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What to look for in a secondary school please?

(13 Posts)
MaggieW Mon 19-Sep-11 08:14:35

I wasn't educated in the UK so have got my head around primary, but am at sea with secondary. I'm going to some open days to have a look at schools, although DS isn't due to start til September 2013, but am not sure what all the things are that I should be looking out for. Any tips please?

VivaLeBeaver Mon 19-Sep-11 08:34:14

The main thing I looked for on the open evenings was enthusiastic staff. I tried to chat to as many staff members as possible about their departments. We went to look round 4 schools, one was very impressive, 2 were OK and one was terrible as far as the impressions that the staff gave. The one that was impressive was not the one with the highest exam results either but its the one that both me and DD prefer.

We also chatted to existing pupils as we wandered about and its interesting to see what they have to say.

Away from open evenings I've been chatting to parents of kids who are already at the schools and looking at league tables, especially at the Value Added Scores.

Theas18 Mon 19-Sep-11 11:26:02

The kids at open evenings were a fantastic eye opener between schools- these are the ones they have picked as the "helpful good role model" ones so if they shuffle feet and grunt/chat amongst themselves whilst they are supposed to be looking after you I'd note that. If they are bright/interactive/articulate that is a real winner for me. One of he schools I visited with DS we put on his list because my abiding memory was that all the boys were smiling and smiley teens are rare!

whoknowswho Mon 19-Sep-11 11:41:11

I think the evening events to look around the schools are very staged. All the pupils in attendance are handpicked to give the right impression... I agree with Theas if the ones the ones you meet at such an evening are not desirable - what are the rest going to be like?!! Much better I think to arrange an appointment to view the schools during an ordinary working day - this way you'll get a much better feel for the place. Aside from exam results and specialist subjects you particularly want, I vote "gut feeling" the best judge! Good Luck!

RedHelenB Mon 19-Sep-11 17:42:46

Open evenings first then from that go round during classes to see what goes on!!

Cartoonjane Mon 19-Sep-11 17:46:44

If you can possibly go and have a look during the school day I would. Even better if you are brave enough to ask to go off the route they try to take you on, "Could we just take a look down there?" type of thing. Personally I would look at the Ofsted report. I know Ofsted can be contraversial but in my experinece they have always got it right (that's 5 inspections in three different schools).

GrungeBlobPrimpants Mon 19-Sep-11 18:59:02

Chatting to staff
Head's talk - certainly a couple put me right off
GCSE options and leavers destinations give you a 'feel'

Though having said all that, remember that ultimately choice is illusionary; you can express a preference but are most likely to be allocated your nearest school. Or if you're going the independent or grammar route, the one that gives your dc an offer based on exam results.

Wormshuffler Mon 19-Sep-11 19:17:03

For Me I like to hear the Head talk about how they look for the best in every individual student. I went to the local Grammar school open evening and loved it until the Head opened his mouth telling us all about how X was now a CEO of a supermarket chain and Y was the national polo champion. What about all the other kids in the school, do they only like the over achievers?
That said the exam pass rate was phenominal.

CrystalChandelier Mon 19-Sep-11 19:20:25

On open evenings, ask your guide pupil what the worst thing about their school is. We found them to be brutally honest, and if they say something like 'strict teachers' or 'huge amounts of homework' it can't be all bad.

cat64 Mon 19-Sep-11 19:24:26

Message withdrawn

MaggieW Tue 20-Sep-11 08:13:37

Great tips - thank you all. Went on one open morning yesterday (am trying to go during school day as you've suggested) and the guides were fab - as you notedTheas, smiling teenagers - and very enthusiastic, but at the same time quite honest and open about the school. It did feel staged and the head teacher said all schools put on their "christmas clothes" for open day/evening, but he hoped that we'd see beyond that, which I thought was quite good. They also had two kids speak to the audience, which I was blown away by, as they were so articulate and although nervous, confident enough to do that. Thanks again.

ellisbell Tue 20-Sep-11 09:11:58

try to go during a normal day or at least to go past at leaving time and watch how the students behave then. You want a school where standards of behaviour are high.

How do teachers talk to the pupils? We would not consider one school after the deputy head was abrupt with two young people who had done nothing wrong.

How well do the school do with children like yours? This isn't about league table results as a school that has a mix of pupils can't be expected to get the same results as a super selective. One of my children's friends went to a school noted for being good with special needs. They had a very friendly atmosphere. He was a bright boy and he got excellent results there, he would have done no better at a super-selective school. However he did have to move school for A level. His equally bright (older) sister had been to a different school that had "better" GCSE results and did poorly, hence the unusual choice of school (but one that was determined to support all its students).

Check the toilets. Ask about lunchtime/after school clubs - if there are none the teachers are not enthusiastic. Check rate my teacher.

Parents of children at the school may be reluctant to give you an honest opinion unless they know you very well. Students won't be allowed to show parents round if they are too honest. Try to speak to someone whose children have just left the school.

jgbmum Tue 20-Sep-11 13:29:50

I agree with many of the points raised above, but would add that at my DCs school all Y7s are invited to take part in showing parents & prospective pupils round (this in the summer term) so there will always be a selection of the confident, chatty, articulate plus the shy, awkward, mumblers. I think this shows caring for individuals in action, rather than a shop-front, best behaviour approach.
Personally, I am also interested in seeing if the teachers spend time getting to know the children and engaging their interest rather than mine grin

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