Navigating Open Day Season – Tips for Parents

It’s open day season!

It’s the end of September.

It was just yesterday (almost literally!) that you sent your kids off for their first days of school this term – name tags sewn, bags packed, new teachers met… and suddenly you’re finding yourself immersed in the quagmire of open days, open evenings, working mornings, ‘school in action’ days… the list is endless. You’ve made your choices, done your research, listened to the headteachers’ speeches… but what are you really looking for?

At Watling Tutors we thought it would be helpful to give you a couple of tips and less obvious things to consider as you navigate the pile of prospectuses.

Obviously the ideas below are generic; some will apply to primary, some to secondary. Some to state, and some to private. Ultimately, however, these are the areas you might not have considered before. Hope it’s helpful!



Of course you’ll be looking at the displays, the buildings and the facilities. You’ll get a strong sense of the character and ‘feel’ of the school simply by taking it all in. But also think about…

  • The state of the furniture

Are there multiple scribblings on the desks? Broken chairs? How about half-hidden peelings from display boards? These tiny signs will give you an indication of the way the students feel about their surroundings.

  • The toilets

Sounds a bit odd, but the chances are high that the academic staff of the school do not frequent the pupils’ toilets and your student tour guides are only showing you the ‘best bits’ – but ask to see the toilets, the changing rooms, the lockers. Why not? As above, the schools’ values and the students’ attitudes will be hidden in plain sight – if you know where to look.

  • The tech and resources

Don’t be seduced by interactive whiteboards in every room. This is pretty standard in most schools now – but does not necessarily indicate an innovative learning landscape. What other learning aids are being used? Mini whiteboards? iPads? Wearable tech? Gaming?



You’ll most likely be assigned an earnest, smiley student with shoes you can see your face in. They’ll show you the sports hall, the DT suite, the science labs and the library. What can you ask them about?

  • Deviate from the script
    • Ask your student guides about their summer. Were they excited to return to school? Nervous about imminent exams? Relieved to be back in a routine?
    • How do they feel about the school’s behaviour policy?
    • Do they feel homework is set regularly and marked in a way that the pupils consider to be fair and proportionate?

Their emotional response to questions outside the script will give you a sense of how they feel about presenting their school and could be quite telling.

  • Teacher turnover

You’re more likely to hear the truth about this one from the students rather than the teachers. Ask them whether they have lots of cover lessons, or supply teachers, or whether they have had subject specialists leave during the year.

  • Resources

Ask your student guide about class sets of textbooks; do they have to share? Is there a substantial photocopying budget?

  • Assessment

This is last on the list for the students – but a big one. How do they feel about their assessments? Are there too many? Not enough? Do they know when they will be and are they given adequate resources and time to prepare?

What about the structure of their reports? What system and criteria are used for grading them?



The staff should be well-presented and professional, but happy and relaxed. Sounds obvious, but what does that look like?

  • A good rapport between staff when they’re ‘off-duty’
  • A well-organised, structured programme for the day that staff are happy to adhere to
  • Easily able to respond to any question, from selection / admissions criteria to assessment procedures; a strong staff body should be aware of the processes and structures in the school as a whole and not just within their faculty.

And finally…Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions! Are there burning issues that no one is addressing? If not, why not?

Of course, there are countless more elements to consider than those listed here.. And if you’ve got any words of wisdom please let us know!

Best of luck with the next few weekends – and don’t worry…As soon as the open days are out the way you can relax… that is, for about a week…until those nativity plays / Christmas fairs / end of term concerts…