The prospect of checking out schools was an exciting one for my husband and I. We were expecting variations in teaching standards, size of the school, resources and behaviour. What we were not expecting was a swing from one extreme to another which left us angry by what we saw.

It seems like only yesterday when our daughter joined us in the world. So it feels just a bit scary to think she will start infant school next September. Where did four years go?!

The prospect of checking out schools was an exciting one for my husband and I – more him than me as one of the schools we were going to look at was his old infant school. We were expecting variations in teaching standards, size of the school, resources and behaviour. What we were not expecting was a swing from one extreme to another which left us angry by what we saw. We do not live in an inner city area. Our town is not too big, not too small. It has its issues just like any other town, and it has its affluent and not-so-affluent areas. So why should the schools be so different from each other?

The most desired school was obviously perfect, and all the parents are vying for a place for their little prince or princess at this newly built school. The idea is that children will thrive in a small, tight knit educational facility where everything is brand new and the children are so well behaved. It had everything – structure, resources, space. With hindsight maybe just a bit too much structure.

Straight after visiting this particular school we went along to another, this time one with not such a great reputation on many levels. We didn’t want to dismiss it out of hand and we are glad we didn’t. But it is not a school I want my child to go to. It is crowded, has a lack of space, a lack of resource, and the school is doing its best to keep its head above water. The children were incredibly polite, coached to give an introduction to their class and what they were learning when we walked in to take a nosey. It was the sweetest and most impressive thing we saw in any school. But there was something so sad about the school too. This is the place that needs money throwing at it, not the brand new school at the other end of town. Its children need opportunities handed to them on a plate that pupils in other schools can take for granted because its school, and/or their parents, have more money.

Saying all this probably sounds patronising and hypocritical, because despite feeling like this school was doing its best, we still do not want our daughter to go there. She would get lost there and like all parents, my husband and I want to give her the best we can. So we are keeping our fingers crossed that she will get our catchment school. It’s the closest one to us and sits comfortably in between the seemingly perfect school and the one so obviously struggling from day to day. We just want a normal school with a wide range of children she can interact with and learn from. We want her to progress but we also want her to be happy.

What do you do next though? We feel as though we need to play a tactical game. How do we list our schools of preference? Do we fill out all the spaces on the admissions form or leave some blank? We have heard plenty of horror stories of parents being allocated a school not even on their list, so are we over-thinking what is probably just a simple form filling exercise? We’re at a loss, but I bet we are not the only ones.

Does anyone else who has already been through this have any advice? What have your experiences been? Do you have the same feelings as my husband and I regarding the schools in your area?