Making the most of school open days

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At a glance

How school open days can help when you’re deciding which schools to apply to for your child.

What is a school open day?

During an open day prospective parents and pupils can visit the school during a working day. You’ll be able to visit classrooms, and often pupils will show you round and talk to you about their school.

You’ll probably be invited to hear a talk by the headteacher, the head of admissions or the head of the relevant section of the school ( like the reception class teacher, or head of sixth form).

When are open days held?

Open days usually happen in September and October. They are aimed at families looking for a school place for their child to start the following September.

But it’s a good idea to start looking round schools a year before this. You could go to some primary school open days when your child is three or in Year 5, aged 9-10 for secondary school. Then revisit the schools you’re most interested in, during the autumn in which you need to apply.

How are open days organised?

How schools organise their open days, and how useful they are, varies enormously. Open days for popular and over-subscribed schools are usually extremely busy and your chances to speak to individuals may be limited. Other schools have well-planned programmes with plenty of opportunities to talk to both staff and pupils.

Ten tips for getting the most from an open day

  1. Take your child with you – you need a child’s eye view as well as your own, and they’ll notice things you miss.
  2. Think about whether you find the open day chaotic, friendly, efficient or improvised? The organisation of the day’s events can give many clues to the general running of a school.
  3. Pay attention to the pupils themselves - do they seem happy and motivated? Do they speak positively about their teachers and school-life?– Pupils are the best ambassadors for any school.
  4. Don’t make decisions based on individual teachers – they may have left by the time your child starts school.
  5. Don’t get too bogged down in the details - try to get a ‘feel’ for the school atmosphere. Write down your first impressions.
  6. Feel free to ask questions if you want to, particularly of pupils – what do they think of the teaching – do they enjoy life at the school?
  7. Look at the work on display. Does it represent a broad range of ability? A school should value every child.
  8. Does the school offer extra-curricular activities - such as sports and clubs – so your child can develop their interests? This also shows that the teachers are motivated and enthusiastic.
  9. Find out about the lunch arrangements - are there healthy school meals available and what do they cost? What are the other options, eg packed lunch?
  10. Remember - listen to your instincts.

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