London, Mummy stuff

So how do you choose the right school for your child?


I am exhausted. We started looking at schools in our area. Apparently you have to think of a) which church to attend, in case you want to send your kid to a church-run school, b) which nursery to send your child to, if you are keen on getting her into the primary school at the same address or c) selling your house and downsize in order to afford private education.

Or you pack up and move to the country altogether. Apparently there are some decent state schools left.

I read about interviews with four year olds, and even more surprising, about coaches that promise to make your four year old offspring fit for said interview. I read about Ofsted and school ratings, about priority lists, fees, exams and tests. My head is spinning.

Little L is nine months old. Have I left it too late? Or is there still time to prepare her for a musical scholarship?


For a great range of affordable schoolwear, try Matalan schoolwear.


  1. It is a nightmare and no mistake! We are in a village with a lovely school but as atheists we are lower down the entry requirement list. If we want to move we have to do it by September when applications begin. One school in our area only took on non-sibling admission last year *Sigh*

  2. The whole thing is a minefield. We have moved so many times! And now Brighton is one of the first places doing the whole ‘lottery’ system where you literally get what you’re given. If you’re thinking of moving out of London, which I think you were a while back, you’re doing the right thing in starting to do background research now. Not that Ofsted reports make interesting bedtime reading.

  3. It is a nightmare, you are quite right!

    I have one child already at school so I know that my second child who starts this Sept will definitely have a place – I did all the worrying with my eldest though.

    We will soon have to be thinking about secondary schools and in London, in my opinion, that is EVEN more complicated….if that’s possible!!

    Good luck!

  4. Hi! It’s a very difficult and very important decision! In Spain, there’s a special point system for schools run by the government or schools that are private but partly funded with government money. So, you get points depending on your income, where you live, work, etc. Of course, if you can afford it, you pay about 700 euros per month and you can choose an international school. As Frank McCourt said “Beggars can’t be choosers”, I mean, people choose, but then, the government decides! Oops,sorry, very long comment!

  5. BB is 9 months old too and I have been thinking about this, I already have her on a nursery waiting list for when she is 3/4 but I have NO idea about schools! ahhh, what to do too??? x

  6. It is hard, we looked at schools in Berkshire when maxiMad was born and we decided the whole issue of good and bad schools tends to arrive in areas that are higern in population. We made a decision to move back to the NE and here school choice is much more limited. We have one in our village!!!

  7. I just found your blog and wanted to say hi.

    My daughter is nearly six months old and we have registered her for a local nursery/montessori school starting at 2.5 years and about 4 different primary schools although I am not sure that is enough.

    We live in Islington where there aren’t many good state schools so unfortunately she will probably go to a private school most likely in Hampstead or Belsize Park that is unless we move, of course. It really is a shame as there are so many nice family homes and resources for kids here.

    I don’t think you’ve left it too late at all. The Good Schools Guide was really instrumental in helping me select schools for LO.

    Good luck!

  8. It is a minefield, we didn’t give it much thought when we had our first. By fluke we ended up buying a house in the catchment area of a good school when he was six months old. We really didn’t think about it until he was three. We were so lucky and hopefully he’ll start there in September. When I see the stress friends have gone through with it I realise what luck we’ve had. I agree with MadHouse that more population equals more competition and stress (we’re in Berkshire). Good luck with the choices you make x

  9. We live at the edges of a few catchment areas so while we theoretically have a large choice in practise we always lose out when school sort applications by distance. We have also been looking at private schools and used both the good schools guide and to research the long term costs. Good luck!

  10. it is a nighmare that you have to think about this when your child is so young. My local schools are rubbish mine went privat till 11 and luckily the three girls all got in to Grammar but had to travel 10 miles to get to one. I hope little man gets in!

  11. Then of course there’s the problem that a nursery place in a school doesn’t necessarily equal a school place for the reception year as many schools reduce the number of classes from reception to nursery to take account of the number of kids who move on to private schools.

    Ofsted reports can also be misleading – when we signed our son up for nursery the school had a very good report although it was a few years old. The one they did whilst he was there was nowhere near as good. Sometimes things change as a result of the reports and it’s useful to try and find out what the schools have been doing since to alleviate any concerns.

  12. Totally agree with Vic’s points on this one.
    Although Toddler boy will prbably get into the nursery around the corner to us, he may not get into the school.
    Have decided not to stress and simply do what is most convenient for us. We can teach a lot of the stuff at home and frankly if I am less stressed the whole experience will be better for all.
    Many ‘failing’ schools have a lot of additional resources to hand to better than so its worth thinking about that. They may improve whilst you are there.
    Moving out of London is probably an idea though as I agree you have a better chance of getting into a good school.
    Don’t commit to public school at primary level. In my opinion there could be real issues if for some reason circumstances change and you cant afford it for secondary level which in my opinion is where it really counts. xx

  13. Argh!!! don’t start!! I have my head so far in the sand on this that I swear I can smell the sea on the other side of the planet.

  14. Ugh, I can’t imagine dealing with such things. While we did have to search for the right school for our kids, we didn’t face the issues that parents in larger, urban areas like London or New York do. We did opt for the church/parish school and when we first toured, it just felt right. I could immediately envsion our daughter there. Good luck in your search – you’ll find the right place for your little one.

  15. I have been lucky to enough to escape this dilemma by moving to a town in Long Island with great state schools.

    When I lived in London everyone was in a complete tizz about it. Mind you, what I will say is that some of them did end up getting into decent state schools after all, despite the scare stories (although I did know one woman who started going to church for the first time in her life in order to get her kid into a church school).

  16. I had my first taste of the school-choosing process this weekend when meeting our new neighbor (father of an 18 month old). Apparently we are in an optimum catchment area for the schools in our locality (Muswell Hill) and “shouldn’t have to move”. Terrifying words at 4 months pregnant, how early is too early to be looking at schools I wonder?

    I watched a factual film about the school process in NYC not long ago, where the process seems to be even more cut-throat and fraught with anxiety. The name of the film escapes me, but I found this interesting article from New York Magazine –

  17. Big M says

    So you are telling me the fact that she can play Rachmaninov piano concerto 3 is going to go unnoticed in the nursery application process? Maybe we should aim for a golf scholarship in a nursery in Florida? I will get the gear out….

  18. I just came to the UK from Japan and am already worried about my son and he’s not yet 2! Having said that it is just as difficult in Japan – I know people who register children at good schools just after they are born. It’s crazy.

  19. The only advice I can offer in this particular area (I have 3 chaps), is that having educated in London and now the countryside – if you want to go state you’re going to have to either move out of London or move to an area (if you aren’t already) near to one of the very few decent states in London. Also to note, private schools are cheaper out of London too!! Most important to remember – they all learn what they need to in the end, so just don’t worry about it and keep chatting to your little one and telling them they are wonderful xxx

  20. I’m no help at all really – just wanted to let you know it’s the same all over! We live in Auckland, NZ and my daughter goes privately. But we went through the whole process you’re looking at when she was a baby. Good luck!

  21. I’ve just put my application in. Have though of almost nothing else for months. And in the end I know it will probably just come down to which one I live closest to.

  22. Over here, it’s more a question of which one you get into rather than having any choice at all!

  23. My toddler is starting pre-school in September, and our choice is purely based on location – the one down the road from us. Same goes for kindergarten (age 5) – simply because we have a good school within walking distance. I am aware of the complex nightmare it can become and am trying to avoid it… (head in clouds much?) Good luck!

  24. I think every county deals with it differently, but I was told the same thing about joining the church and it turned out to not be true. Our area goes by siblings and catchment. Please don’t stress about this though, you have a while to even think about uniforms…

  25. Can I suggest not getting bogged down in league tables/results as they often say more about the catchment area than the abilities of the school? Obviously, we are bound to read Ofsted reports, but don’t treat them as the Holy Grail, they don’t give the full picture. I’ve taught at 3 different schools and the reports don’t always reflect the reality and can make things sound much better or worse. The best thing is to go and look around all the schools near you, even ones that you have heard are not good. Try to speak to parents of children who actually go to the school. Reputations in the local community are rarely up to speed with reality. You will get a feel for whether or not it’s the kind of place you want your children to attend from talking to teachers and seeing how the kids are responding to them. Good luck! I’ll ne applying in year’s time!

  26. Mrs A says

    Wow, you’ve started to panic me! If it’s anything like as difficult as getting JJ into a nursery for when I go back to work we’re in trouble… Only goot thing is we’ve got great Primary and Secondary schools where we live anyway, so any one should be good. Good luck, but don’t panic, you’ll make the best decisions for her.

  27. Thanks to you all for your great comments. Well, at least I don’t feel alone in this. And @Julia: Nice try, darling 😉 I miss you, too!

  28. I agree with Kath, try not to worry too much yet, do your research but I don’t think Ofsted is that be all and end all. certainly wouldn’t judge a school on that alone. They change, varying on the kind of pupils admitted year on year, whether the head stays etc. I think you get a much better feel going around and visiting a school and seeing what their ethos is, if the children are polite, their uniforms neat, it’s got plenty of resources, the classrooms are orderly etc. As for private, well, you are pretty certain of good educational results as you are paying for it, but it’s definitely down to how you feel about the school, whether they will put too much pressure on the kids to attain great results (one of our local private schools is notorious for this, and not all kids are acadamic). Also, a neighbour of mine hit financial difficulties in the recession and had to pull both of her children out of private school, and there were no places available in the good state schools…it’s been a nightmare for her. They have gone from really posh private schools to failing state schools. But anyway, sorry, that’s a bit bleak. In a perfect world, all state schools would be great, so everyone could just walk to their local school. Anyway, you will make the right decision for little L. I’m sure of it. xx

  29. I am always appalled at the situation in the uk. Over here (in Belgium) state education is great, and both my kids are in Catholic education but never attend the church which runs it. There is something seriously wrong with that system.

  30. No of course it is not too early to start training her up for a musical scholarship – stick a penny whistle in her mouth and have her listening to Haydn on an iPod 24/7

    Seriously ….my sympathies …luckily I live in a backwater where you don’ t really have to compete for preschools !!”

    you have definitely inspired today’s post

  31. it is a big headache getting out little ones into school. I put my girl’s names down at several schools/nurserys as soon as poss so i would have a choice of where they could go. Their school is a nice school and they are happy there which i think is very important. A happy child learns and 4year old is doing so well at school. Good luck with the hunt, get you little one’s name down at all the schools you fancy her going to and then the hard work is done xxxx

  32. It is a nightmare I agree, especially when you get it wrong – sorry to add to the pressure. Thankfully you are doing everything right by considering your choice carefully. I failed to do that at my cost.

    We had just moved to a new area and I automatically sent my daughter to the school just around the corner. I didn’t like the look of their brochure but I ignored my gut feeling and sent her there. Admittedly I’d had very little time to think about it as we had only just moved house unexpectedly. And I actually thought that all schools were good schools. I have no idea where I got that crazy idea from! Consequently, it was a disaster, she hated it, it was a nightmare for both of us. I moved her after a term.

    She is now blissfully happy. Thankfully she is baptised Catholic so I was able to get her into a Catholic school some miles away. But very few parents have that option. I was lucky but I should have done what you are doing now – I should have done my research and I should have gone with my gut feeling.

  33. I honestly didn’t know stress until my son started school! Sorry.
    We couldn’t get him into the 2 schools in our catchment (we live in a village where there are a lot of new houses so lots of new babies) and one of those schools I could walk to in 5 minutes. Madness.
    I felt sick with it, like I’d let him down in some way.
    He now goes to a school that isn’t in our catchment and I have to drive to (only about 5 or 6 minutes) but he is really really happy and has made some wonderful friends so would never consider moving him.

    Of course, our daughter is due to start school this Sept and as we aren’t in catchment I’m way down the list of priorites, so more stress!

  34. I think it’s a bit early to worry about primary school, because Offstead changes, schools improve or go down etc..
    I personally am pro state schools, and luckily we had 3 good ones to chose from and I started to research more when Maia was three and half years old.
    Don’t panic, still plenty of time. Good luck 🙂

  35. Oh you have my sympathies. The best bet is to live in a small town with a private school. That way the state school is usually pretty decent and the private not so up itself and needing to stay focused on pleasing the fewer uptake they have. I know this as I’ve gone from that to a much larger place and it’s a minefield of choice and confusion. One other thing…worrying about it a putting kids under too much pressure with tutors etc, is the WORSE thing you can do. So relax, and enjoy your little girl.

  36. I am lucky as we have a number of good school locally, just visit them and go with your gut feeling – you will know what is best. Good luck, Mich x

  37. It’s f**ked isn’t it, I never thought I’d have to worry about it, but in London you really do. We can’t afford private, the good ones are all church affliated… Do I start going to church once a month with Erbie – so hypercritical, or put him down on a waiting list for the one we’d like him to go to but will have to move to be in the catchment area. Argh.

  38. I don’t envy you this decision but you sound like you are being extremely sensible about it all- I am not sure what I would do- I suppose you don’t know until you are a parent but also it depends where you are.

  39. mary beth millrood says

    we are american expats living in surrey and have had two children in the local american school called ACS. The school fees last were 26000 pounds and the school
    is mediocre at best!! It has made the whole experience here awful

Comments are closed.