A guide to getting the most out of school open days. Guest blog by Claire Bale, Director of Marketing.

We have our Nottingham Girls’ High School Open Day on Saturday 12 October and are looking forward to welcoming lots of families. It’s one of many open events we run throughout the year to give families the chance to find out what we’re all about, and it’s one of our favourites. Parents come with toddlers, interested in Nursery and Reception ; teenagers come to find out about our Sixth Form provision and careers advice, and we have lots of other activities running across our Infant, Junior and Senior Schools. If the weather is nice enough, we might also get to enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the gardens too.

Visiting a school is the best way to get a true impression of what it’s like. As well as seeing the facilities, meeting the staff and engaging with the pupils, you will get an instinctive sense of it, and that intangible impression of a school is extremely important. It’s like going on a date – you don’t know until you meet, whether you’re going to click or not.

This is our guide to help you get the most out of Open Days, and we hope to welcome you to ours too.

When to attend
Many schools have their open days during October and November. Ideally, you should visit two academic years in advance, as it’s helpful to start researching early. This gives you plenty of time to have follow up visits, personal tours and time to consider all the options before having to submit applications.

What to expect
Attending an Open Day can be surprisingly emotional. You’ll get a sense of your child’s potential future. You’ll suddenly picture her there through her whole school life. It’s a big thing, full of excitement and opportunity!

It’s the starting point of a journey. A good open day will answer lots of questions for you, and it’s likely to create lots more questions too.  It might feel an overwhelmingly important decision at times, but as you move along the journey the right choice will become clear, and a good Open Day will guide you along the way, whether that particular school is the one for your child or not.

How to get the most out of an Open Day
If you can, go as a family. You will all notice different things, and your child will certainly pick up on things that you may not have considered.

Get an understanding of the values and ethos of the school. What does the school stand for and believe in, and how does this translate into the way the school is run? This will continue through all lessons, teachers and subjects and is equally as important as the individual teachers themselves.

Pay attention to the pupils themselves. Without a doubt, they are the most authentic representation of a school. Ask them to describe the school in their own words. Observe their interaction with the other pupils and staff. You’ll soon know if you can imagine your child as one of them in the future.

Look at the whole offer – academic results over recent years, extra-curricular opportunities and successes, pastoral provisions, physical environment, catering options. It’s the whole experience that your child will be immersed in every day, so every element is important.

As with most big decision in life, your instincts are your strongest counsel. If you just feel right there, listen to that inner voice and don’t get too bogged down in specific details.

Ask questions, ask questions, then ask more questions. Never be afraid to make sure you get what you need out of the day, and you’ll soon get an impression of how effective the communication is likely to be in a school based on how your questions are responded to. And if you feel you want to go back and visit again, ask for that too.

Good questions to ask:

Describe your child and ask what the school offers to suit their particular interests, needs, potential.

Ask to hear from the Head, individually or as part of a group. It’s a vital way of understanding the school’s ethos and where it’s going in the future.

For secondary school and particularly Sixth Form, ask about careers advice. This is such an important thing for young people. There have never been more career options available for young people to move into, and specialist advice is a fantastic benefit to them in narrowing down the huge range of options. Careers Advisors can also link pupils up with specialists to help them get their foot on the ladder of their chosen career, whether that’s linking up with alumnae of the school or local connections.

Whatever you go on to do in life, you’re more than likely going to need to use technology. Check the school has strong provisions in this area. Do the pupils get their own iPads to use? Are there computer suites available?

Most importantly – enjoy yourself. A good Open Day will have lots of interesting things to hear about, fun activities for children to take part in, and a pleasant environment to spend time in. Enjoy meeting new people, exploring the school and taking part in a fun step along the journey to finding the right school.