Breaking into the citadel - how do you research secondaries.....

(31 Posts)
thesecretmusicteacher Fri 22-Feb-13 13:11:26

So, here we are, wanting to do the good citizen thing and send DS1 to the local comp on our street. Good but not outstanding. Sends kids to Oxbridge but will they know who DS1 is? Will he get any attention?

Can I get through the door? No I cannot. Not till the Open Day in six months' time, which would be after the exam dates for the selective in the next LEA. I missed the Open Day last autumn because it wasn't publicised to Year 5s.

Mind you, I can't get through the door of the selective grammar either (this time, my more switched on peers went to open day in year 4 then started tutoring!). They tell me to wait for their open day in June - that's 9 months after DS1's classmates started special tutoring.

Now, the £10,000 a year private school on the other hand.... not a problem.... "how much time with the head would madam like?..... we think an hour and a half would be about right.......would Tuesday suit?......Here are some examples of our exam papers.....we'll send you details of our exam dates in six months' time"

So - help me strategise here please people and not end up spending £10,000 a year and breaking faith with all our neighbours (it is an article of faith on my street that you go state and to the local comp.) merely because oversubscribed state schools don't do marketing. How do I inveigle my way into each of the state schools and sneakily research them please?

lljkk Netherlands Fri 22-Feb-13 13:47:03

Do you not have any parents to gossip with about their DC experience of those schools?

There's loads of info and gossip online about most schools.

Have you tried MN local, too, for more gossip?

I think it's bad sign they won't do a private tour, what else does the HT PA do with her time? but maybe normal around your way.

tiggytape Fri 22-Feb-13 13:47:37

Well in fairness, an Open Day in June still gives you lots of time to consider your options before the October deadline and if you are considering grammar school then you will know already whether tutoring is the norm in your area or not. If you cannot get copies of the exam papers any other way though, that would be very unfair but most schools do have them on the website or will email them if you ask even if they won't give you a tour.

The oversubscribed schools near us also make no effort. It annoys a lot of parents but I sort of see their point. There is no point bending over backwards to show a family around when they live 2 miles away and the furthest the catchment goes to is a mile. And the schools that get 1500+ applications for 150 places don't seem fussed about accomodating anyone who misses the open days either - they have enough applicants to pick from as it is. If anything they want less applicants not more.

Private schools however are very different. Many are struggling due to parental lack of funds and they desperately need to attract people in. Of course they will accomodate you if there's the prospect you'll be spending £50,000+ with them over the next few years.

In terms of oversubscribed state schools, either you qualify or you don't. Choice doesn't really come into it. If you have a local comp and a viable grammar that might be the limit of your options and seeing them in the Summer should tell you as much as can be gained from Open Days. I do agree with you about the past papers though and would definitely push to get copies of them if they were handed out at the last Open Day.

fivecandles Fri 22-Feb-13 13:47:41

That's rubbish and I would say unusual. I'd phone again and explain your situation exactly as you have here.

thesnootyfox Fri 22-Feb-13 23:51:13

It tends to be the norm round here that you only visit the schools on open days. Having said that there are loads of community events that take place at our local comp we have been up there a lot.

I have a good feel of the school despite not having attended one of the official open days. I check their website regularly, read all the newsletters and updates on pupils achievements. I have also spoken to lots of parents of pupils. Living in the local area I come into contact with pupils who are currently there on a regular basis.

The open day is an opportunity for the school to shine, everyone is on their best behaviour. You are seeing the best of the school but not necessarily the worst.

BooksandaCuppa Sat 23-Feb-13 00:07:38

Well that is a bit rubbish: I don't know any school around here that would refuse to show round a prospective pupil and parent. I went to see one school we were considering for ds twice (in year 4 and 5) and had appointments with the head or deputy at every one we looked at (ds has Sen).

Having said that, this is an area where people tend not to be so fussy (a mixture of ok ish schools, not massively pushy parents and semi-rural so transport issues around going out of catchment) so I doubt very much the schools are inundated with requests to look around outside of open evenings. It's probably understandably in a more 'competitive' area that they could spend all day every day showing people around...

BackforGood Sat 23-Feb-13 00:08:10

What tiggytape and snootyfox said.
There are opportunities each year for you to go and view the schools. If you are moving across the country, then I'd expect the schools to be able to accommodate a tour, but I can't help hoping that the school staff at the schools my dc go to have better ways of occupying their time than continually showing individual families around, because they are too impatient to wait for the open day, but didn't get themselves organised in time for the previous open day. You could end up with someone doing tours as a full time job if everyone expected private tours.
I totally agree with lljkk though about talking to other parents. You build up a far broader picture of the school by talking to parents of pupils who attend, than you do by speaking to the HT.

BooksandaCuppa Sat 23-Feb-13 00:15:25

And the thing about secondaries is that you can glean quite a lot of information from their websites such as extra-curricular activities, the curriculum, facilities, timetabling, exam course choices, sports etc which is just not possible with a primary school.

Ofsted reports and the stats on the Dfe website can all be useful too and, as others have said, if you've not much actual choice of schools, it can be fairly academic.

Niceweather Sat 23-Feb-13 08:07:32

I would try and find out if they set or stream.

potatoprinter Sat 23-Feb-13 09:03:39

I would start with the Ofsted reports over the last few years - what information can you glean? Do they mention poor behaviour or things that could be improved?

I would then look at the school website - is there evidence it is updated frequently and good communications with parents - newletters etc? Mention of trips and events?

Look at the prospectus are there big pics of the teachers (like DD2's school aarggh) or those of the kids. What does it say about the curriculum? Options later on might be a factor.

Look at your LA website. Ours has a comparative table with all the schools in the borough, including results, ability at entry and importantly staff and pupil turnover.

It is not too late to start tutoring for the grammar. There is an eleven plus exams website with lots of information on how to go about it, specific to area.

I don't blame the school for not doing one off tours. TBH there is little you can gather from open days apart from the general facilities and upkeep - I know some schools put on a big show and only the best behaved kids are invited in to help.

thesecretmusicteacher Sat 23-Feb-13 18:16:59

Thanks.

The point is,

*neither state school will see me - state or comp. I guess this is where private schools get a lot of their customers....
*the grammar will not see me until 3 months before their exam, an exam most people tutur for for a year....so the "real" open day was in year 4 and I've missed it.
*I'd rather not put life on hold tutoring DS1 in for an exam just in case we decide the comp isn't right. I'd rather just get reassurance about the local comp. now and not bother tutoring.

I may have to resort to subterfuge....thanks for the tips

seeker Sat 23-Feb-13 18:23:26

Keep an eye out for plays or concerts or fetes or anything you can go to . make a point of walking past at the start of the day and chucking out time. Have a look at the local paper's website to see what sort of thing the schools get up to.

potatoprinter Sat 23-Feb-13 20:00:09

In my opinion you are putting too much emphasis on the open day and looking round the school. While it is true that you can get an impression of a school and believe me my DD2's school put on a hell of a show to impress, I really think most of your information should come from elsewhere, particularly the views of other local parents. It is easy to get a misleading impression.

For example DD1 goes to a super selective grammar, they used to do a tour of the working school, DD1 told me that they had parents come and gawp at them all afternoon. I later saw a thread wondering why alll the girls seemed so subdued and studious - were they being worked too hard. Ha! Not at all they were just self conscious.

DD2's school a comprehensive also do a tour of the working school, the parents are only guided to the top band's classrooms and take away the expensively produced brochure in a little bag like from a posh shop - hmmm. How much do you learn from that - not a great deal in my opinion!

potatoprinter Sat 23-Feb-13 20:03:12

Ring up and say you are an education minister or a journo doing an article. Mr and Mrs Gove got a personal tour of DD2's school by the Head himself and a journo did a gushing article so I think she did too. Worth a try grin.

HorribleMother Sun 24-Feb-13 10:23:15

Open Days are such a silly frilly show, much better if you can see classes in action or hear details from those who have been there day in day out. DD chose her secondary on the basis of how nice the prom pictures looked (those pix were a big part of the open evening, I kid you not).

thesecretmusicteacher Sun 24-Feb-13 17:01:44

aha! now those strategies I am liking....

I already have a cunning plan .....

motherinferior Sun 24-Feb-13 17:07:56

Er...I know journalists are considered lower than pond scum on MN, and/or anyone could so that job etc etc, but should you go down that route you might want to think about which publication, who commissioned you, when it's for, what your actual angle is, who you would want to talk to...

thesecretmusicteacher Sun 24-Feb-13 18:03:43

thanks mi

I am starting to enjoy this now

have already spotted a musical performance....

<dons dark glasses and cloak>

Elibean Sun 24-Feb-13 19:34:47

Grrrr, pet peeve of mine is schools that won't let people in except on Open Days. I know they have their reasons, but still.....it was one of the things that affected our choice of primary for dds: one school wouldn't let dd visit it, one would but only once we'd got a place, one welcomed her with open arms. Guess which one we picked smile

Anyway, back to you SecretMT......I would find as many current parents as possible and shamelessly pick their brains. Loiter outside the gates (not in dark glasses and cloak or you may get arrested), post on MN for feedback, ask everyone you meet whether they know anyone with a DC there....

Good luck! smile

I am not sure I understand. What year is your child in? Y5? Why is it too late?
Open days are between June and October, application deadline is October?

Whether you aim for grammar or private, your child will need to sit an entrance exam. If you prepare him/her, by starting tutoring now, or by letting him do bond papers, it will only be a good thing! Even if you send him to your local comprehensive.

Not sure where you are, but one of the private secondaries we had applied to for my son had to make a cut off point at 600 applicants for 85 school places. Similarly another school, and a third school had 200 applications for 11 school places for 11+ It is not unusual for private secondaries to be heavily oversubscribed.

As for researching schools? Talk to parents, scrutinize their websites, and check out the ofsted reports, The Good Schols guide. Good luck. We get our state choices on March 1st. Cant wait....

LIZS Sun 24-Feb-13 20:44:00

Surely if you want ds1 to sit 11+ an open day at the local school being in Autumn won't change that. You still have time to send the LA form in afterwards putting the order of preference, even if he has already taken the exam. There are some 11+ areas which close applications for their exam in June btw, or schools even within an LA may differ.

thesecretmusicteacher Mon 25-Feb-13 10:29:39

Thanks for your replies and I'm sorry I'm not being very clear. I think I need to sit a clear communication test myself blush

He's in Year 5.

I don't have any particular desire to have him sit an exam or do the test papers. It's more that if (i)I felt really worried about the comp after seeing it or (ii) I visited the selective over the LEA border and was overwhelmed by how great I thought it was - then it would be worth the hassle of preparing for and sitting an exam and worth DS1 commuting.

I don't see preparing for or sitting the exam as positives in themselves at this age. There's no English test for the over-the-border selective, just verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests. The books on these that you get at WH Smith reminded me most unpleasantly of Law School - a detailed but narrow kind of thinking that's ok in moderate doses only....(the lawyers who insist in continuing to think in this way are rarely successful in their careers).

What I want is to be happy about the comp. and to spend these summer holidays doing something that really contrasts with school and builds up his brain power but also his people skills - like seeing how much better he can get at guitar and how much money he can make busking.... something a bit more real world smile

mummytime Belgium Mon 25-Feb-13 10:49:30

Well I think the schools around you sound a bit rubbish. All the schools around here will let you see around outside of "open days". My DCs school is very over subscribed but runs small tours most Fridays, it understands that really involved parents want to see a school operating as normal.

In fact for Primary school I ruled out the one that wouldn't let you visit outside of "open days". I would probably email the head and stress how much you want to see the school operating as normal.

BTW most schools I know have frequent visitors: prospective teachers, OFSTED, partner schools, trainee teachers and so on. So it tends to be the norm rather than disruptive.

iseenodust Mon 25-Feb-13 10:55:39

They may not want to see you but they'll probably put a glossy brochure in the post. That was enough for me, I was gobsmacked to discover the boys state secondary (not a grammar county) doesn't offer separate sciences at GCSE.

iseenodust Mon 25-Feb-13 10:57:38

Nothing sexist in that comment. The equivalent girls school does offer all sciences.

seeker Mon 25-Feb-13 13:23:45

Lots of schools don't offer 3 sciences now, iseenodust.

iseenodust Mon 25-Feb-13 13:34:28

seeker How depressing. Personally I'd add that to evidence of low aspirations in a school. Not saying should be compulsory part of curriculum for all but feel it ought to be an option.

adeucalione Mon 25-Feb-13 13:52:36

That's crazy - surely the state school knows that an Open Day in September is too late for anyone trying to choose between them and the grammar (who will presumably have the entrance exams at about that time)?

I am incredulous that they won't give you a tour - can you fib and say that you have just moved to the area, maybe that would make them more accommodating?

Failing that you will just have to get a feel for the state school from talking to your neighbours, observing the pupils at finishing time, stalking their website and just generally doing internet research (Ofsted, DofE etc). I think that should give you enough information to get a feel for whether you are likely to be happy with it when they do eventually let you in - if in doubt, start preparing for 11+ (and if it's only VR/NVR then a few practice papers through the summer holidays should be sufficient ime).

I would also go and see the independent school, so that you can make an informed comparison following each Open Day - exams for this school will be next January so if, after the state Open Day in September, you decide that the indie is the best option you will still have four months to prepare (more than enough).

Elibean Mon 25-Feb-13 14:12:25

musicteacher....you know, you sound very clear about what you'd like for your ds smile

Just find out what you need to make you feel more confident about doing it, then do it! If he's happy with it, that is. Your plans for the summer break sound great.

thesecretmusicteacher Mon 25-Feb-13 14:13:09

thanks adeucalione

hooray, someone gets it!
makes me feel better already.

thesecretmusicteacher Mon 25-Feb-13 14:27:45

thanks Elibean, thanks

I am touched x

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