I decided to write this post, School Applications – School Visits, because this has been a major concern over the six months leading up to April 2016. We have been going through the pain of primary school applications  and school visits, because it’s time to  choose a primary school for Fidget. And I don’t use the word ‘pain’ lightly. As I write this (16th April 2016) we are about 48 hours away from what is known as “National Offer Day;” therefore, 48 hours from finding out which school is lucky enough to get our little lady. Mum and dad are anxious. The tension is palpable. Fidget, I’m afraid, is definitely going to be let down; she had one school in mind: Hogwarts. We will deal with that little disappointment at a later date.

Anyway, back to reality. We have applied to six local primary schools; all of which – luckily enough – are considered by Ofsted to be good or outstanding. None of which, unluckily for Fidget, are led by the estimable Professor Dumbledore. Sorry Fidget! Anyway, we made a point of taking time away from work and visited all six. However, in a couple of instances the tours turned out to be a waste of our time. I would use the word ‘pointless’ when describing the visits to two of the schools had it not been for the fact that it gave us a first-hand view of their listless approach thereby cementing their position as fifth and sixth choice out of a possible six schools we could apply to. So in that respect, and from the perspective of my glass being half full, they were worth the visit.

But before I get into why they were so bad, let’s give this discourse a little further perspective: four of the schools visited were great, their tours well planned and instructive. The hosts were organised, understanding and helpful. It was the simple things they did well: they welcomed us into their schools; they waited until everyone was present, then patiently led a gaggle of eager parents through their schools with good-natured chit-chat and useful information which put parents at ease about the schools and the application process in general; they answered questions in plain English without using too much ‘edu-speak’ or deflecting from the questions asked. We came away from these schools feeling that all was good in the world; our child’s education was in good hands.

Two of the schools, however, gave us pause for thought. Their approach was slapdash, indifferent even. Whether they realised it or not, they gave me the feeling that we parents were just in the way; that they were too busy to bother. Both tours were rushed, with both presenters providing vague throwaway answers to questions from parents whose only concern was their children’s future education. Their presentation skills were negligible, their value added insignificant. A waste of our time. Their apathetic approach belied everything we had heard about the schools. It’s a shame because both schools have good academic reputations and results that other schools would be envious of.

So as far as we are concerned where did they go wrong? Well in my mind, I would suggest that their unenthusiastic approach to their tours was definitely a waste of their time too. Perhaps they were of the mind that because they are good schools they didn’t need to put much effort in; perhaps they thought their academic reputations were enough. However, it seemed like they had no plan for the tours at all. Their approach was to rush us through the school whilst answering questions on the run and answering so that only the parent asking the question could hear, leaving the rest of their audience oblivious to what was being discussed. If you happened to be at the back of the tour you pretty much missed the questions and answers; by the time everyone caught up the presenters had moved on. Parents were jostling each other to try and hear what was being said or to get their questions heard – consequently some questions went unanswered. At best it painted the schools’ organisation in a poor light. At worst it displayed small regard for parents who had taken time out of their busy schedules just to have their time wasted.

Look, none of us are perfect, but having been asked to present on a number of occasions when I thought my time could have been better spent elsewhere, I quickly learned that you have to start from the basis that if you have to do it do it well. It’s the one chance you have to make your point and present yourself, your business, or, as in this instance, your school as you would like it to be seen. It could be the best school in the area, but if they undermine their standing within the local community through poor presentation to members of the local community it’s going to damage their reputation, or at the very least it gives parents cause for concern.

But let’s give both schools the benefit of the doubt for a second: it may just have been a bad day to visit; or perhaps the person leading the tour had the task thrust upon them at the last minute. Who knows? But whatever the reason, those two schools went down in our estimation regardless of their standing. After all, instilling a sense of confidence in parents through your ability to organise something as simple as a tour of the school should be of concern to the headteachers. Both experiences left me feeling that if the senior managers of those schools can’t organise, or worse, can’t be bothered to organise the tour properly, then I really don’t have the confidence that they could organise Fidget’s education.

So where does this leave us humble parents? My advice to parents who find themselves in a situation like this is to ask your questions clearly and expect a full and valid answer. Don’t be fobbed-off with half answers or deflections. All questions about the school and your child’s education at that school are important. It matters not if it is something general, something you may worry others may think trivial, or if it is about the school’s standing in the league tables, or staff attrition rates, or curriculum based, or the hot topic of the moment, the government’s plans to make all schools academies. All questions about the school and your child’s education are relevant, important. No question is too small. And if you can’t hear the answers because the presenter has the presentation skills of a sleep-deprived sloth, ask them to repeat their answers. Don’t be shy. Don’t be rushed. These people – these teachers – have been trained to deliver information – it’s what teachers do for a living! The presenter should understand that visiting parents have taken the time to visit their school because they care about what the school can offer their children. The presentation and tour should be made and conducted with the same level of care and consideration to the visiting parents. We the parents should be able to expect nothing less.