I had a call from a mum this week asking for help to make sense of school inspection reports. She was finding it hard to identify the key facts of importance in such a lengthy document, so she could make comparisons between schools. So what are the key factors which make a school outstanding?

In my opinion the Head comes first, closely followed by committed, well-qualified, inspirational teachers.

Solid leadership and a clear strategy for delivering clearly stated educational outcomes are vital. A charismatic, proactive Head who demonstrates the ability to enthuse both staff and pupils to give of their best is of key importance.

When it comes to teaching and learning, there should be clear evidence of imaginative, well-planned classroom activities, which engage and inspire children, encouraging and challenging every child to achieve their potential.

How pupil progress is monitored and assessed is important, as well as how this is communicated to parents. Showing a willingness to listen and take prompt and appropriate action when things are not going to plan is essential.

The ethos and values of a school must be in synergy with yours as a parent. You must be convinced that the Head and their staff team have the right attributes to deliver an all-round education, within an atmosphere in which your child will enjoy learning and hence thrive.

Formal/informal, single-sex/co-ed, mixed ability/steaming, creative/scientific/sporty -matching your child to the right learning environment and opportunities is crucial.

As well as reading the inspection report, a visit to the school will give you a far better idea of all of the above. Schools are about people. The only way to really compare one with another is to visit on a normal school day, so you can feel and observe the atmosphere for yourself.