Education Quandary: 'We are moving in the new year. How can we choose a primary school with no league tables?'

Hilary's advice

This year's catastrophe over national tests is education's own version of the credit crunch – the collapse of an over-extended testing system that has been insufficiently capitalised by good managers or markers. So you are in a school-choice recession. This will mean living by your wits and returning to old-fashioned, simple methods of operating, like going and looking.

First, check out last year's league tables. They are unlikely to have changed very much in such a short period of time.

Then, ask around among your husband's new colleagues for the lowdown on the schools in the area where you are thinking of settling.

Once you have refined your search as much as you can, go and pay the schools a visit. Look hard at what you see on the playground and in the classroom. Do the children look engaged and happy? Are the teachers relaxed and purposeful? Is the building bright and welcoming? Does the school cater for all children, both the bright and the struggling?

And finally, trust your instincts. They are there for a reason.

Readers' advice

Tables tell you which primaries have the greatest middle-class intakes, not necessarily which have the best teaching. Ofsted's website allows you to read schools' inspection reports.

Then look at the local education authority's guides to admissions. Many of these list the greatest distance from which pupils were offered a place at each school (though not usually church schools) in the past year or two – a good guide to the schools' popularity.

Beth Noakes, London NW3

In our experience (three moves) good areas breed good schools. Go for the area.

Dana Murphy, Plymouth

Next Week's Quandary

Can caning ever be a good punishment and deterrent? If one in five teachers want it, they must have reasons.

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com where they can be searched by topic.

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