top grade it will show up as a 100% success – but tell you almost nothing about how strong modern languages teaching is at the school in question. Ask about progress, too. Many schools assess pupils (state schools are required to do so) at regular intervals. Most schools now measure ‘value added’ – the way pupils perform against others of similar ability over time – so ask whether and how this is done. Schools should be trying to improve on and build up the raw material they start off with, so that children do better than you’d have expected them to. How much better can vary substantially, but good teaching that challenges children and inspires a real love of learning can make an enormous difference. That critical perspective can also come in useful during school visits. The canny parent won’t just admire any beautiful new buildings, but want to know who gets to use them and when. A new theatre, that stands empty for most of the time because it’s only used when super-talented pupils are chosen to appear in the once-a-year production, might not be quite the showstopper it first appears... Then there’s the location. Countryside schools may offer dreamy, tree-lined drives, listed buildings and umpteen green acres. City centre establishments, meanwhile, pride themselves on their ability to couple an urban setting with imaginative layouts. City centre or fairy-tale idyll, it’s worth checking to see how a school will gel with your family’s lifestyle. If both parents are working, a last-minute dash to collect an unwell child or drop in that missing violin could end up feeling a lot more like a Grimm Brothers special than the Enchanted Forest. Likewise, a city-centre establishment could mean a lifetime spent stuck in traffic. Finally, but most importantly, ensure that when you consider a school, you do it from the perspective of your child. That means considering the whole picture before making a decision, to ensure the best possible chance of getting it right for them.
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