The school gate is no judge of how happy your child will be
The Good Schools Guide has a suggestion for parents picking a primary school: hang around outside the school gates. Are the children leaving in an orderly fashion? Do they run, beaming, into their parents’ arms, saying: “Well, what I don’t know about hieroglyphs is not worth knowing”? Are they carrying complicated works of art or a chopped salad? This will tell you far more than an Ofsted report.
But here’s a tip: you will look very weird loitering outside a school, so make sure you take some kind of child with you. Otherwise, sure, great advice, if suggesting a thing that people have been doing since education began could ever count as such a thing.
When my kids started school, the school-gate red flags (according to the informal NCT-ish clan of the area) were staffordshire bull terriers tied up outside and mothers who smoked. “Wait, though, I have a staff. I have a huge staff.” “And you smoke,” said my then husband, really quietly.
Nobody smokes near schools nowadays, so people who want to socially vet their primary schools have to concentrate on the dogs, and I guess they should be looking for miniature schnauzers and cockapoos. If you want to check how much of a ball-ache it will be to get involved with the school, make a casual inventory of how many posters they put up for science fairs, summer fetes and cake sales. If you want to find out how happy the kids are, forget it; all children, everywhere, make a lot of noise, and people always sound happy when they do that. But in all the agony and myth-making of choosing a school, the primacy of the offspring’s happiness is what people talk about most – but mean least.