Primary School, A Parent’s Guide, was published by Need2Know Books, on 1 June 2010. The book covers many topics that are often a source of confusion for parents – from how to choose a good school to coping with SATs.
Kim Thomas, author of the book and a freelance journalist specialising, in education, parenting and technology kindly took the time to answer a few questions for us…
1. When researching Primary School, a Parent’s Guide, what did you feel are the topics causing parents most concern at the moment?
Answer: I think parents are hugely anxious about choosing a good school, particularly in cities like London where there is a lot of competition for places in the better schools. Certain schools develop reputations for being good or bad, and they can be difficult to shake off – once a school gets a bad reputation and parents who care about education stop sending their children there, the school becomes subject to a vicious circle.
Similarly, the more people fight to get their child to get into a “good” school, the more its reputation improves. The complexity of admissions rules means that no-one is guaranteed a place at their local school, so you see parents doing things like temporarily renting houses next to the school or starting to attend church, even if they last went 20 years ago. I’d always advise parents to visit schools before making a choice – word-of-mouth isn’t always reliable.
I think once children are in school, there is still a lot to worry about – whether your child is being bullied, whether they’ve made friends, whether they’re progressing quickly enough…I’m a parent myself and very prone to worrying, but a lot of it is unnecessary. There’s an awful lot of target-setting and box-ticking in schools these days, but children develop at very different paces, so it doesn’t have to be a concern that your five-your old hasn’t shown an interest in reading yet. It may be that they’re just not ready.
2. What advice would you give parents whose children are currently struggling to keep up at school?
The first thing I would always suggest is to go and talk to the teacher. The teacher should be able to take your child’s problems into account and provide some extra help, perhaps from a teaching assistant. I’d also advise talking to your child to see if they have any particular anxieties that are making it hard for them to concentrate. Finally, I’d offer as much support as possible at home – read books together, do mental maths over the breakfast table and help with homework (while avoiding the temptation to do it yourself!)
3. How can parents help to prepare their child for their first day at primary school?
Try to make sure your child has got the basic skills they’ll need, like being able to get dressed and undressed for PE, going to the toilet by themselves, or holding a knife and fork if they’re having school dinners. If you know any other families whose children will be starting in the same school at the same time, invite them over for a play-date – it helps a lot to see a familiar face on the first day.
There are also some lovely books you can read with your child to help them understand what school is about – my favourite is Starting School by Alan and Janet Ahlberg.
4. If a child’s school receives a bad Ofsted report should parents worry?
This is a really hard one. I regard Ofsted reports as a good rough guide, but you need to take them with a pinch of salt. An Ofsted inspector will only spend a day or two in a school, and to make their judgement they rely partly on schools’ own assessment of how well they’re doing – some schools are very adept at presenting themselves in a good light. A few schools also do sneaky things like making sure the badly-behaved children are on a school trip the day the inspector arrives – though this is getting harder since the advent of short-notice inspections.
I’d read the report carefully, to look at the particular points the inspection has raised. Are there concerns about discipline, for example, and has it specifically said that the quality of teaching is poor? Those would both be cause for concern. Having said that, if your child is happy at the school and you didn’t have any concerns before the inspection, then you probably shouldn’t worry too much. In fact, there is even an advantage to having a poor Ofsted, which is that schools must immediately start working to improve the areas where a weakness has been identified.
5. If a parent has a child with special needs, what advice would you give them to ensure their child receives the support they need at primary school?
Any parent who has a child with special needs has my sympathy – getting the support you need can be very difficult, and provision varies wildly from area to area.
It’s a good idea to get a Statement of Special Educational Needs, which means that your child’s needs are recognized and your child will be given extra support in school. Obtaining a statement can be a long and laborious process, however. You will need to obtain a statutory assessment from your local authority, but it can take up to six weeks for the local authority to let you know whether they will carry out the assessment, and even if they agree, it can take several more weeks for them to carry out the assessment. If you succeed in getting a statement, then you can ask that the statement names a specific school that your child needs to attend – some schools have resources dedicated to catering for particular special needs. If you don’t succeed in getting a statement, then you still need to make sure, when you are choosing a school, that you ask schools what provision they make for children with special needs. Getting your child into a school with appropriate provision is the most important thing you can do, even if it means moving house.
It’s worth reading another book from Need2Know, called Special Educational Needs – A Parent’s Guide, which has plenty of advice and guidance for parents in this situation. Click here for more details.