We have to choose primary schools for our eldest in the next few months. Yesterday we received the brochure containing the three dozen or so schools in the borough from which we have to choose three ranked in order of preference. It's not very useful.
There are no photos of the schools, just generic stock pictures from the file marked 'happy school kids'. There are some statistics, which are useful if you know how to interpret them; not always that straightforward. You might think that if places awarded are fewer than applications made this is a popular school. But if you then check out places available and these are greater than places awarded, people must have declined places to send their children elsewhere. So you have to work at it a bit. But at least they provide the raw figures.
Unfortunately, these are the only useful bits of data in the seventy-eight page brochure. The copy is quite humorously repetitive. Take your pick from: 'vibrant', 'warm', 'inclusive', 'friendly', 'happy', 'diverse'. Is 'warm and vibrant' better or worse than 'friendly and inclusive'? There's a danger in bringing some Kremlinology to bear, perhaps interpreting 'vibrant' as 'chaotic and out-of-control'; or 'diverse' as 'most of our pupils don't speak English as a first language'. But it's probably best not to over-interpret them. I'm sure they mean what they say, which is not much.
Anyway, what the vast majority of parents would like to read are words like 'traditional', 'strict', 'rigorous', 'disciplined'. No chance of that though - I can't imagine any head could have got to their current eminence professing such 'core values'.
So you're really left to work out for yourself what the schools are like. Perhaps this is what it comes down to anyway, and perhaps it always has done - you ask around, work off personal recommendations. That's certainly what we're doing.
But this, it seems, is disapproved of. One of the brochure's highlighted pieces of advice is 'Don't listen to gossip, what's right for other children might not be for yours'. Advice that would also lead you to disregard the stats above, which (when interpreted) provide guidance based on other parents' choices: 'Don't follow the actions of others, what's right for other children might not be for yours'. We know best so don't bother getting your information from anyone else. It makes you grateful for the Ofsted stats, which, however, are not provided here.