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Five important things to look for in a school

And nope, exam success isn't one of them. Here's the insider scoop on choosing the best school for your child from Sam Selkirk, the Head of Lower School at Reigate St Mary's Prep.

Choosing a school can feel daunting, particularly when looking for the first time. Websites, brochures and school reviews like the Muddy Best Schools Guide can give you some of the picture and it is always good to consider places that are recommended to you because of their excellent local reputations.

However, the only way to really know if a school will suit your child, is to take the time to visit, ask questions and absorb the culture and ethos. A good first impression is vital. If you feel a welcoming atmosphere, so will your child. Here, Sam Selkirk, the Head of Lower School at Reigate St Mary’s gives us the low down on the five key things to look for when you visit a school

Are the classrooms enabling environments?

Children playing with puppets at Reigate St Mary's School, Surrey

A Reception classroom should be warm, inviting, bright and colourful. Resources should be plentiful and available for independent access so the children can choose their activities. The first year of school is crucial developmentally. Children are learning how to learn and laying the foundations for future academic success.

Is there plenty of opportunity for the children to be outdoors?

Nursery children running on grass with green hedge in background at Reigate St Mary's School

Outside areas should be safe and look like they are used regularly as it is important that outdoor play is incorporated into a school’s daily routine. Many schools will have dedicated early years play areas, while also making the rest of the school’s grounds available for learning and play. Forest School too is both fun and educational.

Are there positive relationships between children and staff?

Teacher and pupil in the classroom at Reigate St Mary's school in Surrey

The children should be happy and engaged in their play and learning, and staff should be welcoming, calm and confident. Strong and positive relationships will ensure your child feels happy, safe and willing to make mistakes – key ingredients for learning.

Does the school view parents as partners?

Children playing with coloured blocks in a classroom at Reigate St Mary's School in Surrey.

A good school will encourage parental involvement. It might be down to how they communicate with you on a daily basis, perhaps via a going home diary, and more formally through parents’ evenings. As a parent, you are your child’s most important educator so your knowledge and input are extremely important.

What is the transition process?

Children in the playground at Reigate St Mary's School in Surrey.

A good school with happy children and experienced staff should be able to welcome new pupils at any stage and ensure they settle in quickly and form bonds with their new class. Kindness and a focus on relationship building should ensure that a child can confidently join a school without the need to move with a peer group.

Parents will often just know when a school is right for their child, it is a feeling they get as soon as they walk through the door. They notice the way staff interact with each other, and the honest and open way they communicate. They recognise a school guided by what is best for the children in their care and know that their own child will see it, feel it, and respond in kind.

Reigate St Mary’s is an independent day school and nursery in Reigate. It’s co-ed and non-selective, taking pupils from the age of 2 until 11 when more than three-quarters go on to Reigate Grammar, RSM’s sister school. Read our full school review here.

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