So, you have decided to visit the local and, in some cases, not-so-local schools.

Open days should show a school at its best, yes you have the obligatory Principal’s speech and hyped students eager to guide you around their favourite teachers but what should you be looking for?

open day

As a former teacher I love open days it gives you a feel for the learning environment your child will be immersed in. It will allow you to compare many aspects of the schools you are considering.

Compare the A, B, C’s –

Atmosphere – is the atmosphere welcoming and positive?

Be successful – will your child fit in and achieve?

Care – will your child be lost in the crowd or nurtured?

Atmosphere, Balance, Care

Is it the best fit?


Before you even attend an open day you will have heard differing opinions about the school. Remember you generally only hear the very good or the very bad. Try to withhold judgement – most staff work extremely hard to help your child feel safe and progress in their studies.

You should expect a warm welcome, this should accurately indicate the ethos and culture of the school.

Listen to the Principals speech, it may be fun, or it may be boring, but the statistics produced are what the school want you to see – take these with a pinch of salt. The principal is the leader and should give you an overarching impression of the school. Some Principals are charismatic leaders but awkward one-to-one and some are better underwhelming from the front but shine one-to-one.

Our advice;

–           Look for the interactions between staff and students, are the staff approachable?

–           Are the students confident chatting with adults and their peers?

–           How do the older students interact with those further down the school?


Be Successful

How good is the ‘value-added’? This means, if your child enters the school with the expectation, they will achieve all grade Cs at GCSE and then does – no value has been added. We want students to exceed expectations.

How does the school monitor progress, pick up on underperformance and communicate with parents and students? Does the student know their grade and what they need to do to improve it?

How important is character? Is it all work and no enrichment? Do they get out to visit galleries and museums, on geography field trips and language exchanges?

Can you chat with the SENCo about Additional Educational Needs? Guidance for Northern Ireland can be found at SENAC.

Are pupils grouped in by ability or in mixed ability? There is no one right answer – but the school should be able to explain its policies.

Our advice:

–           Look at the number of students entered for the subjects your child is interested in.

–           Look at the % A*-C for both English and Maths at GCSE

–           What support is available to avoid underachievement?


You are likely to be guided by existing pupils. Did they volunteer or were they chosen? Ask pupils about their experience of the school, and what they think of the principal, head of year, and subject teachers. Who wouldn’t fit in this school? Do they have family members at the school? What should you do if you feel worried about something in school? Ask for a code of conduct policy.

Many of our schools are old buildings but does the building seem ‘cared for’, clean and respected? Is the atmosphere calm, relaxed and friendly? Stiff and formal? Are current pupils smiling and communicating pleasantly with each other? Is this a caring learning environment?

Our advice :

–           Look to see if pupils seem happy to be involved in the open day

–           Is the pupils’ work displayed, even the less tidy than perfect pieces, this shows pupil effort is valued not just academic highflyers.

–           Do the relationships reflect the ethos and culture stated in the glossy prospectus?



We all want the best for our children and what works for your eldest may not be the best for your next child. The choice has to be the best fit for the individual. Of course, you will have worries but you should always be able to approach the school and ask for a private tour to see the school at work.

If you need any additional information on Open days and education contact us at