How do you choose a secondary school?(14 Posts)
When looking around secondary schools on open mornings and 'show' evenings, what sort of things should I be looking for? What sort of questions should I be asking? Is it OK to go on gut instinct? Must one like the head teacher? Should impressive new laboratories sway me? What hidden clues might I find? More fundamentally, should I let my ten-/eleven-year-old choose or should I decide first and then say: here's your next school, darling, isn't it lovely?! Any and all advice welcome!
I let ds choose, he has to go there.
tbh I don't think there should be a choice, but we have to work with the system we've got.
Gut instinct is the biggest factor for me. Result are a help but remember they depend a lot of the kids they get in at 11.... Especially if there are selective schools locally the intake to the comps is naturally the lower group academically, so even if they do brilliantly they aren't going to have lots of kids with all A*s
Don't be swayed by shiny facilities- it's nice but not the most important thing in an education. However frankly run down and abused corridors/furniture clearly reflects that noone cares. Old but kempt facilities are fine IMHO.
You don't have to like the head but you have to buy into his attitude to the way the school is run.
THe biggest selling point is the kids- are they bright, reasonably turned out and interactive both with you and your DC. REmember these are the carefully selected ones "on show" so if they are sullen and grunty with little eye contact, think what the others would be like!! (I walked out of a school without viewing it because of manky corridors and the heads speech- plus the fact that the head boy and girl could neither string a few words together to say what the school means to them when the powerpoint died- if the head boy and girl can think and talk on their feet what hope?).
When we took DD2 to her school - OK it was already DD1s school but she was grabbed by a year7 for a tour (a year 7 who'd been there a month by then), and introduced to all the teachers, and generally talked to death by her new best friend by the end of it!
If there are subjects your DC is particularly interested in, then take a good look at those areas, maybe find out how many children take those subjects once they are optional. It can be a bit of a "popularity contest" sometimes how many children carry on with some subjects, which isn't exactly fair but gives you an idea how much the DC like the teachers in those areas.
Ask how they arrange sets, how much movement there is, how they differentiate for more/less able pupils - specially if you think your child is likely to be up or down on "average" for some subjects.
Get an idea of how the teachers feel about you asking that kind of question - you'd like them to feel happy explaining their system to you, not defensive or dismissive of your interest.
New labs - nice, but take a look at the bits they aren't making a big fuss to show you - I was put off one (private) school which had a great new science block, but one of the stairs in another part of the school had a handrail which badly needed to be repaired (and it wasn't new damage)...
I think taking the DC with you is good, you want them them to feel involved in the decision.
I chose the primary feeder for the secondary I wanted and kept my fingers crossed
catchment school was NEVER an option
not many other schools within a sane distance round here
DH decides on schools as he sees hundreds of them
I'm not really sure how much of a choice I actually have. There are three state comprehensives within walking/shortish bus ride of us. One is catchment, two aren't. Apparently there is no hope at all of getting into one of the non-catchment ones because it is so popular. The other one is undersubscribed and I think I prefer it to our catchment one even tho it has a worse OFSTED rating because I thought the head was trustworthy, honest and warm. On the other hand, our catchment school has a 'good' OFSTED rating, good value-added scores and most of our school goes there so there will be lots of friends for my DS.
Theas18: thank you for the comment about the children. Yes will definitely pay attention there. Also good point MumInScotland about the setting and how teachers react to you asking
We looked over 3 schools the first time and another 3 the second time, but were restricted in our actual choice due to need for disabled access.
Went with the dc and had a joint family discussion.
Out of those schools, we saw one on each occasion that we would have been anxious to avoid at any cost:
the first one was run by a religious, sect, really disorganised, had no idea how they would arrange disabled access or pastoral care, spoke as if all parents would find academic subjects nasty and threatening and something for the school to protect them from insofar as possible
second school equally disorganised, conflicting info on pastoral care or special needs, teachers who showed us round also seemed very reluctant to speak about the more academic subjects
All the other schools we would have been ok with.
As for the personality of the headteacher, there are things I would be wary of: one that speaks with no empathy of struggling or disabled students or students with learning difficulties I would give a wide berth (we've dealt with one of those in the past and it really affected the way the whole staff behaved).
I spent well over a year and a half looking for a school for special needs DD. DS, non special needs but seriously high achiever now in same school. DON'T WAIT FOR THE NICE SHINY OPEN NIGHTS WHEN THEY ALL LOOK FANTASTIC - go make an appointment for during the day when the school is in full swing - warts and all!! Get a feel for the places you go to and ask questions till you get the answers you're looking for. Any school that says "Sorry we can't accomodate your request during school hours" ask two questions - what do you have to hide and why don't you want me in the building?? This worked for my lot and they have NEVER looked back - amazing school I found - turned it upside down during a school day and asked some VERY VERY VERY awkward questions got straight answers from the pupils too!! The school were happy for me to do it and I stayed there for three hours so gained a good insight as to how they worked during the day - good choice!! Good luck!!
If you are working try doing it anyway - it is worth it honestly - gives you a totally different insight to the school - also try and wait outside the gates when the pupils are coming out - that's a good indicator too suprisingly!! Yes the open/nights days are good but not as good as having a right nosey around and following your instincts when you're there!! Mum's instinct is usually spot on!!
Yep don't fall for all of the 'hype' etc. I have just obtained a copy of our local senior school prospectus - it is UBER glossy and shiny etc etc etc.. and contains no relevent information what so ever!! Doesn't give you exam passes in subjects for last year's 11's or the bacalaureate results or much else - all show and no substance - just like the school really!! Pictures look pretty but that's about it - some of the photos they have used are at least four years old because the people in them used to be in my DS's year and so he knows that they don't look like that now!!
Unless you go private or you have grammars is there really a choice? You just send your children to the local school.
>When looking around secondary schools on open mornings and 'show' evenings...
go to these but also get a tour in working hours. Any decent school will happily arrange this.
>Is it OK to go on gut instinct?
partially - if your guts scream 'no', run.
>Must one like the head teacher?
No, but you should trust them
> Should impressive new laboratories sway me?
As a scientist I'd say, no. The teachers matter more.
>should I let my ten-/eleven-year-old choose or should I decide first
I'd say, narrow it down to two or three acceptable options (if available) and then let them have their say. The destination of their current friends shold not be an allowable factor though.
Thank you everyone for the excellent advice. Yes, will make sure I go during the day and watching the students leaving school at the end of the day is a good idea.
Twinklytroll: there is a real choice between two schools for us: one is our catchment school and the other is actually closer, takes a good number of children from my children's primary school, and undersubscribed so we'd definitely get in.
GimmaTheNome: all wise words, thank you so much.
This year is two years before decision time for us, so I went to one or two open evenings and got thoroughly confused. Next year I will be more prepared!
Thanks so much for the views
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