Visiting schools during the pandemic

This article was last updated on 21 October 2020

When choosing a primary school for your child, it is important to learn as much about the school as possible before making a decision. Of course, the best way to do this is by physically visiting the school and speaking to the staff, but this might be difficult while things remain unpredictable.

However, there are still plenty of ways to ensure you’re making an informed decision, whether you manage to secure a school visit or not. Every school will be managing things differently, so it is important to check with the schools you’re interested in so you can make the most of what they have to offer.

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What can I expect?

In this changing and unpredictable world we’re in, it can be difficult to know what to expect from school visits, or any alternative offering. Remember though that it will depend on the restrictions that are in place where you live, as well as the resources available to the school.

Carla McCoy is the Principal of St Hilda’s Primary School in Manchester - she explains that they plan for physical school visits to go ahead, but ideally these will take place after school hours. Of course, it may be disappointing not to see the school in action, but limiting non-essential visits into school is an important safety measure to consider.

St Hilda’s is also considering using video calls to show parents around, or filming classrooms in action for prospective parents to see on the website.

As things change in the coming months, physical school visits might, for a time, be impossible for some schools to facilitate, and it’s worth considering that not every primary school will have the resources to provide virtual video tours.

Some schools will also limit visits to certain days of the week or times in an evening, so you may not have the freedom of choice you would expect in more normal times. It's crucial to remain flexible and considerate when organising your visit.

Alternatively, call or email the school you are interested in, ask questions, try to organise a chat with their reception staff, visit the website and follow their social media pages – finding out how open, receptive and adaptable a school is may even help you to make your final decision.

As things change in the coming months, physical school visits might, for a time, be impossible for some schools to facilitate, and it’s worth considering that not every primary school will have the resources to provide virtual video tours.

Some schools will also limit visits to certain days of the week or times in an evening, so you may not have the freedom of choice you would expect in more normal times. It's crucial to remain flexible and considerate when organising your visit.

Alternatively, call or email the school you are interested in, ask questions, try to organise a chat with their reception staff, visit the website and follow their social media pages – finding out how open, receptive and adaptable a school is may even help you to make your final decision.

Things to look out for and questions to ask

If you have the time, there are other ways you can decide if a prospective school is the right one for your child.

Plan your route - whether you’re walking, driving, or taking public transport and, if you can, practice the school run to see how it could work into your morning routine.

Use social media to meet parents who have children attending the school - perhaps you could meet parents on a local social media group who’d be willing to talk about their experience at that school before and during the pandemic. Or you could even see if the school or your nursery could put you in touch with other parents.

If you do get the opportunity to visit the school in person, or talk to a teacher over the phone, it’s important to have thought about the questions you’d like to ask, so you can learn as much as possible about whether it’s the right school for your child.

Dave McPartlin, headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School, knows that school visits can be overwhelming for parents. Here are his suggested questions you could ask the staff at any schools you are considering.

  • When was the last Ofsted inspection and how did the school do?
  • How long has the headteacher and other staff been there for and what is their vision for the school?
  • How does the school communicate with parents and involve them in the life of the school?
  • How does the school support more and less able children?
  • What are the lunchtime arrangements?
  • Are there before and after school clubs?
  • How does the school deal with bullying?

While visiting the school, Dave also encourages you to think about the ‘feel’ of the school – whether it seems cared for, if the staff seem happy or content – as this will all help you to make your decision on which schools to apply for.

Know someone who has recently started school or will be beginning next September? Check out the rest of Starting Primary School which has lots of ways to help prepare children for different aspects of school life – both practically and emotionally.

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