What to look for when picking a school

Picking out a school for your child can seem like a daunting prospect, whether it’s the first school or they’re heading up to secondary school. You want them to have an opportunity to achieve their best, get the grades they need to accomplish their goals, and, of course, settle in and make friends. It can seem like a tough decision and one that you might agonise over but there are some things you can look out for.

While school league tables are often a go to resource for parents searching for a school, head teachers have urged parents to ignore them. The new tests introduced this summer to assess the ‘three R’s’ – reading, writing, and maths – and the higher demands mean that it’s not possible to compare the results to previous years, according to primary heads leader Russell Hobby. This year just 53% of pupils passed the test, compared to the 80% that passed in 2015. While 11,000 schools failed to meet targets, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are failing to prepare children academically, they could simply still be adjusting to what many considered a rushed change in the testing of year 6 pupils.

But if looking at the league tables isn’t the best option what can you do? Here are our 4 tips to choosing a school for your child.

Consider feeder schools

Nurseries and primary schools are often act as ‘feeder schools’ and have links with local primary or secondary schools where pupils often transfer to when they’re ready to go into reception or year 7. These are often the first place to look, as they’ll be able to establish relationships with teachers, get to know the environment, and your child is likely to have friends that are moving to these schools too.

Take a tour

Many schools will be open to you visiting or will have open days for you to attend. This can give you the clearest indication of the teaching style and how your child will fit in. What’s most important to you will vary from parent to parent.

Chat with parents

Talking with other parents is one of the ways to understand how the school cooperates with parents – do they keep you regularly updated on progress or simply send out school reports annually?

Look at extracurricular activities

Of course the academic side of school is important but so too are extracurricular activities and they could help your child settle in. From sports clubs to learning an instrument there’s often lots of opportunities as schools.

Check out School Reviewer

If you want more information on a school in your local area School Reviewer is the place to head.

The best online tools to teach coding to kids

In order to properly prepare for the workforce of the future, today’s technological fuelled world requires the youth of today to train in a different set of skills to previous generations. Traditional subjects such as English, maths, science and more are now being taught alongside lessons such as web development, design and coding. Coding is increasingly becoming a desirable skill and a necessary part of many businesses, yet there is currently a shortage of coders within this fast-growing industry. If your children have the capability to code, nurturing that skill at an early age could pave the way for a long, reliable and rewarding career path in the future. Here are some online tools to teach your kids at home!

Code Avengers

Code Avengers offers a range of free introductory classes to give your children a taster-session building web pages, apps and games. If, after the taster sessions are over, your child wants to learn more then a small payment can open the door to a whole host of other training modules, enabling your child to choose which coding language to specialise in and for which application.

Scratch

Scratch is totally free to use and aimed especially towards children, making it perfect for code-keen youngsters whose parents are on a budget! Scratch uses building blocks to teach coding rather than lines of letters and numbers, making it easy for children to build whatever they desire on this fun, vibrant and easy-to-use website.  

Daisy the Dinosaur

Free to download from the iTunes store, Daisy the Dinosaur is a fun ‘game’ that can be enjoyed on an iPad in the car, on holiday or during quiet moments at home. This fun app uses the character of Daisy to teach children the basics of coding, asking them to enter commands so that the dinosaur can complete small tasks.

Tech Rocket

Designed for children aged 10 to 18, Tech Rocket is an online learning resource for all things technological, offering courses for game design, graphic design (including 3D Printing and Photoshop) as well as coding on Java, C++, Python and iOS. There are plenty of free classes available to begin with, as well as advanced courses available to purchase as part of a subscription.

Does your child currently learn coding at school? Would you like them to learn this skill? Let us know which tools you’ve found helpful in our online forum for parents.

Maths and science results improve in primary and secondary schools

An international benchmark for maths and science has shown that pupils across England have improved results in the last four years. The findings come at a time when there is increasing emphasis on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and maths – and preparing students for job roles in these areas. While the improvements have been well received the top performing countries worldwide is dominated by those in East Asia.

The Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) is conducted every four years and more than 600,000 students across the world took part in the last assessment. Across both primary and secondary pupils, England ranked a respectable 10th for maths, with this year’s pupils hitting a 20-year high in terms of the score given, and placed 15th for science. While the improvements are a positive some have signalled disappointment that the gains haven’t been more pronounced given the changes in school structure, the curriculum and teacher training since the last assessment.

However, it has been noted that changes in the education system can take time to filter through in terms of results, while other argue that changes can even have a detrimental effect. England’s Schools Standard Minister Nick Gibb noted that future TIMSS surveys are expected to reflect even further progress as a more demanding primary maths curriculum began being taught in 2014.

Gibb added, “[The] results show our pupils are more engaged and confident in both subjects compared with some of the top performing countries. Mastering these skills will ensure there is no limit to a pupil’s ambition and will ensure our future workforce has the skills to drive the future productivity and economy for this country.”

Since 2010 the government has taken steps to boost STEM subject and understanding across the country, including encouraging and funding school programmes and events in a bid to inspire pupil uptake.

Top achievers in the international rankings were East Asian countries, with Singapore coming out top in every measure. South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong also scored well across the survey. The enviable scores of these countries raises some interesting questions about the way the subjects are taught. Typically, East Asian countries favour the ‘old-school’ methods, such as reciting times tables, while European countries, including the UK, have tended to move away from this style. Instead, in the UK there has been an increasing focus on number sense – helping pupils to understand numbers and techniques in a way that means they can then be applied to solving different problems.

What do you think about teaching methods in maths and science, is there a better method to help pupils understand the subjects?

 

The rise of the homework-free school

A couple of weeks ago we explored Finland’s laid back and successful approach to education, and it seems that the innovative education system has taken off after it was announced that another primary school has scrapped homework altogether.

Inverlochy Primary School in Fort William, which boasts 193 pupils, has made the move towards a more relaxed education system after a poll with both parents and pupils alike. Instead, the children are being urged to spend the time they would otherwise be doing homework, reading books, magazines and comics. Nearly 80 per cent of pupils, and an overwhelming 62 per cent of parents supported the creative move, with the 10-strong teacher force split with five agreeing and five not. However it was the pupils and parents who won out in the end.

This more liberal move hasn’t been undertaken completely blind however. The school carried out a six-week trial of the system last year, during which the pupils were given no homework to enable them to have more time to play with friends, toys and spend more time with their family.

After the trial was seemingly a success, pupils were then sent home with forms that simply asked their parents whether they thought this new policy should stay or not. Well over half the parents voted in favour, while pupils welcomed the idea, however with the teaching force not overwhelmingly convinced, it has proven to be a controversial talking point but the school has not held back, partly due to the fact it has recently been implemented elsewhere.

This move by the Scottish Highlands’ school is hot on the heels of another Scottish primary school scrapping homework. Last month King’s Road Primary School in Rosyth, Fife, got rid of homework for their pupils, but this did lead to complaints as many parents said they hadn’t been consulted.

The parent-backed move isn’t unsurprising; there has been numerous arguments about the amount of homework young children are bringing home every week. The increasing amount of pressure on children at such a small age has resulted in many parents raising their concerns with schools, arguing that children are becoming more stressed, tired and simply do not have time to “just be kids”. Whether or not the move will prove to be smart when it comes to education is yet to be seen. But with Finland pioneering the move and still cementing itself as a leading force when it comes to literacy and numeracy, the signs certainly point in its favour.

What do you think to the adoption of the no homework policy for primary school children – would you back it at your child’s school?

Should our children be taught about sexual abuse, online grooming and pornography at a younger age?

While it may not be an easy subject to approach, teaching our children about sexual education is certainly a necessary part of their upbringing as they slowly enter adulthood. However, discussing the ‘birds and the bees’ is a very different lesson altogether compared to that of pornography, abuse and other forms of sexual exploitation.  The shadow women and equalities minister have recently said that children should be taught the realities of these difficult subjects at earlier stages, suggesting that relationship education, appropriate for their age, should start as young as five in order to protect them in the future. Do you agree?

This movement was led by Sarah Champion, Rotherham’s Labour MP, after a report entitled ‘Dare2Care’ was launched in the House of Commons last Tuesday. The plan has aims of preparing children, the parents of these children and those that work and interact with them to learn more about how to understand and recognise early warnings that may suggest that a child is subject to, or taking part in, concerning behaviour.

Currently, in the UK, sex and relationship education starts in schools when children reach the age of 11. Sarah Champion urges schools to start to tackle these subjects earlier, suggesting that current procedures are ‘out of touch’ with the realities of the age that children start exploring sex and the ways in which they are doing it. The Dare2Care report found that at least half of the 1,000 children aged 11-16 they surveyed had been exposed to online pornography, while almost all of them (94%) had seen it once they reached the age of 14.

Champion argues that a better statuary education is necessary in order to teach the children the true, fantasy context of porn and without it, the violent and abusive behaviour that is the norm in this media could soon become a reality for the children that watch it as they enter puberty.

As a parent, it is natural to want to protect your children, especially those so young, from being exposed to things of this nature. But as the realities of the online world that we live in becomes more and more apparent, is it safer to discuss subjects such as pornography, online grooming and sexual abuse while in their younger years than it is to avoid it altogether?

What are your thoughts? Let us know in your comments below, or discuss it with other parents in our forum.

Are schools effective at readying pupils for the world of work?

When you’re at school it seems like the end goal is to obtain the best results you can but once you leave you appreciate their role in readying you for the workplace. Recently, there’s been a growing emphasis on schools providing pupils with the soft skills they need when they become adults, however, a survey indicates that many school leavers lack essential skills.

According to business group Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, 80% of those leaving school lack essential business skills, such as numeracy. The organisation noted that many financial professionals feel as though young people entering the workforce today require significant training before they can begin working. It’s a sentiment that has been echoed by other business leaders in the past. Even if your child chooses to go on and study after compulsory education it can still be a challenge for them to develop the skills that could make all the difference when they’re older and searching for an entry level job.

Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to help your child improve their soft skills while they’re still at school to help them get ahead in the future.

  • Boost their confidence – In any industry confidence is a bonus that will help your child get noticed during the application process and thrive once they’ve secured a position. The best way to give their confidence a boost will depend on the child and their personality, it can be as simple as asking them for their views during family conversations or getting them to join a new group.
  • Create opportunities to socialise – Both written and verbal communication skills are important in the world of work. By creating opportunities to socialise with a wide range of people, your child will become more comfortable communicating and building relationships.
  • Teach independence – Teaching independence can be tricky but it can be best to take small steps and gradually build up as they get older. Independence can lead to better problem solving skills and improved confidence too, both of which are always valued in the job market.
  • Encourage work experience – As they get older encouraging your child to undertake some voluntary work experience can open up a lot of future doors, demonstrating that they can take the initiative and operate in a working environment. If you can find something that they’re passionate about and interested in then that’s an added bonus.

 

Should school league tables be about more than results?

Checking the school league tables when your son or daughter is moving up to secondary school or swapping primary school has become an important step for many parents. While the academic results a school achieves is a factor that many consider when applying, should the league tables focus on more than just exams and grades?

At the moment school league tables have plenty of information on exam results, such as the number of key stage 2 pupils that have achieved a level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths or the number of students receiving more than 5 GCSEs graded a C or above. Through the tables parents can also see how much progress pupils have made, which can be an indicator for how well your child would develop if they attended. However, the current system has been criticised.

Sir Anthony Seldon, a university head and former head teacher of an independent school, argues that well-being and happiness should be the top priority when selecting a school. He called for well-being to be reflected in school league tables in order to make comparisons, stating that schools were not being encouraged enough to tackle “avoidable suffering”.

Seldon made the comments during World Mental Health Day adding, “As long as the only metric on which schools are being assessed is their exam performance, our schools will never have the incentive to take wellbeing as seriously as they should.”

The mental health of children and young people has been a growing concern, with recent figures showing a quarter of a million children are receiving help from the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Other pieces of research have shown that more young people are feeling under pressure and unhappy, when compared to previous decades.

While of course academic results are important, a parents’ main question will typically be “will my child be happy here?”. Looking at the what the school can offer on a wider basis, such as sports to take part in or music lessons, can be just as important. If you’re looking a new school for your child but want to take more than academic results into consideration, there are some steps you can take:

  • Visit the school – There’s no better way to get a feel for a school than to actually visit it. Many schools hold open days and will be more than happy to accommodate you should want to take a look around.
  • Speak to parents – If you can find parents whose children already attend the school your considering it’s a great way to understand how the school is run, how happy the children are and anything else you’re interested in.
  • Check out School Reviewer – You can have a look at reviews for schools in your area via School Reviewer. You’ll be able to see what parents think and discuss any concerns you have.

12 hilariously excellent answers to test questions

When it comes to exams, both parents and kids alike feel the stress. Hours spent revising, practising answers to questions and hundreds of sticky notes dotted around the house are all common. However sometimes, no matter how much revising and preparation our children do, there are some questions they will never know the answer to. And for some children, that provides them with a fabulous opportunity to let their creative juices flow. Here are just some of the best answers to questions we’ve come across.

Where was the American Declaration of Independence signed?

At the bottom. Well technically he is correct!

What do you think is the best solution to overpopulation? Support your argument with examples.

The Hunger Games. We’re sure Katniss Everdeen would disagree.

There are 300 students in Year 10. Mary and Mark want to find out Year 10’s favourite colour.

Mary asks 30 people.

Mark asks 150 people.

Mark says ‘My conclusions are more likely to be reliable than Mary’s.’

Why does Mark think he’s right

Because Mark is a man. That’s one way of looking at it.

Write two hundred thousand in figures.

Two hundred thousand in figures. Intelligent.

Give a brief explanation of the meaning of the term ‘hard water’.

Ice. Almost there.

The first cells were probably…?

Lonely. They probably were, yes.

Why are there rings on Saturn?

Because God liked it so he put a ring on it. Hands up if you’re now singing along!

If you threw a red stone into a Blue Sea, what will it become?

Simply, a wet stone. That’s what we were thinking too.

To change centimetres to metres, you…?

Take out ‘centi’. A+ for creativity.

Imagine that you lived at the same time as Abraham Lincoln. What would you say to him or ask him?

I’d tell him not to go to a play ever. We’d all do the same, kid.

Write an example of risk.

This. We hope he got full marks for this one.

What is the strongest force on earth?

Love. AHH!

We’re sure you’ll agree, the above show imagination, creativity and a sense of cockiness too – none of which are bad traits per se.

Have you come across any funny answers to academic questions? Which is your favourite? Let us know!

Should Latin be taught in state primary schools?

This month, Professor Dennis Hayes caused a divide within the educational community when he suggested that all state primary schools should teach the subject of Latin, and classics, as part of their curriculum. This comment comes as the government proposes that independent schools join forces with state schools, supporting them in giving disadvantaged children access to similar subjects, more commonly associated with fee paying educational institutions. The statement from Professor Dennis Hayes, expert from the University of Derby and Chair of the College of Education Research Committee, rejected this move, claiming that state schools should be able to offer these subjects of their own accord.

The case for classics

While it isn’t a compulsory part of every curriculum, Latin as a subject is not totally absent from all state schools, and it is reported to have recently made a surprising come back amongst many secondary state schools across the country. In a statement that was given to the Independent, Professor Dennis Hayes said that it would “transform education” if more state schools would offer Latin and Classics subjects, noting it was in danger of becoming the “preserve of public schools”.  But why?

While the actual language of Latin is no longer spoken, enabling a child to learn such a complex new set of linguistic capabilities could bring with it a wide range of other transferable skills. For example, Latin places high value on correct grammar so by learning it, students could develop a deeper understanding of written rules and formats that can be applied elsewhere to their English studies. What’s more, it is suggested that children who learn a second language can also develop advanced cognitive capabilities, further assisting them throughout their educational career.

Could this be achieved in other ways?

However, the case against bringing back Latin and Classics argues that learning this subject does not benefit the future of the children. With the, highly competitive, workplace of the future favouring solid practical abilities or deep technical understanding, the lack of tangible skills taught when learning this extinct language, to some, mark this subject as unnecessary.

The integration of Latin and classics into state schools could be supported if the green paper from the government is successful, requiring independent schools to share staff and facilities with their neighbouring institutions, meaning that professors trained in the minority subjects could share their knowledge with the state school students.

What are your thoughts – is Latin a dying subject or is it the basis of a great education? Share your opinions with other parents across the country in our online forum.

Kids have just gone back to school, but it’s never too early to prepare for exams!

Throughout September children across the country have been trading in their toys and games for books and calculators as they return back to school after a long summer away from education. These first few weeks of term time can be fairly relaxed, with children getting used to their new classmates and teachers, coming to terms with their different subjects and catching up with old friends. Although the looming SATs or GCSE exams may seem like a long way away, it is never too early to prepare for these very important tests that could dictate your children’s educational future.

That being said, we are not suggesting that your child should stick to a strict study schedule just yet! However, as they are settling in to a new routine at school, now is a great time to also start great studying habits that can set them up for every success in the future, preparing them well for their upcoming assessments.

The stressful exam period can be a lot easier for your child if they feel calm, relaxed and in control. They will feel this way if they totally understand the format of the papers, and if they have a solid understanding of the subject that they are being tested on.

Using past papers from previous exams is a great way to prepare your children. With this knowledge, you could start to test the particular subjects and questions that will be asked in these papers as part of your child’s normal homework routine. This way, they will gradually develop a strong understanding of these topics and will feel confident when it comes to the big day!

As the exam date draws closer, carrying our practice tests using the past papers can help your child to become familiar with the format of the exam, learning how to apply the knowledge that they have built up over the year in order to form the highest marking answers.

At School Reviewer, we care about supporting the education of your child. We have created a dedicated area of our website that offers video tutorials and walkthroughs for Maths GCSE, SATs and the soon to be launched 11+ examination papers. Every video is led by a teacher with experience in both marking and setting these exams, offering simple and easy to understand solutions to help your child pass successfully. While school may have just begun again, give your child a flying start to help them through their educational journey with School Reviewer!