The nights are drawing in once again and I have finally nudged the thermostat up. This time of year can often feel like the calm before the manic rush of the Christmas period.
But some families are preparing to make big decisions about the next stage of their child's education - school open day season is in full swing.
Those parents choosing their child's next school will be busy gathering an impressive collection of glossy brochures and professionally produced curricula as they are welcomed through the doors of schools keen to showcase the high standard of education and facilities on offer.
But you need to look beyond the spit and polish of the open day to find the right school for your child. Here are some key things to think about when selecting the first choice school for your child:
1. Find the right fit for your child
You wouldn't buy a house after spending ten minutes wandering around the show home and the same rule should apply when you are choosing a school.
A school might have an impressive record of pupil achievement, outstanding sporting facilities or a list of alumni that could easily be mistaken for a copy of 'Who's Who?', but don't be sold on first impressions.
It can be a good idea to schedule in a return visit to the schools you are interested in once you have seen a few others. By doing this, you will have the benefit of more experience and a clearer perspective on what the school has to offer.
The open day is just the first step to finding a school with the qualities and ethos to inspire your child to achieve and help them develop the skills they need to flourish, whatever pathway they take in the future. Don't be afraid to take your time over this important decision and scratch below the surface to find a school that is not just right for any child - one that's right for your child.
2. Get to the heart of the school
Good schools encourage children of all ages to participate in the open day and show parents around. Speak to the pupils and ask questions about school life - are they making conversation, without the need for a script? Do they feel supported by their teachers? Would they know where to turn if they were struggling with a science project or having difficulty making friends?
Chatting to the pupils can be one of the best ways to find out if they are happy and confident young ambassadors for the school.
3. See the school in action
Don't settle for the show home alone - ask about visitors' days, where you can come in on a typical day and see the school in action.
These days enable you to look in on a physics lesson, witness the hockey team training for the next match or watch the school orchestra rehearse for the Christmas play. This can give you a much more realistic picture of school life and allow you to get answers to the questions you often won't get from an open day alone - are the children engaged in what they are learning? What is behaviour like in the corridors at break time? Do pupils get a wide selection of healthy meal options - that can be purchased quickly and easily with the swipe of a canteen card?
4. Find a school that can inspire your child to succeed
Not every child is a maths or science whizz, but each and every child has the potential to excel. Look for a mix of certificates and trophies on display that represent pupils' academic attainment, as well as their achievement in the arts, sport and music.
Good schools offer an eclectic assortment of academic and co-curricular activities to help them identify and nurture a child's individual strengths. With the right support, your child will achieve all they are capable of - whether that is winning the end of term poetry competition, clinching top prize in the inter-school debating tournament or basking in the glory of a standing ovation in the school's production of Les Mis.
5. Don't follow the crowd
It can be tempting to choose the school that all the other families in the area tend to send their children to or automatically send your child to the same school as their best friend. But just because a school is popular, doesn't mean that it is the best one for your child.
Keep an open mind - and encourage your child to do the same. Ask about taster days, where children can come along and join in with lessons and activities. This can help give them an idea of what it is like to be a pupil at the school and they might even make some new friends while they are there.
Chat to other parents too before making any decisions. Ask about how parents are kept up to date with how their children are doing? Does the school share target and effort grades regularly? Some schools send real-time information, such as details of homework and notes on behaviour, directly to parents' phones, which can help them nip problems in the bud and better support their child from home.
Choosing a school for your child can be one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent. Schools want to ensure parents have all the information they need to make the right decision for their child's future so if you don't get the detail you need from an open day, don't be afraid to dig a bit deeper.
For more information on SIMS Independent, visit www.capita-independent.co.uk.