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Q. Could you give me some general guidance about picking a primary school - state or private? Our first child is still very young but we would like to start looking around.

Tom, Brixton, south London

A. The ideal for most parents is the good-quality, local primary school within walking distance of home. Children are able to make local friendships as indeed are the parents.

Only when the local school is not very good, or is full or you prefer a private education is it necessary to look elsewhere.

Local opinion is often helpful in pinpointing good and not so good schools but don't rely on it - it may be misguided or it may be out of date because of a change of headteacher or crucial members of staff.

Do visit as many schools as possible. Look out for a welcoming atmosphere, a purposeful buzz of activity in the classrooms, children who speak to you and can explain what they are doing, lively displays on the walls and good standards of written work.

Beware a school that seems too silent as much as you would one where classes do not seem under control. Effective learning is diminished by too much control as well as too little.

Ask about the seven-year-old test results. If it is a prosperous area with lots of parental support, many children should be getting some level threes (the average of a nine-year-old).

Also ask whether the school has had an Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) report. If it has, make sure you see a copy; the local library will have one. It will give you a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the school.

The Independent Schools Information Service can help with names and addresses of private schools. Contact ISIS at 56 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AG, telephone 0171-630 8793/4.

Q. I have recently finished my first year at university but, because of family problems, I would like to transfer to a course that would enable me to live at home. Will this affect my grant?

Anna, Nottingham

A. Your grant should be unaffected because family problems will usually be accepted as good reason to seek a transfer.

You must act quickly, though. Academic transfers of this type must normally take place within 16 months of the start of the first academic year of your original course.

The transfer has to be agreed by your local education authority (the one that pays your grant), your current university and the university you wish to swap to, which must have a suitable place.

All this takes time, so you must contact the local authority and the administration offices of the two universities as soon as possible.


Does the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education still exist and, if so, what is its address?

Graeme Kemp, Esher , Surrey.

A. It does exist, although it is now called the Campaign for State Education (Case). The address is 158 Durham Road, London SW20 ODG, telephone 0181- 944 8206.

Last week's Crammer question relating to the pre-release of part of an English comprehension paper related to a GCSE examination. At least two GCSE boards, the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board and the Midlands Examining Group, release resource material earlier in the GCSE academic year, but no board permits the opening and distribution of parts of its examination paper the night before the exam. Any evidence of this should be sent to the appropriate examination board.