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.

Fun activities to make Christmas Eve magical

Christmas has a habit of creeping up on us and while at the start of December it seems like an age away, we soon find ourselves frantically fighting through the hordes of shoppers on the highstreets to grab those last minute Christmas gifts with no time to spare at all!

However, after all the hustle and bustle of the run up to the big day, Christmas Eve causes the nation to slow down in preparation for Santa’s arrival! And for your children, the anticipation and excitement this brings is truly magical. Before you grab the mulled wine and finish wrapping those gifts, here are some fun activities to make the night before Christmas a memorable event for your little ones…

Create a magic key

Modern day living situations don’t necessarily tie in with Christmas traditions, and many children can be left wondering how Santa Claus will drop off their presents when there is no chimney for him to jump down! The solution? We leave him a magic key!

Find a large, oversized key in a fancy dress or prop shop, or make one with your children, covering it in gold paint and magical glitter dust. Just before bed, let you children place the magic key somewhere where Santa will find it, ready for the all-important delivery that night.

Track Santa

Christmas Eve is exciting for kids, not knowing when Santa Claus will be descending upon their home. Head to the Google Santa Tracker website to keep an eye on where Santa and his reindeers are in the world – when you see he is close to your house, why not urge your children to go to bed so that he doesn’t spot them? Even before Christmas Eve, this website is packed full of games and learning activities to whittle away the lazy days before Christmas.

Receive a visit from Santa’s little helper

If your child has been good this year, Santa’s little helper could come with a small gift on Christmas Eve! This could be in the form of a mystical fairy, or perhaps a friendly elf – leave a note and a small present such as pyjamas or a book for them to find when heading to bed, sending them to sleep dreaming of magic.

Leave a treat for Santa

Christmas Eve is hard work for Santa Claus, so he would certainly appreciate a treat for him and his reindeer when he visits your home! Help you children lay out a treat such as a mince pie and a glass of something tasty, not forgetting a carrot for Rudolph and watch their faces light up the next morning when they see the crumbs left behind!

Do you have any special traditions on Christmas Eve? Let us know in our comments or in our online forum!

Great New Year’s Resolutions for kids

New Year’s Resolutions are a rite of passage as we glide into a new year, but they are more associated with adults than children. Popular resolutions for adults include getting more exercise, losing a bit of weight, eating healthier, saving money and being more organised, but when thinking about setting children some resolutions the same doesn’t really apply, so they are often not even thought about for younger family members. But did you know that setting resolutions as a family can really help you to bond and stay on track through the tough times? Yes, doing it together can help motivate you when you feel like giving in – and give you extra eyes should you decide to have the extra biscuit when you think no one is watching.

So what are good New Year’s Resolutions for children?

Keep bedrooms tidy

This is the first step when it comes to teaching children responsibility. Picking up after themselves, particularly in their own room, will make them feel grown up and more like an adult. Start by getting them to put their toys away, make their bed and give furniture a polish. Once they’ve mastered this, you can move on to getting them to help around the house a bit.

Do well at school

Every child is different, and their academic studies are no different. Setting kids individual targets, such as ‘get five marks more on the next test’ or ‘learn the 11 times table by March’ will give them something to aim for, and what’s more, once they’ve achieved it, they’ll feel amazing.

Take part in exercise

It’s so important for children to get some physical exercise, but often it falls to the back of the packing order. Set a target for children to do three hours’ exercise a week for instance. You can include PE at school, but make sure they get some added exercise out of school to make sure they understand the importance of fitting it into daily life.

Join a club

This could be part of the above point, but joining clubs outside of school really helps children to develop their social skills, while giving them a new hobby or helping them to learn a new skill. What kind of club entirely depends on your child and their interests, but committing to a weekly event is never a bad thing.

Spend more time together

With such busy lives, quality family time can often slip to the bottom of the pile. Setting a resolution to spend one evening a week together, go out for the day once a month or just sit and talk about your day can really help children develop and strengthen the bond between you all – benefiting every part of your family.

Has your child set any resolutions or have you set any as a family?

Fun things to do with kids over the Christmas break

The Christmas holidays are nothing if not magical. But sometimes, a full two weeks of family gatherings, parties and an overindulgence of food can leave kids feeling agitated and ready for some true kid fun. With that in mind, we’ve jotted down some fun things to do with kids to break up the seemingly never-ending calendar of events.

Get cooking

Most kids love to bake. And although Christmas can take its toll on health and waistlines for us adults, it’s great to get the kids cooking during down times. If you’re worried about them consuming too much sugar and sweets, try alternative takes on traditional recipes, such as sweet potato or avocado brownies and banana ice cream. You can also get them making their own warming soups and broths and introduce them to the wonders of a slow cooker. Get them to choose their ingredients, chop it up (with some help) and throw it in! It’ll be a delicious treat for the whole family.

Make decorations

If your child loves to be busy and the thought of sitting in the house with nothing to do is driving them mad, then why not start the break creatively? Get them to make some festive decorations for the tree, such as pine cone ornaments. Simply pick your cones, dust them with a little white paint, thread through some wire and voila! A simple and effective tree decoration. You can even add a bit of tartan ribbon or a jingling bell to add a more decorative touch! If they’re a little bit older, you can even have a go at making a festive garland out of paper, traditionally-inspired tealight holders and one of a kind wreaths.

Go to the panto

This one requires a bit of planning and a bit more money than the above, but your kids are almost guaranteed to love it. “OH NO THEY WONT!” we hear you cry. But oh yes they will! And it’s not just them who’ll be joining in the fun; teenagers and adults love the panto too so make it a true family affair. There’s generally a panto in each town/city so check your local news website for details!

Try your hand (or foot) at ice-skating

Ice-skating rinks are everywhere during December, and generally run right into the new year, so there’s plenty of time to get those steps perfected. Usually costing no more than £10 per person – and less for children – it’s a great way to inject a bit of exercise into this usually sedentary break.

What will you be doing with your children this Christmas?

Should you tell your child that Santa is real?

Christmas can be a magical time of year for anyone but for children coming down Christmas morning to beautifully wrapped presents placed under a brightly decorated tree can be awe inspiring and enchanting. The story of St Nicholas is certainly one that children adore and families love recreating every year but should you tell your children that Santa is real?

Amid the Christmas lights, mince pies and piles of children’s toys, a psychologist and metal health researcher have urged parents to stop convincing their kids that Farther Christmas is real, claiming that it’s a lie that could be damaging. The argument centres on the trust between children and parents and whether creating the magic of Christmas could affect it and cause the child to question other things they have been told by their parents once they realise it’s a lie.

One of the authors of the piece, Professor Boyle, said, “The morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned. All children will eventually find out they’ve been consistently lied for years, and this might make them wonder what other lies they’ve been told. Whether it’s right to make children believe in Farther Christmas is an interesting question, and it’s also interesting to ask whether lying in this way will affect children in ways that have not been considered.”

The researchers also added that the fantasy might not just for the benefit of children either but used as a way for adults to briefly escape back to their childhood when they believed in Santa themselves. But is that really the case or do parents simply want to inject the lives of their children with a little magic while they’re still young enough to believe?

For many adults, they’ll look back on childhood festivities and fondly remember the joy and excitement they felt during that time and want their child to experience the same. And this Christmas season, families all over the UK will be urging their children to be good to avoid be putting on the ‘naughty list’ and receiving a lump of coal in their stocking rather than a stack of treats.

The magic around Santa certainly doesn’t seem like it’ll be going away any time soon, with most parents stating that children should believe. Do you agree with the professors or other parents? Let us know on the School Reviewer forum.

 

When is your child ready for a mobile phone?

Scents of pine, cinnamon and spice is in the air. Yes, Christmas is just around the corner. Aside from the fantastic family festivities that await, the excitement of present buying (and opening) takes over for children at this time of year. And many children will be hoping Santa leaves a mobile phone under the Christmas tree this year. But when exactly should children be given a mobile phone?

Obviously there is no set answer, with some boasting mobiles as young as eight or nine, while others wait until they hit senior school before they carry around a mobile for the first time.

There’s no denying that mobile phones bring a plethora of benefits when it comes to safety, but they do offer up downsides – such as being incredible distractions, while of course increasing the chances of theft. So how do you know when is the right time to light up your child’s life with a mobile phone?

When they can take responsibility for their actions

No child is perfect; making mistakes is all part of growing up. We don’t expect children to be well behaved 100 percent of the time, but taking responsibility for their actions – no matter how big – is all a part of growing up and will help to shape them into well-behaved adolescents.

When they follow rules

Rules are there for a reason, and not to be broken like sometimes kids seem to think. Another important part of being an adult is being able to follow rules – no matter how small.

When they help with chores

Chores are an important part of growing up. Whether you are a full time working parent or a stay at home one, getting kids to give you a helping hand is great for you and them. Get them to hoover up communal areas, wipe down side in the kitchen, peg out the washing or keep their rooms tidy.

When they know the value of items

Nothing is free in this life – especially mobile phones. But sometimes children seem to forget that things cost money. Getting them to know and understand the value of items, whether it be a 50p chocolate bar, a £4 magazine or a £400 phone is the first step to making sure they understand that things cost money. Why not merge this with chores and get them to earn money for doing additional jobs?

When they know when to use it and when to not

We all get excited about getting something new, meaning we often spend a lot of time playing with a new gadget when we first get it. Obviously this is even more exciting for children, but once the initial novelty has worn off, make sure they know when is appropriate to use a mobile and when it’s not.

Has your child got a mobile phone – when did you decide it was a good idea to let them have one?

How to encourage a love of reading in children

Stories in the media about children’s declining literacy skills and lack of time to read are all too frequent, especially when studies have suggested that reading for pleasure has strong educational outcomes as well as helping children to develop emotionally.

Fortunately, a government-funded project found that it can be simple to inspire a love of reading in primary school children. Chatterbooks, the UK’s largest network of children’s reading groups, found that children became more confident about their reading skills and positive about books after being encouraged to read for pleasure. The Department of Education funded project encouraged year three pupils at the 200 participating schools to sign up to their local library, it resulted in a 22% increase in the number of children who said they read daily and club leaders indicated that more children were reading of their own initiative after finding a passion for books and literacy that held their interest.

While some children are naturally drawn to books, others are reluctant readers. Help your little one find a love for reading by trying out these tips:

  • Create a relaxed atmosphere – If a child struggles to read and feels under pressure they won’t enjoy reading anything. Try creating a relaxed atmosphere where they can simply escape into a story without worrying about whether they’re getting all of the words right.
  • Set a time for reading – Even if it’s just 15 minutes after dinner or before bed, having a dedicated reading time creates a routine and means book are hastily squeezed in between other activities and busy family life.
  • Read to them – For some children they find the books they are able to read just aren’t interesting enough to capture their attention. Try reading books that are more exciting but they couldn’t quite read on their own to them or borrow some audio books from the library so they can follow along.
  • Set them a challenge – If your child dislikes reading books it might just be that they haven’t found the right genre to hold their interest. Try setting them a challenge to get them to read a broad spectrum and tick off books on the list as they go.
  • Let them pick – The book your child may find the most interesting may not be your top choice but let them pick out what they read, whether it’s a comic or a non-fiction book. If they enjoy the subject they’re more likely to keep going back to it on their own.
  • Chat about books – When they’re reading ask them about the story and what it is they’re really enjoying. Not only does it help them understand the story better but it means you can get a good idea of what to look for to capture their imagination in the future.
  • Use technology – Kids tend to love technology and gadgets and they can help with reading too. From e-readers to smartphone apps there are lots of technology options that can help develop reading skills and offer something a bit different to traditional books.

Worried about social media’s influence on your child?

It’s fair to say that social media has revolutionised daily life. Now more than ever we are influenced by what we see and hear on screens from peers. And none more so than children. The younger are at an increased risk of being influenced from what they see on social media platforms more than anyone else, so it’s not surprising that according to a study by Dr Judith Ramsay from Manchester Metropolitan University and Dr Melody Terras and Fozia Yousaf from the University of the West of Scotland, two thirds of parents fear social media is bad for their child. And in this modern world, it can be very difficult to stop children using social media thanks to the abundance of mobile devices fully-equipped to run the apps.

With that in mind, and taking into consideration parents’ feelings and concerns, we have crated the ‘Parents’ Guide to Social Media’. Available to download on our website, it is a free reference tool to help you to understand social media a little more clearly, as well as the risks associated with each one.

Parents are concerned with their children’s safety when it comes to social media. The most common fears are around grooming, bullying, being exposed to inappropriate content and concerns around their privacy, screen addiction and harming their long-term prospects. And as many children who use these platforms are underage, these concerns are rightly founded. Due to peer pressure and fear of missing out, more children than ever before are lying about their ages in order to get access to social media accounts. In fact, the NSPCC says that one in five eight-to-11-year-olds has a social media profile – even though the age limit is 13 on many.

So how can the guide help you?

Essentially, the guide is designed to give you an overview of each social media profile and offer you cohesive and useable tips for keeping your children safe online. Covering the main social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Tumblr, the guide gives handy screengrabs of each profile to help you get a feel for it (if you’re not a user) and splits into sections what the particular platform is used for, what the dangers are and how you can help to protect your children with handy hints.

All of this may seem very gloomy, but social media has brought many benefits – even for children. It helps them to keep in touch with family and friends who may live far away, allows memories to be shared and gives them a sense of freedom. So even though it may make for tough reading and may seem scary at first glance, our guide will help to ensure your children can enjoy all the positives of social media and put your mind at rest.

Do you have any tips for parents regarding social media?

5 Books You and Your Ten-Year-Old Will Love

Reading is a vital skill that everyone needs and a recent study highlighted the positive impact it can have later on in life. One of the easiest ways to get your child reading is by sharing the experience. This can be done through reading the book together or simply discussing the plot points. Either way the book has to be engaging for children, this short list features five books that will not only build your child’s reading skills, they will also bring you closer together.

Holes – Louis Sachar

This book won several prizes and was made into a fantastic film starring Shia LaBeouf. Centred on the notorious Camp Green Lake, a boy’s detention centre where hero Stanley Yelnats is sent after a misunderstanding over some stolen shoes. Expect lots of mystery but also plenty of laughs throughout this search for the truth. This book is masterfully written and will help build children’s comprehension skills, whilst keeping them in a suspense filled grip.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

A historical thriller that is thrilling. Set in Nazi Germany it revolves around the character Liesel. She teaches herself to read and sets about stealing banned books before sharing them with a Jewish man hiding in her basement. The vocabulary can be a little tricky so you may have to help your child through this a little but the incredible imagery will keep them reading.

Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling

It could hardly be a list of books for this age bracket without including the infamous Harry Potter series. We all know the story of the boy wizard who lived but nothing compares to seeing your child engage with this story for the first time. The best thing about this series is how it develops with your child, as they become a more confident capable reader the language used will reflect this.

Artemis Fowl Series – Eoin Colfer

The Artemis Fowl series is an exciting sci-fi adventure filled with magic. Centred on the millionaire genius thief Artemis, the first book explores what happens when he captures a fairy. But this is like no other fairy tale, these fairies are dangerous creatures. As the series progresses the characters develop and the books become even more thrilling. It is packed with twists and turns, that you simply have to discuss.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis

Proving classics still make fantastic bonding experiences, this book cannot be understated. A fantastic fantasy tale set in the bewitched land of Narnia. Focusing on four siblings it is a story of friendship and family. Set in World War Two it also gives some historical insight too. This a fantastic book to read together because some of the language can be a little tricky for young readers.
Will you be reading any of these with your child? Do you already have a favourite book or series? Share your thoughts in the comments and on our social media pages.

What Happens When an Exam is Disrupted?

Up and down the country teenagers are spending hours revising as exams bear down. But, what happens if the test is interrupted by something beyond the school’s control? This is exactly the situation many pupils have found themselves in after a high number of bomb threats were called into schools throughout the UK. Obviously a bomb threat is very serious but what about a fire alarm, illness or even construction noise? All of these can disrupt an exam so what happens in these circumstances?

Guidance

There is a clear set of procedures explaining how examinations should be conducted. This has been created by the Joint Council for Qualifications which represents the seven largest exam boards in the UK. As well as explaining the conditions needed for an examination, it also provides guidance on what to do if an exam is interrupted.

In The Exam Room

Invigilators are responsible for conducting an exam and have to react to any interruptions to the exam. If there is a fire alarm or bomb scare they have to tell candidates to stop writing and take a register of attendance before evacuating the room. All tests must be left in the examination room and pupils must exit in silence. When at a fire assembly point invigilators must continue to monitor the candidates and ensure they do not talk about the test. The amount of time taken for the disruption is noted and pupils are given that time back when the exam resumes to ensure they receive the full amount intended.
If a child is ill and disturbing the exam through vomiting or other symptoms, then the invigilators have a few options. They could isolate the candidate and allow them to continue away from others. Alternatively, they may simply allow the candidate to continue and notify the exam board.

Results

Any disruption to an examination has to be reported back to the board responsible. Schools and invigilators document the interruptions but exam boards have the final decision as to whether grade boundaries will be amended for the candidates.
Special consideration can be granted as a post-exam adjustment to candidate grades. This is generally used for pupils who are ill, injured or have another distraction (such as the passing of a relative) at the time of the exam. Pupils who are evacuated from the room or are distracted by outside noises can apply for special consideration but will have to prove how the distraction affected their ability to perform in the exam.

What to Do?

As a parent you will be concerned for your children’s grades but you have to get them to re-focus and carry on with the rest of their examinations. If there are any serious concerns like continual noise complaints, you need to raise this with senior staff at their school.

 
Was your child affected by a disruption in their exam? How was the issue resolved? Share your experiences on our social media pages.