed and gets enough sleep. Tiredness on the first day will make your child even more anxious.
On the day
Set your alarm
Make sure there’s plenty of time to get ready, eat breakfast and travel to school. Rushing is stressful for you and your child.
Take a photo
Celebrate the occasion by taking a photo. Give your child lots of praise for being so grown up and looking so smart.
Leave home on time
Make sure you give plenty of time for the journey to school. You definitely don’t want to be stuck in traffic on the first day.
Talk about the routine
Remind your child about what they will be doing at school, who they will see and how exciting it is going to be. Reassure them that you will be waiting to pick them up at the end of the day and show them where you will be. Most importantly, make sure you are where you told them and don’t be late!
Be guided by your child’s teacher
Follow the routine suggested by your child’s teacher. In most schools, parents are encouraged to bring their child into the classroom and help them to hang up their coats. When the teacher suggests it is time to leave, give your child lots of hugs and do just that. Show your child that you are happy and excited for them and tell them what a great time they are going to have. Your child will be watching to see how you react to this new environment and how you feel, so make sure that you save any tears until you are well away from your child!
Think about your feelings
After all the concern about keeping your child happy, think about how you feel. It can be difficult to cope with leaving your child on their first day and this is totally normal. Talk to other parents about how you are feeling and you’ll find you have lots in common. Not only is this a big day for your child, but it’s a big day for you as well.
Once the hurdle of the first day is over, hopefully your child’s (and your) anxieties will lessen. However, don’t expect every day to be perfect. You may find that your child is quite happy for the first week, but as they become tired and realise that school is something they have to do five days a week, they may become a little more reluctant to go!
Keep working at the things you did on the first day, establish a good routine and you and your child can look forward to many happy school years to come.
Talk to your child’s teacher. Find out if your child is unhappy throughout the day or if the crying only happens for a short amount of time when you leave them.
If your child is unhappy throughout the day, you really need to find out why. Is there something happening with their friends or the school routine that is upsetting them? Talk to your child. You may find that things like the noise in the dinner hall or the frantic rushing about of older children in the playground is distressing them. Talk to their teacher and any other adults in the school who see your child during the day. Work together to pinpoint what is upsetting them and to find a solution.
It's your job to find out what the problem is. Children under-report school issues. And they aren't lying – it's part of being young, being scared, and having a small vocabulary.
If your child cries each time you leave them but is fine after a short time, there are a number of things you can do to reduce their separation anxiety. Establish a routine in which goodbyes are short and loving. Reassure your child that you will be back later and tell them what you are going to be doing. Hand your child over to another adult who can distract your child and then leave. Don’t be tempted to go back if your child is crying as this will only make things worse.
Remember, this is just a temporary phase and, in most cases, the upset that this causes you and your child will quickly pass.
Find out what’s making your child hate school so that you can do something about it.
Has the novelty worn off?
For some children, the novelty of getting up and going to school five days a week has worn off by the second week. The daily routine can take its toll on young children, and they can become increasingly tired. If you think your child’s dislike of school is down to this, don’t extend their school day by booking in lots of after-school events and make sure they get to bed at a reasonable time. Talk to them enthusiastically about the things they do at school each day and listen to what they tell you. Hopefully, they will get used to this new routine and before long will start to enjoy school.
Are there problems at school?
Give your child the opportunity to talk about anything that is bothering them at school. They may clam up at this point and find it difficult to articulate how they are feeling, so try asking them questions that focus on issues rather than on them personally. Ask questions like:
- If you were in charge of your school what would you do to make all of the children happy?
- What would you do to make dinner time better?
- If you could choose a teacher in your school, who would it be and why?
Hopefully this type of question will help you to find out what is bothering your child without concentrating on how these issues make your child feel.
If you establish that there is a problem, talk to your child about how to deal with it and monitor what happens over the next few days.
If things don’t improve, raise the issue with your child’s teacher. Initially, this can be done informally and you can get updates on progress from your child’s teacher at the end or beginning of each day. However, if the issue continues, you could arrange a formal meeting with the teacher. If appropriate, your child can attend as well and together you can agree on a plan. Things can often be resolved at this stage, but if you feel that your child is continuing to be unhappy at school, escalate matters to the head teacher.
Are there problems at home?
Don’t always assume that your child hates school because of something that is happening at school. Sometimes problems at home can make your child unhappy at school. If your child is aware of a family illness, problems with a relationship or something that is making you worried and unhappy, this can affect how they feel. Ask your child if they are worried about anything at home and help them to deal with their feelings. Sometimes reassurance from you that everything will be alright is all they need.
If your child hates school, there must be a reason. The sooner you can deal with the issue, the sooner you and your child can enjoy their time at school.
Here are 20 questions to get you started:
About school in general
- When I was at school we used to... Do you still do that?
- Who did you play with at playtime?
- Who did you sit next to at lunchtime?
- Are the same children still on your table?
- What was the best thing you did today?
- What didn’t you like doing today?
About what they learned at school
- I learned... today. Did you learn anything?
- Did you do anything on the whiteboard today?
- What did you do that was easy today? Was anything hard?
- What’s your science/history/geography topic this term?
- Have you got a new reading book? What’s it about?
- What was your favourite/least favourite lesson today?
- How do you think you did at school today?
- Who was your favourite teacher today?
- How was your teacher today?
- Did anyone get on her nerves today?
- Did anyone make her laugh today?
About other children at school
- Was anyone absent today? Did you miss them?
- Did anyone make you laugh today?
- Was anyone sad today?
Your child is not alone! When asked the question ‘how was school today?’, most children respond with ‘fine!’, and think that’s the end of the conversation. But it doesn’t have to be. There are a few simple things you can do to encourage them to tell you more and, hopefully, before long you’ll know a lot more about their day at school.
Ask the right questions
If asking a general question like ‘how was school today?’ isn’t getting the response you would like, try asking more specific questions about things that happen in school and the people who are there. Avoid asking closed questions as these allow your child to give ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers that give you very little insight into their school day. Try asking questions like these to get the sort of answers you’re looking for:
- Who sat with you at lunch today?
- Who did you play with in the playground?
- How was your teacher today?
- What was your favourite part of today?
- What was your least favourite part of the day?
- What do you mean by fine?
Ask at the right time
Don’t get into the habit of asking your child about their day at school as soon as they leave their classroom or on the journey home. This is probably the worst time to ask, as they are least likely to want to answer. Wait until you are eating dinner together later, or even wait until the weekend. Another good time might be when you are going through the contents of your child’s reading folder or school bag, as this can give you an opportunity to discuss anything they bring home.
Be a good listener
Children can choose the most inappropriate times to tell you very important things about school. Stop what you are doing, make time to listen and concentrate on what they are saying. Your child will appreciate this and will be more inclined to tell you things in the future.
Be a good role model
Tell your child about your day, things you have learned, things you have enjoyed and things that haven’t been enjoyable. This provides them with a good role model and will encourage them to talk to you about their experiences. You might like to tell them about how things were when you were at school and to ask them if things are the same at their school.
‘Fine’ is fine – sometimes
Don’t expect your child to want to talk about school every day. Be more realistic and let them have days when they don’t have to tell you anything. You can find out about how your child is getting on by talking to other parents whose children may have told them things you didn’t know about. You may also find that if your child has a friend home to play after school, they tell you a lot more than when they are alone with you.
And remember, if you really want to find out how your child is getting on at school, talk to their teacher – not only at parents’ evenings, but also throughout the year.
Starting school is a major new experience for any child. They are introduced to a new place, new people and new challenges – a lot to cope with when you’re just four or five years old. The good news is there’s lots you can do to prepare them in the run up to their first day.
Before the holidays
Before the holidays begin, take the opportunity to do things that you won’t be able to do once the holidays are under way:
Visit the school
This might be on an organised open day or an informal visit. Either way, it’s a great opportunity for your child to see what school is like and what goes on there. Visit their classroom and teacher, take a look at the toilets, explain where your child will have lunch, where they will hang their coat and where you will pick them up. It is often the practicalities that concern children most – so the more they know about them, the better.
Do a pick-up
If you have a friend whose child already attends the school, arrange to collect them from school one day, so your child experiences the end of a school day.
Take a walk
Take your child for a walk past the school during the school day so they can hear the sounds from the playground and see the building and grounds.
During the holidays
- Keep talking to your child about school and how exciting it’s going to be. Tell them about your first day at school and how much you enjoyed it. Show them photos of you in your school uniform.
- Discuss what might be happening at school at different times of the day. Encourage them to talk about what they think school will be like, and any concerns they might have.
Play games and practise basic skills
- Encourage your child to play with other children of the same age so that they can develop their social skills.
- Play schools! Role-play gives you a great opportunity to familiarise your child with the daily routines (the register, lining up, sitting on the mat, crossing legs) and to introduce lots of new and unfamiliar school vocabulary (packed lunch, break, playtime, dinner lady, teacher, head teacher, deputy, assembly, coat peg, PE).
- Play games that involve taking turns and listening to others, like ‘I-spy’ and ‘What animal am I?’
- Involve your child in choosing their new uniform, lunchbox and school bag. Allow them to dress up and practise getting their clothes, shoes and PE kit on and off.
- Put your child’s name on items that belong to them around the house. This helps them to recognise their own name.
- Familiarise your child with letters and numbers. Encourage them to point them out on signs and buildings whenever you are out and about. This will boost their confidence and give them a sense of achievement.
- Paint, draw and do art and craft activities with your child, so they become used to sitting down and concentrating for short periods of time.
Reading books together about the first day at school is a great way to prepare your child. Discuss the characters and stories and point out the words as you read.
- Starting School by Janet Ahlberg and Allan Ahlberg
- Topsy and Tim: Start School by Jean Adamson
- I am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola) by Lauren Child
- Where's My Peg?: My First Day at School (New Experiences) by Jen Green
- Going to School (Usborne First Experiences) by Anna Civardi and Stephen Cartwright.
Whatever you do, enjoy preparing your child for the transition to school. If you do, they will too.
When you approach your child’s teacher, always be calm, polite and confident and communicate your concerns clearly and concisely. Always speak in a respectful way and try not to become emotional, as this can make you appear to be aggressive and will not help in establishing a good relationship with your child’s teacher. Listen carefully to the teacher’s response. If they are unable to talk to you immediately, accept this graciously and arrange another time that is convenient for you both.
Don’t let problems build up. Keep up regular communication with your child’s teacher throughout each term. That way you won’t get to the end of the school year and find there are issues in your child’s report that you were unaware of, which could have been avoided if you had known about them earlier.
Don’t let problems build up. Keep up regular communication with your child’s teacher throughout each term. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of the school year and finding there are issues in your child’s report that you were unaware of and that they could have been avoided, if you had known about them earlier.
Summer-born children can be up to a year younger than some of their classmates and so may struggle both academically and socially. This can lead to poor self-esteem and associated behavioural problems.
Research has shown that summer-born children don’t perform as well as autumn-born children, and that they are more likely to have special educational needs (read our FAQ on this topic to find out more). The good thing is these differences become less marked as children get older, but they can still be significant in secondary school, with children born in August being less likely to get A* to C GCSE grades.
So if your child is summer born, what can you do to help?
Make sure that your child’s teacher is aware that your child is summer-born. Although they will have access to your child’s date of birth, the fact your child is young for their year group may not have fully registered. Once they are aware, they can then have realistic expectations about what your child is going to achieve academically and socially in that year. This can help with your child’s self-esteem, as they won’t constantly feel they are underachieving compared with others in the class.
Ask about differentiation, personalisation and extra support
Ask your child’s teacher about how they are differentiating the curriculum to cater for your child’s needs. What is their approach to personalised learning? This is something that all schools are working towards and is where every child learns at a pace that suits them, whatever their age and ability. It is considered to be essential in helping children to achieve the best possible progress and outcomes.
Ask if there is any extra support available to help your child. A short group session each day, working on key skills with a teaching assistant, may be all your child needs to boost their self-esteem and give them the confidence to work independently in class.
Ask what you can do at home to help and support your child. Work in partnership with your child’s teacher to make sure your child is happy and successful at school.
Talk to your child
Being behind educationally can damage your child’s confidence. Remind them that they are a year younger than some of their classmates and actually they should be comparing themselves with children in the lower school year. Then they will see that in fact they are doing well and should be proud of their achievements.
What is meant by 'gifted and talented'?
'Gifted and talented' children are those who are able to develop to a level significantly ahead of others in their school year group (or they have the potential to develop those abilities). ‘Gifted' children are those who have abilities in one or more academic subjects, like English, maths or science, while ‘talented’ children are those who have practical skills in areas like art, music, sport or creative and performing arts.
What should I do if I think my child is gifted or talented?
If you think your child falls into one of the categories above, go and talk to your child’s class teacher. Ask them about the things that are in place within the school to help your child to achieve their full potential. How do they differentiate classroom activities? Do they provide greater challenges in lessons? Are there any school clubs or activities that would help your child to develop their gifts or talents?
Speak to the school’s lead teacher for gifted and talented education, or to the head teacher, about the school’s policy on gifted and talented children and if there are any school-, local authority- or government-based programmes in place that can support your child. These can change year to year so it’s worth asking about these on a regular basis.
Find out about clubs and activities that will support your child’s gift or talent, locally and further afield. You’ll find that there are numerous websites that can help with ideas, and offer advice, support and guidance.
What are special educational needs?
A child is considered to have special educational needs (SEN) if they have learning, physical or behavioural difficulties that make it harder for them to learn or access education than other children of the same age. They may need extra or different help from that given to others in their class, for a short time or throughout their education.
What should I do if I think my child has special educational needs (SEN)?
Firstly, speak to your child’s class teacher to discuss your concerns and then to the school’s SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator). They are responsible for coordinating help for children with special educational needs in your child’s school and are knowledgeable about a range of special needs and the support available. You may also want to talk to the head teacher.
If you find that you and your child’s school do not agree about your child’s difficulties, you can contact the SEN section at your local authority and ask for your child to be assessed.
With younger children, homework gives parents the chance to get actively involved in their child’s learning and it gives the child a chance to talk about their learning and to practise basic skills.
As children grow older, homework is an opportunity for them to develop the skills of independent learning, so that by the time they are in Year 6 and ready to move to high school, they have developed a good ‘homework habit’.
These are the Department for Education guidelines on the amount and type of homework that children should get:
At primary school
Amount of homework
Type of homework
|Year 1 and 2 (age 5-7)||1 hour a week||Reading, spelling, other literacy work and number work|
|Year 3 and 4 (age 7-9)||1.5 hours a week||Literacy and numeracy work, and occasional assignments in other subjects|
|Year 5 and 6 (age 9-11)||30 minutes a day||Regular weekly schedule with continued emphasis on literacy and numeracy but also ranging widely over the curriculum|
At secondary school
Amount of homework
|Year 7 and 8 (age 11-13)||45 to 90 minutes a day|
|Year 9 (age 13-14)||1.5 hours a day|
|Year 10 and 11 (age 14-16)||1.5 to 2.5 hours a day|
Supporting your school
Money raised by the Parent Teacher Association benefits the children at the school by providing them with resources, equipment and experiences – things that the school might not otherwise be able to afford. Recent figures show that PTAs in primary and secondary schools raise over £65 million each year, proving they make a real difference. But it’s not all about money; there are lots of other advantages to joining the PTA.
Make a difference
Raising funds for your school is worthwhile and rewarding. With just a few events each year, the PTA can really make a difference by providing extra computers, books for the library and exciting playground equipment. And, of course, your child is going to benefit from all of those things while they are at the school.
Help your child to achieve
The more involvement you have with your child’s education, the better. Research has shown that when parents become involved in their child’s learning, at home and school, it has a positive effect on their achievement. So, join the PTA and you are helping your child to achieve their full potential.
Become a role model
When your child sees that you’re involved in their school, it shows them how important you think their education is. In turn, they see you as a good role model, undertaking voluntary work and helping the community. All of this helps them to become good citizens in the future.
Find out more about your child’s school
Being involved with the PTA means you’ll find out more about how the school is run and you’ll get to know about focuses for improvement and future plans. It really gives you a chance to keep in touch with what’s going on, and you’ll be one of the first to know about decisions made by the head teacher.
Get experience, develop skills and gain confidence
If you’ve had a break from work to bring up your children, the PTA can be a great way of getting back into an environment that needs similar skills to the world of work. You can gain experience and knowledge about health and safety, insurance, licences and risk assessments, as well as developing organisational and interpersonal skills.
Use your skills
Whether you can make costumes for the Christmas play, bake cakes, manage money or come up with new fundraising ideas, your skills are valuable to your school. The PTA gives you an opportunity to put your skills to good use and they will always be gratefully received.
It really can be great fun helping with fundraising events. Whether it’s having wet sponges thrown at you at the summer fair or calling the numbers at the bingo night, you will enjoy being part of this group of similar-minded people.
What other parents say
If the reasons above aren’t enough to convince you that joining the PTA is a good idea, then perhaps the following will help you to make up your mind:
I had just moved to a new area and was feeling quite lonely. I joined the PTA at my daughter’s school and found a whole new set of friends – and three years later, they’re still some of my best friends.
Kate, mother of a ten-year-old girl
I just didn’t realise that by joining the PTA I would get to know my child’s teacher better – and that has to be a good thing. I also feel much closer to the other staff in the school and understand what they have to do each day. They are all so friendly and I know I can always go to them if my child has a problem or worry.
Anna, mother to seven- and nine-year-old sons
Being a governor at your child’s school can give you a real insight into how the school is run. The role involves supporting the head teacher in managing and improving the school and requires regular attendance at formal meetings. So, if you are genuinely interested in helping the whole school, and are not just concerned with the interests of your own child, you should consider becoming a governor.
What is a governor?
All schools have governors. The number of governors depends on the size of the school, but most governing bodies will include elected parents of children at the school, elected teachers, some more governors selected from the local community and some appointed from the local authority (who may or may not be governors). If your child is at a church school, the governing body will also include some representatives of the church foundation.
The role of the governor is much more formal liaison between home and school. At committee meetings, governors will discuss and act upon issues including:
- staffing the school: numbers of staff, appointments and promotions
- allocating local authority funds
- deciding on the ethos of the school and finding ways to promote it
- monitoring and agreeing school development plans
- drawing up an action plan that must be implemented after an Ofsted inspection.
How to become a governor
There are three main ways to become a school governor:
- Get elected as a parent-governor. The school will let you know when the elections are due; all parents over the age of 18 can stand for election and they all have a vote.
- Get appointed by the local authority. Many ordinary members of the public are appointed because there are not enough councillors to go round all of the schools. Contact your local authority to see if they keep a list of people who wish to be school governors and ask if you can be added to it.
- Get co-opted (selected) by the governing body as, say, a local business person. To qualify for this method of appointment you need to write to the governors explaining your interest. Then, when there is a vacancy, they may contact you. If you are interested in a church school, contact the officials of your local church to see if this is a possibility.
Extract from: How to Help your Child Succeed at School, Dr Dominic Wyse, Pearson Prentice Hall (page 65).
Why should I become a governor?
A rewarding experience
Although becoming a governor is a big commitment (most governors are expected to spend at least six to eight hours a month on duties) it can be an extremely rewarding experience and most governors feel that they’re really making a difference.
Share your skills
You may have skills and experiences that could be very useful to your child’s school. Becoming a governor gives you the opportunity to share them.
I’ve been able to use my writing skills to help the Head prepare reports, financial bids, communications to parents and the local authority. Recently, I’ve become involved with dealing with the local press and have found the whole experience very rewarding.
Jacquie was head of internal communications for a major bank before becoming a governor at her sons’ primary school
Becoming a governor can be a useful experience in your personal career development. There are lots of opportunities for training in areas like finance and law, and courses are funded by the local authority. Many employers value the experience gained from being a governor, so it’s always a good thing to be able to include on your CV.
Helping to raise funds for your child’s school is rewarding for you and can be great fun for your child too, as they get a chance to experience events such as fetes and fairs, school discos, dress down days and variety shows.
Whatever the event, it’s a great way to raise money for extra school resources and equipment, providing your child with the things the school might not otherwise be able to afford.
Most school fundraising events are organised by the Parent Teacher Association. So if you want to get involved, go and talk to someone on your PTA committee. You’ll probably find that there’s a calendar of events already planned that you can get involved with, but if they’re looking for some new ideas, here are some you might like to suggest.
Events for the whole school community
These range from fairs and fetes, barbecues, variety and fashion shows to sponsored events such as family walks. All of these take a lot of organising and need help from parents throughout the school. Class cake sales, although not a big money spinner, can be popular, with many schools organising them once a term and the funds going directly to the class who made the cakes. An event that has become popular recently is the children’s art exhibition. Each child in the school paints or draws a picture, which is then framed and hung in the school hall. On exhibition day, families are invited to attend and purchase the pictures. School cookery books where everyone donates a recipe are popular, as are dress down days, where children don’t have to wear school uniform but make a donation instead.
Events for parents
Some schools run events that are specifically for parents and these can raise large sums of money. A summer or Christmas ball can be a great annual social event, while bingo, quiz and race nights can take place several times a year. School auctions, where parents bid for items and experiences donated by local businesses, or for the skills of other parents, have become very popular annual events in some schools. Another event growing in popularity is the pamper night. This is where local therapists are invited into the school to provide manicures, facials, and aromatherapy sessions, and to sell beauty products. This can be a great social event as well as a fundraiser, as businesses are asked to donate 10-15% of their takings.
If running a marathon, sky-diving or abseiling is more your thing, then getting other parents from the school and businesses in your local community to sponsor you could be a great way to raise funds.
Companies specialising in school fundraising products
Search the internet and you’ll find a whole range of companies that specialise in products that children can design. When parents purchase these, a percentage of the price is then donated to the school. Products range from Christmas cards, mouse mats and mugs to tea towels, bags and calendars. Children love designing them and they make great presents for grandparents.
These catalogues sell a range of products, useful to parents and children, and can be found on the internet. 20% of the purchase price is donated back to your school, so if you can get parents to use these to buy birthday presents throughout the year, this could be a significant fundraiser without too much effort.
Tips for successful fundraising
Whatever the event, fundraising can be more successful if parents are aware of what the money raised is going to be used for, so it is a good idea to communicate that to them before and at the event.
Talk to parents of children in other schools to find out what they do, but be aware – just because it works in their school, it might not be as successful in yours!
Share the profits of your fundraising with a charity. Many charities offer ideas and resources to help with fundraising – again, the event may be more successful if parents are aware that it is for a worthwhile charity as well as for the school.