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What to focus on when choosing a secondary school?

(27 Posts)
lexlees Tue 20-Oct-15 12:13:31

I am feeling very befuddled.

My ds did an entrance exam to a selective school. It has excellent results. When I did the tour of the school I did not have any 'warm and fuzzy' feeling. I thought the teachers were tired with their lot in life. Something felt stuffy or just 'off'. Ofsted is outstanding.

I then did a school tour of the local high school which on paper has very average results (though improving year on year) but I had all the warm and fuzzies and thought ds would be happy there. The teachers were animated and were able to answer my questions. Ofsted is good.

Both schools look similar (ugly 70s!) with similar facilities. So it was nothing to do with the buildings. I think my ds will enjoy any school and will make the best of anything.

Wanting to do the best for ds - what do I focus on - my warm and fuzzies or send him to a school which is considered 'the best'? What if I make the wrong decision?!!

I am staring at the form and do not know which school to put in which order!!!!

Any advice would be appreciated

Thumbcat Tue 20-Oct-15 12:22:33

I'm a great believer in going with the warm and fuzzies.

Sidge Tue 20-Oct-15 12:31:15

Ofsted isn't the be-all and end-all IMO. But a good Ofsted is certainly a decent starting point.

I'd go with the one that you like, regardless of the numbers on the paper. Which one does your DS prefer? Do you have a chance of getting offered a place in either? Remember it's a preference, not a choice.

Gunpowderplot Tue 20-Oct-15 12:36:53

Try to talk to parents of children who are already at the school.

TeenAndTween Tue 20-Oct-15 14:09:56

Are you looking at absolute results, or results relative to incoming levels? It makes a big difference.

lexlees Tue 20-Oct-15 14:24:41

I have spoken to one parent who has kids in both schools and she just gushes about the local school and says the selective school is 'meh'. She says the child in the local school gets an opportunity to 'shine' and is getting higher grades but the other child is just one of many bright kids just expected to do well.

I am not sure if I am just getting influenced by that!

My ds got a high enough score to apply for selective but it is still no guarantee to get in. The local school is technically my closest school.

lexlees Tue 20-Oct-15 14:25:36

I guess I am looking at absolute results. Pardon my ignorance, what are results relative to incoming levels?

TeenAndTween Tue 20-Oct-15 14:41:36

A selective school would expect to get very good 5A*-C incl English & Maths GCSEs. I would think 90% plus. Similarly Ebacc figures would be better.

A comprehensive will always look 'worse' in comparison. I think the average is around 60%(?)

For comparison, our 2 local 'leafy comps' in a non-selective area both got around 72% this year.

However, if you go to the Dept of Education website you can look at information of results compared with incoming y6 SATs levels. L5+ are 'high achievers' L4 'average' and L3 'low achievers' or something.

So you can see how each separate group does. If you think your child is a L5 you can just compare that.

Even then, a selective school may have a higher number of 5a+ than your comp so it is still a bit hard to compare.

(Basically, a selective school is a bit like the 'top set' of a comp so unfair to compare including the comps middle and lower sets).

Gunpowderplot Tue 20-Oct-15 15:01:52

I have relatives whose middle class etc etc children went to the comprehensive, while all their friends went private. They shone at the comp, were showered with gifted and talented courses, representing the school in lots of things, and have ended up at Oxford and Cambridge respectively.
If it feels right to you, gets good results for its intake, and parents like it, I'd go for the comp. Worth checking that it sets in most subjects, and sets early.

lexlees Tue 20-Oct-15 15:11:34

I just went onto the dept of education website.

Compared to other schools in the area the local school has relatively poor results - i.e., Only 86% of high attainers get 5 A-C GCSE versus 99% in the selective and 94% in other local schools. It is universally lower across the board. Less than UK average -only 48% got gcses A-C compared to 83% in another local school and 89% in the selective.

My heart sinks further when I look at A level results and see noone got A* in maths and noone got higher than a C in further maths - (my ds loves maths & science) and no As in biology or physics.

I am overwhelmed with what it all means. If less high attainers did well or noone got As in subjet - what does that mean?! The statistics really look horrible - but I got the warm and fuzzies!

I am just going in circles!! Sorry....

SomedayMyPrinceWillCome Tue 20-Oct-15 15:22:11

No help at all but I'm in the same situation but with primaries - it really feels like heart vs head. I'm watching with interest

TeenAndTween Tue 20-Oct-15 19:50:13

'Brighter' children may transfer to the grammar for 6th form.

Remember that if your local is effectively a 'secondary modern' due to close proximity of selective grammar then it's stats will be worse.

How 'local' is the other local school that got 83%? Is it close enough that it also should be impacted by the selective? (83% is very good for a non selective).

Remember also what I said above. The selective may be creaming off all the level 5a and 6 high attainers, thus leaving the 5c&b for the local school, but this won't be differentiated in the stats.

Stats can inform questions to ask perhaps, but very difficult without knowing the intake to tell whether a school really is 'better' based on them.

mummytime Wed 21-Oct-15 07:25:58

What are the value added scores like? over 1000 is a positive improvement, under means they are achieving less than you would expect from their incoming SATs results.

horsford Wed 21-Oct-15 07:38:10

On the limited info, I would pick the other local school in preference with the 83% as opposed to the 48% GCSE A-C pass rate. That's a huge gap between schools in the same area. However, other things to consider are lesson length (in my non grammar area, there is a school with 100 minute lessons!) and whether there is an actual choice of MFLs and how they teach/offer sciences. Gather as much info so at least you can make a more considered 'choice' when you state your preferences.

PerspicaciaTick Wed 21-Oct-15 07:41:51

What about your DS? Did he get the warm fuzzies? If choosing is tricky then I'd be tempted to let him have his say too.

TalkinPeece Wed 21-Oct-15 09:29:52

Go with where you will feel happy

happy children can exceed expectations
unhappy children rarely do

senua Wed 21-Oct-15 10:21:37

We chose a school that was brilliant when DS was in Y6. The HT left at the end of Y7 and the replacement wasn't as good (despite being the deputy HT, so he'd seen excellence in action). The school spent the next seven years sliding down the league tables until he was pushed jumped.
What are the long term prospects?

lexlees Wed 21-Oct-15 11:41:12

In answer to questions:

DS did not do any of the school tours - and says he doesn't mind which school he goes to.

The 83% local school is my top choice, but unless you live 1.2km from it, you won't get in (we live about 3.5km from it!). It is the type of school people sell up and move to the area just for that school. I am naively still putting it as a choice on the form.

The value add score for the nearest school I mentioned is 993 - so it is below 1000.

Autumnsky Wed 21-Oct-15 13:55:58

48% GCSE A-C is a bit low. In my area, good school generally will have this above 65%.

I suppose the overall teaching in each school is similar. The important things would be the students. Will your DS have a group of friends similar to him? Is the class dicipline good? Are there lots of bully behaviours?

For selective school, it depends on your DS's personality. How does he feel if he is in the middle of the class after hard work? How about the extra curicculum activities?

sunnydayinmay Wed 21-Oct-15 19:28:17

Is it too late to take your ds around the schools? We went for the warms and fuzzy option (although DH had reservations), but it had 84% gcse a*-c pass rates, and I cross examined the head of maths at the open day.
DS clearly felt more comfortable there than at the more sought after v.selective school.

I can see your concern.

bicyclebell Wed 21-Oct-15 23:18:19

I'm struggling with the same dilemma at the moment. My DS loves the 50% A- C GCSE local school. I loved it too. I could see that DS would shine there.

Have really surprised myself - but I think this will be the one we go for ...

ScentedJasmine Thu 29-Oct-15 07:56:04

Bicyclebell. Similar situation to you except I am not struggling.
Gone with fuzzy glow school [for me, other parents glow at different triggers!].
Bottom line results far less than more 'Middleclass' popular school but... a real buzz about it, great Head and a feel that everything moving forward to the best of all children. [Also need to look at progress, early entry results impacting, etc ...not just bottom lines].
I feel my child more likely to shine here and will flounder at hothouse alternative.
My decision made...

WiryElevator Thu 29-Oct-15 08:10:34

I'm also a big believer in the power of intuition with these things. We chose a secondary for DS based on this, despite different reservations. He's a term in and absolutely thriving there, and I am sure will continue to.

Just been to see various schools for DD, and the one I can see her thriving in is totally different to the norm, again. But I think as a parent, you just know. We walked round some schools which were wonderful in many ways, but I just couldn't see my child there.

However, both schools we've chosen have very good results. I'm not sure how I would feel if their results weren't good.

kjwh Thu 29-Oct-15 11:33:40

It was the staff who swayed our decision more than anything.

The school had some buildings which were very old and dark, scruffy, in quite a poor state really, roof leaking in some classrooms. The hall was terrible with faded curtains, ancient chairs, etc. But it was age rather than vandalism that was the obvious cause. We didn't really like the place, but our son didn't seem bothered.

What really attracted him was the nurturing nature of the teachers. They came and talked to our son at a mature level and all had some interactive tasks on the tables that they could do together whilst talking. The tours were conducted by sixth formers who were very professional and talkative, again to everyone rather than the usual loud-mouths asking all the questions. The head and deputies were walking around and happily engaging with the kids and parents throughout the evening. They also had all the after school activities on display, which really was extensive, again, staffed by teachers and sixth formers who willingly interacted with the kids. They were very open about how they dealt with gifted children and equally open about how they dealt with discipline and bullying, down to being able to give us statistics as to numbers of detentions, suspensions and exclusions!

The other schools we visited were modern and bright which superficially looked better, but sadly the teachers weren't interested - they were stood around in huddles talking to each other and would grudgingly answer questions only if approached. The tours were done by first formers and were shambolic to say the least. There were no interactive tasks for the kids to do. No details at all about after school clubs. The only time we saw the head was for his speech in the hall, lasting about 5 minutes, telling us how good the school was, and then he disappeared by a back-stage door never to be seen again! We were met with blank looks when we ask how they deal with gifted children - we got the impression, they don't actually do anything. As for discipline and bullying, we just got formulaic responses pointing us to meaningless notices on classroom walls saying bullying and disruption was not fair to the pupils wanting to learn!

Our son's choice was easy for him to make - the dark old school with the friendly teachers. His choice has proven to be correct as he's had no problems in the transition to secondary school and he regularly comments about how the teachers are helpful and approachable. Never once has he not wanted to go to school and now, three years later, he's still as enthusiastic as ever, nurtured by the enthusiastic teachers. His best friend from primary was seduced by the modern bright school and absolutely hates it, constantly wanting days off, constantly complaining about being bullied, etc.

It's people that matter, not places!

Elibean Fri 30-Oct-15 20:24:35

wiryelevator I could almost have written your post - and quite agree!

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