What are you looking for in a School?

(34 Posts)
Kenlee Thu 09-Jan-14 11:46:51

What are the priorities?

Academia, Sports, Pastoral care , Arts or Music

or anything in between.

I'm just curious how your decision was made..and why?

creamteas Thu 09-Jan-14 12:06:12

My DC all went to their catchment area schools (and before anyone asks, no we didn't choose our home on the basis of the schools)

Mintyy Thu 09-Jan-14 12:09:24

We had a choice of 2 for our dd and chose the one with the slightly better local reputation, which is pretty middle class of us.

All of it Kenlee, with the main emphasis on Academia (on the right level for our ds) and in close proximity to our home.

steppemum Thu 09-Jan-14 12:19:34

depends a lot on child, your expectations, and schools available.

ds is quite clever. he could do well academically, but he is also very peer driven (if it isn't 'cool' he won't do it) so we looked for a school where being bright and doing well was an important part of the culture.
he is actually probably going to go to the grammar school (we will know in march)
he also likes sport, but is no future England player, so a school where he would get lots of sport for fun/team experience was important too.

dd is musical, and very clever in 'non girls' subjects- especially maths she is also quiet in the class and tends to get overlooked. She is only year 4, but I think we will try and get her into the girls school.

My friend's dd is not really an academic type. But she loves her music and drama. They have looked at a school with a big emphasis on performing arts, and at the same time good solid results.

Another friend has a daughter who wants to be a doctor, they went purely by the highest results on the league table.

We visited loads of schools, atmosphere, behaviour and how well the staff interacted with parents and kids was important too.

TeenAndTween Thu 09-Jan-14 12:38:56

We looked for pastoral care, a good level of academics for our level of child, quality of life, and general ethos of the school.

By quality of life I essentially mean commuting method / time.

Ethos of the school e.g. overtly pushy, 'whole child centred', 'have to be sporty to get on' etc.

If looking now I would also wish to be aware of:
- do they set or stream
- who gets to do triple science for GCSE
- how flexible are options choices
- how to contact teachers

Mintyy Thu 09-Jan-14 12:39:57

Just curious, those of you who have visited loads of schools - these are private, right?

Mintyy, not all. We visited our local comprehensives, not so local faith schools, and a few private schools.

Both DS1 and DS2 were fortunate enough to meet the admissions criteria for three different state secondaries.
We chose the one we chose because:

The journey was manageable.

The pupils seemed articulate, polite and enthusiastic about the school.

It is known for good discipline and a lack of low-level disruption, so the pupils who want to learn can do so without distraction.

(For DS2 onlysmile It was the only school out of the three that promised to differentiate for his level of giftedness, and the only school of the three that had existing plans in place to help those with Asperger's.

I have friends who had had negative experiences of the other two schools (bullying not dealt with).

DS1 has now been there for over two years and DS2 has been there for a term. Based on our experience so far, I would give the school 5 stars, 10/10 etc.

We didn't discover this at the time, but the two schools we rejected both stream children (one stream across all subjects) from Y7, which I disapprove of. *

The school we chose does setting in certain subjects, mixed ability teaching for the rest until Y10.

* Streaming can be disastrous for some children, especially those who are very able in some subjects but struggling in others.

The smile in my first comment was an accidental by-product of punctuation, but DS2 does make me smile daily.

steppemum Thu 09-Jan-14 13:05:18

we visited loads of schools - not one of them is private.

We live in a large city. Our 2 nearest schools are rubbish, most of the rest of the schools in the city are accessible. This year there are more places than kids, so we stand a very good chance of getting into pretty much any of the schools, bar one, which is very popular and so you would need to live within about 1 mile.

Our favourite local school is actually in a small town 20 minutes drive away. They run buses from our city. Next favourite is in a small town in the other direction. They run buses.

The grammar school is selective, done on results not distance, so he will go on the train.

So yes, we get a wide choice.

dd2's year (she is onl year 1 so don't have to worry yet!) is a massive bulge year, so then we will be relying on sibling place if we end up at local school

steppemum Thu 09-Jan-14 13:08:54

we did look at which subjects were streamed (we wanted subject streaming not whole class streaming)
one school didn't stream at all for anything until year 9, we rejected it.
and asked about how they dealt with discipline issues
and asked about which languages were on offer,
and whether triple science was an option.

and noted that the children showing us round on open evening we nice, articulate, charming kids, that \i want my child to be.

happygardening Thu 09-Jan-14 13:09:33

Having decided that we wanted a super selective for DS2, we then looked at opportunities outside of the main curriculum, his slightly niche sport, regular lectures, talks, concerts, plays and other extra curricular activities that we thought might interest him, we talked informally, listened and watched lots of pupils and staff at our two chosen schools, we were not looking for a sausage factory but one where my eccentric lone wolf DS could actually be himself and most importantly be accepted as himself. As we were looking for full boarding (for us another important must have lots of) pastoral care is also very important, we are hands off parents so the HM in particular has to be someone we can trust and relate too. Distance and convenience also played a part in our eventual decision I have a no more than 1 1/2 hour (one way) drive rule preferably on good roads no windy back lanes or even worse half the M25 and and I nearly forgot no ridiculous outdated uniform. Finally we looked at other super selectives (both state and independent) but didn't go any further than the initial look round, I personally like to feel comfortable at these schools, there was nothing wrong with them but I just didn't feel comfortable. I also hate the slightly gushing smarmy sell some schools give you makes me want to run from the hills. I'm frequently write that I'm proud to say I've never looked at a bathroom or a loo and am only moderately interested in dorms. I also pay scant attention to manicured playing fields, library's, swimming pools, science labs and gyms I just assume that they are there and they will be of satisfactory standard.
My DS wanted to be based in a biggish town/city I can understand that because we've always been very rural.

Shootingatpigeons Thu 09-Jan-14 13:58:07

In both cases I was looking above all for the school where they, and I, felt they would be happy. I didn't particularly bother about sports etc facilities, we were primarily looking at London selective indies and they all offer amazing extra curricular activities and facilities. My oldest DD is a Science geek and wanted to see the Science labs (I wouldn't know one from another grin ) my younger DD is a drama queen but that said, she didn't pick the school with the best facilities. I didn't particularly worry about academic results because though local parents have a notional league table in their Heads, the reality is that all the schools we were looking at enable bright DCs to get strings of A/A* and to the best universities.

We did look at state schools, the local ones and the super selective. We were attracted by the social mix in the local outstanding comprehensives but the non selective ones are hugely oversubscribed and we were going to have to make a late application. We did not get offered a place in a local school initially and when we did, three weeks into term my DD was settled elsewhere. My DD hated the super selective because the staff were extremely cold (perhaps not surprisingly since they have 10 applicants for every place) and openly stated that they expected those who came bottom in yearly exams to leave. That didn't make DD feel as if they had any interest in or care for individuals, and on top of that the Science labs were limited and dingy. She said it felt a bleak depressing place. She did manage to get into the required top 3 percentile in the admissions test but completely refused to go there.

It was during the admissions process that she finally realised where she wanted to go, and it wasn't the most selective school she was offered a place at. She found them arrogant and patronising during the interviews whereas at the school she choose she clicked with the Headmistress. It was not just that interest was shown in her and her experiences overseas but that it was done in a way that was intellectually challenging but also with a sense of humour and fun. Another school that offered her a place sent the wrong exam paper overseas and then insisted she sat the right one when back for interviews so she wasn't impressed by them either!

Sadly come DD2s admissions process all she wanted was to get selected for the same school as her sister. She does not find it as easy to show her ability as her sister, though in some areas she actually has greater ability, and she had a diagnosis of SpLDs so we were looking for schools with good support, and that showed their commitment by giving extra time. She did get offered a place at her sister's school and accepted it, though I just felt that another school would be better for her, one that was coed (she doesn't handle girly politics well) and (slightly) more mixed academically. I even had dream about it. And that is where she choose to go at 16 after coping with a very difficult cohort, and exclusive and manipulative behaviour at the other school for 5 years. She is very happy, popular and doing very well academically.

So there it is, a combination of the practical and the intangible, that the schools just "felt right" .

wordfactory Thu 09-Jan-14 14:32:50

DS school is highly selective and this was one of the main reasons we chose it.

We didn't want him to be able to coast along at the top of a mixed ability school. We wanted a sense of ordinariness for him IYSWIM.

We didn't want him to board and he fancied being in central London. There was also the choir.

For DD I would have chosen the selective girls school nearest to us, but DD hated it. She wanted the small, nurturing, mixed ability school that put high value on the arts.

We went for it and it was the best decision I (n)ever made.

wordfactory Thu 09-Jan-14 14:35:13

Probably should add that DD is going to transfer to DS school for sixth form.

I'm very very sad about this as her school is lovely and she has been very happy. But for her it's the right decision.

Bonsoir Thu 09-Jan-14 14:40:39

My DD will be moving up to secondary in 18 months' time and I have drawn up a shortlist of schools to which we will be applying come the autumn (in Paris applications for secondary start 9-12 months ahead of start date).

My criteria are:

- general quality of academics, but in particular of maths and science (since these are the only subjects in which France reliably meets or exceeds the highest international standards of attainment at secondary school - we need to do well at what school does best IYSWIM)
- quality of bilingual language teaching provision
- quality of other MFL teaching and whether the French NC is abandoned in favour of CEFR-linked curricula
- premises and facilities
- location
- size of school (am not overly keen on very large schools)
- a French NC school (so no international schools)

I am almost totally insensitive to the cost, whether the school is state or private, to whether or not there is a uniform, to whether the school is secular or religious, single sex or mixed.

happygardening Thu 09-Jan-14 14:54:59

Bonsoir your post reminded me that I also wouldn't even consider an RC school or a high Anglican one either, secular would be my preference but not easy to find.
We've chosen single sex and in fact all the super selectives we considered we're single sex at least to their 6 th forms. This was not intentional but rather just lack of choice.

happygardening Thu 09-Jan-14 14:56:41

OP in my now long and extensive experience you can never find all you want in a school or in fact in life in general!

Blu Thu 09-Jan-14 15:34:29

There were 3 local schools we had a very good chance of getting places in: 2 dead certs and 1 good chance. We could also have submitted DS for selective schools within public transport distance (1 easy journey, others long).

There are other local schools we could have got into but didn't apply to as the ones we did visit are closer, have better SATS, better ofsteds and better local reputations.

I was interested in:

Curriculum - triple science, more than 1 MFL possible at GCSE, ditto Geog PLUS history (in some you can only do one).

The way the school dealt with different abilities - through setting, streaming, techniques for mixed ability - and at what stage these were introduced and how often adjusted.

Attitude towards inclusion / SENCO (some mobility issues)

Ethos - evidence of aspirational and inspirational work and projects, opportunities the school took for partnership with external organisations, 'right path for each child' provision - e.g BTECs and other qualifications alongside GCSEs etc, focus of Heads speech, happiness of children showing us round.

Behaviour, enthusiasm, team spirit - amongst children and teachers alike!

We put our nearest school first because it offered the best fit for what we were looking for under all those categories.

We didn't bother with the selective route because we decided that the education on offer at the nearest walkable school would suit our DS very well and that the top sets were comparable to the selective.

So far it has worked out v well and we and DS are happy.

motherinferior Thu 09-Jan-14 15:41:51

I visited a number of local schools: all non-selective state ones.

My priorities: primarily academic - I wanted triple sciences and a range of MFL (as it happens DD1 also does Latin) - and I wanted these delivered by teachers who clearly liked teaching and good at it. I wanted setting, not streaming. I also wanted evidence of decent pastoral care and I wanted a school that's broadly representative of the wide socio-economic and ethnic richness afforded by living in SE London (a benefit I feel v strongly about).

Size wasn't too much of an issue but I do actually like big schools, a lot: I think they allow a wider range of subjects and a much greater chance of being yourself, an individual.

I wasn't, in fact, keen on single sex but I walked into the local girls' comp and thought wow, I want a piece of that.

She's doing really well grin

Bonsoir Thu 09-Jan-14 17:59:34

happygardening - I wouldn't in practice consider an über-Catholic school nor would I consider a Jewish school (DP is Jewish) because they wouldn't meet enough of my other criteria, in particular for languages (the schools that are good at languages/more cosmopolitan are rarely very religious). The DSSs' school is Catholic-lite and has the good bits of Catholicism (kind and caring, community ethos) without the bad.

Dancingdreamer Thu 09-Jan-14 18:15:52

I am going to sound very odd probably but for 2 of my children I didn't really choose the schools at all. I chose my eldest DCs school after loads of research. After 18 months I took her out as she was desperately unhappy there. Couldn't fault the school but the dynamics for her weren't right. She ended up in a school I had dismissed initially, simply as was desperate for her to move. She has absolutely loved it there.

However as a consequence, my DS ended up having to go the closest boys school to my DD's simply due to logistics of getting kids to school. He has loved his school too!

cory Fri 10-Jan-14 09:09:52

I would put academic enthusiasm and pastoral care on about an equal level of priority.

Even if my child had no known problems, good pastoral care signals a good ethos, the kind of values I would want my child to be surrounded by.

Besides, ime a can-do attitude covers a lot of essentials. The schools that went oooh-I-don't-know-about-that-I'm-not-sure-we-could-do-anything about dd's health problems probably went oooh-I-don't-know-about-that about a lot of things. oooh-I-don't-know is basically not a good look.

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