Many schools, both state and independent, have open days in the coming weeks. These are a good opportunity to start your research by seeing schools in action, meeting key staff and getting a general feel for the atmosphere.

How do parents make the most of these fact-finding missions, seeing through the ‘marketing speak’ to make important decisions about the right school for their child?

Firstly meet the Head. How accessible they are to prospective parents can be a guide as to how the school is run. It is crucial their philosophy for education meets yours. Do they come across as a capable leader, respected by staff and pupils alike and are they in touch with the day-to-day school life?

Observe staff relationships with pupils within a lesson environment. Is it formal or more relaxed and which will suit your child? Single sex or co-ed has a different feel -do all children appear engaged and included? Is I.T. being used constructively, to support excellent and engaging teaching, not as a substitute for it? Are teaching assistants being used successfully, if your child will need learning support?

Are pupils smartly dressed and belongings tidily stored around the school? Books, files, school bags and lost property should be out of sight. Are walls and furniture in good decorative order and does the school site appear well looked-after?

Can pupils speak confidently to visitors and talk knowledgeably about their school, outlining its strengths?

Do noticeboards give a picture of a busy school with a breadth of educational opportunity across all academic subject areas, sport, music and creative arts?