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How we review schools

Who are your reviewers? Our team has a combined total of over 175 years’ experience of visiting schools. With a couple of exceptions, we are all parents, and we are all obsessed with schools and education – and revoltingly curious about what makes each school special. We have sat in countless heads’ studies over the years and are unafraid to ask the difficult questions. When we visit each school, we put ourselves in your shoes as a prospective parent and aim to give you a clear unbiased picture of each school’s strengths.

How often do you visit schools? We aim to visit every school we review every year to keep in touch with developments and to ensure that we are giving you an up-to-date picture of each school. (Other schools guides typically visit schools once every three years.)

What do you see on your visits? Every visit is different. We always ask to meet the head, meet pupils, see classes in action, visit boarding houses (if relevant), and we would set out to spend at least three hours at every school we visit – often our visits are much longer than this. Clearly, we can only see what the school chooses to show us – but often what they don’t show us is as revealing as what they do. If a head is confident enough to show us a scruffy sports hall or dorms that could do with a lick of paint, this speaks volumes. If they only want to show off the latest multimillion-pound building project, this is also very telling. Similarly, if we’re guarded fiercely by a minder from the marketing department throughout our visit, we draw certain conclusions – our favourite tours are conducted by pupils, who are a school’s best and most candid ambassadors.

Do you eat the school food?
Whenever we are offered it! Again, it says a lot about a school if they are prepared to let us sit down with a table of pupils for lunch – these are always the most enjoyable and revealing moments of our visits (and an excellent source of jokes).

Who writes your reviews? We do! We have complete editorial control over our reviews. Our research team writes detailed notes on each school after their visits; our editorial team writes the review.

What other sources do you use to write your reviews? Over the years, we have built a wide network of spies, moles and informers – current and past parents and pupils, staff, former heads, local residents… We talk to them all to get a clear, three-dimensional view of each school. But crucially, we do not take any one opinion as gospel – every school has its detractors, and we will never give undue weight to a single view.

How do you choose which schools to review? Can schools pay for a review? Our editorial team selects which schools are on our Top 250 and other Top Schools lists, and we automatically review them. Other schools (not on our Top Schools lists) can choose to subscribe to Talk Education – we review all school subscribers, but we have editorial control over the content of these reviews. We have a strict firewall between our editorial and commercial teams in order to preserve our editorial integrity.

Can schools change their reviews? No. If a school disagrees with a comment in a review, we will discuss it with them, but (unless there’s a factual inaccuracy) we will not alter our review.

How do you choose your Top 250 schools? Schools in our Top 250 are chosen by our editorial panel. We take into account a wide range of factors: everything from the obvious ‘quantifiables’ like academic results and facilities to the ‘unquantifables’ like local reputation and the views of parents and pupils. Schools cannot pay for a place on our Top 250 list.

Do the schools edit these comments in your ‘Parents tell us’ and ‘Pupils tell us’ sections? No. We ask every school to give us the names of parents and pupils who would be willing to fill in our surveys, but the schools do not see or edit the survey responses. In addition, we send out our surveys to other parents and pupils in our wide network to give you as broad a view as possible. If you would like to fill in our survey, please click here.

About Talk Education

Why did you start Talk Education? Our team spent almost 10 years researching, writing and editing a schools guide for a glossy magazine, building an unparalleled network of contacts, access and experience. We loved our jobs but came to realise that there was so much more we could do with this experience: write more detailed reviews and features; update our content more regularly; use our team’s knowledge to give parents bespoke advice on their schools choices, particular to their children and their family circumstances; and run more, bigger, better events on a wider range of topics, in different formats – digital as well as face to face. Talk Education is the result of a two-year rollercoaster journey, involving many meetings, countless ‘lightbulb moments’, a vast network of wise counsellors, huge amounts of mildly hysterical laughter, the odd 3am blind panic and much coffee. We are very proud of the result.

Why don’t you have a printed guide?
Very simply, because we don’t need to. The digital format gives us the freedom to say what we need to say in our reviews without being limited to a set wordcount. It gives us the opportunity to update our reviews on a minute-by-minute basis. Schools are ever-changing: every time we published our printed guide, without fail, a head would announce their retirement the next day – making that review out of date before the guide reached the newsstand. With Talk Education, we are able to give our school subscribers the opportunity to add their own news and announcements to their page, and we can send you notifications when a school you are interested in posts news on their page.

Why don’t you have advertisements on your site? Again, simple answer: because we don’t want to. We want our site to be easy to navigate and beautiful to look at, uncluttered by frustrating, distracting, unhelpful ads.

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