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Parents choosing a school are more concerned that other families whose children attend are “people like us” than whether there is discipline, research suggests. They “size up” other pupils and their parents and rate this perception as a bigger influence than whether the school is single-sex or has a strong religious ethos, according toThe Good Schools Guide.
It asked almost 500 parents for the most important reasons for selecting their preferred school. The academic standard of the school was the most important, followed by its proximity to home, the quality of buildings and equipment, and the pastoral care. But the next biggest issue was the “quality” of other parents and pupils at the school. Parents were keen to mix with people they admired, and avoided some schools because of the sort of families they attracted. Others wanted to make friends locally with suitable families.
They scrutinised older pupils, in particular, to see if they would like their children to turn out like them or to have friends like that. They considered the demeanour and social mix of the pupils important and made judgments about the students’ appearance. They wanted their child to go to a school with like-minded families and where there was a strong community of parents and a high level of parental involvement in school matters. Many were deterred by some schools because of the type of pupils and parents with whom it was popular.
Janette Wallis, a senior editor for The Good Schools Guide, said: “Parents sizing up other parents and pupils has always been a factor for choosing a school, although they don’t often admit it. In the guide’s reviews we have a whole section called ‘pupils and parents’ which describes exactly that: what are the parents like, what are the kids like? Not politically correct, but it’s what most parents really want to know. “We expected discipline to storm in high on the list but it is much less important to parents than issues like proximity to home, pastoral care and even eyeing up the other pupils and parents at the school.”
Examples of comments about parents from the guide include: “Seventy per cent rich professionals — bankers, businessmen, doctors, accountants — and the rest are diplomats or from the military,” about Downe House School in Berkshire. Of William Ellis School in North London, it said parents were “from a huge range of different countries, from Kosovo to Somalia, from the council estates of Gospel Oak and the million-pound houses of Belsize Park”.
Parents were asked to rate school selection criteria in order of importance. Those that made the top ten included a focus on competitive sports, music and drama facilities and the school being co-educational. Lower on the list were a school’s special-needs provision, religious ethos and whether it had boarding facilities or was single sex. Many faith schools are highly oversubscribed and entry is fiercely competitive, but some parents indicated that they were determined not to choose this route. Comments included that it was important to avoid any religious affiliation. About a third of schools in England are faith schools and the Church of England said in a report this week that it hoped to establish 200 more schools within five years.
Parents were asked if there was a single overriding factor that influenced their decision. Many trusted their judgment over hard facts, saying they had a good gut instinct about the school, or that it “felt right” when they visited. One said: “The headmaster was really enthusiastic when he showed us around.”|
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