My top tips for choosing a secondary school for your child

Sep 9 • Featured, Uncategorized • 767 Views • 8 Comments on My top tips for choosing a secondary school for your child

It’s that time of year again when parents across the country are having to make the potentially life-changing decision about which secondary school to apply for. Well we've been there, suffered the sleepless nights, dreamed about exams and application forms and come out the other side. If you’re one of those increasingly rare families where a place at a decent secondary school is cast-iron guaranteed, or you’ve been able to move on top of the school of your choice, this post isn’t for you. For everyone else, here are my top tips:

1. Try not to panic.

2. Do your research. Visit as many schools as you can, look up their Ofsted reports and league table results (but remember neither are the be all and end all), talk to other parents about their children’s experience of the school if you can (but remember, all children are different. What was right for their kid might not be right for yours.)

3. Be realistic about what your child is and isn’t capable of. If you think they can pass the 11plus or an entrance exam, go for it. But if you know deep down it’s unlikely and you’ve left it too late for any extra tuition, it’s probably not worth putting them through it.

4. Make sure you consider the pastoral care at the school. Do the kids seem happy, sociable, easy to talk to? That’s usually a good sign. What’s the policy on bullying?

5. Try not to panic.

6. Think about what your child wants to study, what they’re interested in. Does the school cater for this? There’s probably no point in sending a kid who’s interested in the arts to a technology college just because it's close to your home, for example (I know a family who did exactly this and it turned out to be a disastrous decision).

7. Have a look at the 6th form, and the school’s leavers’ results.

8. Try not to make your decision based on where your son or daughter’s friends are going to school. The friends they have at 10 won’t necessarily be the kids they want to hang out with when they’re in their teens.

9. Consider distance – will your child be exhausted by a long journey to school? Remember also that train or bus rides are often a great opportunity for kids to build friendships.

10. Try not to panic.

So those are my top tips. If you’ve been through it, please do share yours – and if you’re going through it, good luck. There is light at the end of that tunnel, I promise.

written by Liz Jarvis


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8 Responses to My top tips for choosing a secondary school for your child

  1. Naomi says:

    Great post. I think it is really important to listen to the wants of your child. I have seen unhappy children whose parents have chosen a school for them where they don’t know many people/haven’t gone with friends.

  2. Deer Baby says:

    Don’t Panic Mr Mannering!!!! Yes that’s how it feels in my house. We’re doing all of the above – very good advice. But I live in Brighton which has the relatively new lottery system they’re trialling or "random allocation" they now call it. If he gets the terrible school, we’re going to have to move completely out of Brighton – and quickly. Or we might pre-empt it and move now. I suppose at least we’re lucky we can consider moving. Some people can’t. Watching The Big School Lottery on BBC2 for the last two nights and the Article in The Guardian made depressing viewing/reading.

  3. Kath@Parklover says:

    Much better advice here than the Guardian piece, which made my blood boil with it’s dismissal of schools as "rubbish" without any context. Find out how the school does with pupils of similar abilities to your child. Visit on parent’s evening as staff and children will have time to talk – but also try to visit on a normal day, so you can see the school when it’s not "on show". Many heads will show you around by appointment. Look at the school’s results in context – they may not be top of league table, but may get excellent value added scores.

  4. Kath@Parklover says:

    Sorry, one more! Talk to parents who have actucally sent their children to the school. Take comments about a school’s reputation from parents who didn’t send their children there with a pinch of salt. Also, take Ofsted reports with a pinch of salt! I should say, I havn’t been through this process with my daughter yet – I’m teacher, so I’m seeing thngs as an insider.

  5. Crystal Jigsaw says:

    Great post! I’m just going through some difficult decisions now having realised that boarding school might be best for Amy when the time’s right. Up here, we have a 3 tier system; first; middle; high school. The children go to high school aged 13. However, where I live there are 2 average high schools, one is 15 miles away and the other is 22 miles away, there are others of course but they are too far to travel on a daily basis.. The furthest one is definitely a no go as I’ve heard some bad reports about it, and being a once bitten-twice shy kinda gal, I’ve decided against it. The nearest one isn’t fantastic either. But as you know, Amy is autistic and requires a slightly alternative curriculum to that offered by a general high school which is why we are now thinking about boarding school. She can’t go to a normal boarding school because they won’t give her the special needs support that she requires and the county education dept will only award her the bare minimum which is neither use nor ornament. So, we are looking into a boarding school run by the National Autistic Society which is funded by county and requires jumping through endless hoops to get into. Understandably, as it will cost around £50-£100k per annum, per child. I have a lot of work to do including getting lots of officials, professionals and teaching staff on my side, their support will be paramount. I’ll be keeping my blog updated with details. I’m sorry, Liz, I’ve almost written a post on here!! CJ xx p.s. like I say, great post!

  6. Jayne Howarth says:

    I agree (especially with numbers 1, 5 and 10). I was in the very same predicament this time last year and it is horribly stressful and worrying for all. I’d add another one (sorry), even if you do ignore tips 1, 5 and 10, try not to let your child see how much you are worried. They know it is a difficult time, but they will feel even more wretched if they witness a parent running around like a headless chicken. It is easier said than done. I had to check myself a couple of times (and berate myself) if my panic and worries bubbled over in front of my daughter. Keep a lid on it, if you can! And definitely, don’t panic. As I said, easier said than done. And despite my intentions, I panicked like hell!

  7. MrsLJHall says:

    We did most of the things that you have suggested when trying to choose a secondary school and whittled it down to a choice of 3, all performing equally well. But the decision was made for us bizarrely in a local skate park where there were 2 separate groups of lads, one group swearing and smoking, one group riding BMXs on the park. My 2 boys had new BMXs and were nervous about going on the park but they were awe struck by what the 2 group of boys were doing. I asked one of the boys if he would mind showing my sons how to do a basic trick – he said yes and used one of their bikes to show them (they said they thought his bike must be better so he used one of theirs to make a point). During the conversation it came out which school they went to – and which school the sweary lot went to. This helped me make my final decision! My son is going to sit the 11plus but whether he goes to grammar or whether he goes to the state school we chose, I will be just as happy and confident that it is a good school. Have been watching the ‘secondary school lottery’ on bbc 2 and am quite shocked at how much some parents pressurize their children and how much other parents just don’t give a monkeys!

  8. sheridan says:

    As an ex Secondary school teacher in Central and East London (King’s X, and Hackney), I know that the bumpf on schools that are "bad" is often utter nonsense. On paper, the school might look bad compared to the high end up the road, but consider the intake. Fact is, "good" schools are often full of middle class parents who have the pushiness, and money to move nearby, and they are often quite unmixed in social, racial and class terms. the "bad" schools will be made up of poorer families, more racially and socially mixed and have a higher turnover of pupils. BUT this doesn’t really make them bad. Conside rthis: if a school has to deal with students with English as a foreign language, often no fixed home, immigration issue, and so on, but STILL manages to get the student a set of a few GCSE’s, has that school really done any worse than the "good" one, with it’s intake of foregone conclusions? No. Only on paper. The few brave souls who did allow their middle class kids into the "bad" schools I taught at did not find their kids suffered. Rather, they blossomed. They mixed with a broad spectrum, they helped others, they dragged results up, they attained comparable results, and in the meantime did the whole school some good. A "bad" school will often have facilities for troubled kids. Troubled kids and statemented kids are VERY underepresented in religious schools and "good" schools. If your child is statemented, don’t be put off by what you hear. And visit. Don’t listen to the worried hype of the people who don’t want their kids to go there if they can’t make it into the grammar. Visit, and ask questions. See the pupils and I bet you will be surprised. Ask yourself, as I did, what is "bad" about a Somalian refugee getting 5 GCSE’s, after only 3 years at school, and learning English to boot? That was a standard case at King’s Cross. The school was "bad", but really, it was exceptional. .


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