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What questions should I be asking at open evenings?

(30 Posts)
CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 10:54:38

When I applied for Secondary for my DD four years ago, I was looking specifically at how good the school's SEN Dept was, had no clue about asking questions about GCSE's etc, as tbh they weren't even on the radar for a DC that didn't know number bonds to 10 at age 11. (She has improved massively, made the right choice for her.)

However, I am now in the process of applying for Secondary for my DS1. He is totally different, is sitting the 11+, but if he doesn't get a place in the superselective Grammar (96 places for 700+ applicants), I need to find the RIGHT Secondary for him.

At the end of Y5, he was working on L5b in English, L7 in Maths. His Maths is better than mine.

What questions should I be asking? Especially given the changes to linear exams, and the probable introduction of a two-tier exam system.

I want to know how they are set in Maths especially, and how they will differentiate in a mixed class, if they set straight away or after CAT testing, what they do for other subjects too, are they only set in some subjects? All? None?

I can't seem to figure out a clear list of questions, like I could for my DD. It seemed the questions were much more straightforward for her, and I need a list so I don't forget anything.

I'm not bothered about DS1 going to the same school as DD, I just want each DC in the Secondary that is best for them.

Can anyone help me clarify the questions swirling round in my head and get a list together?

Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 16-Sep-12 14:45:20

How and when they set, especially maths, English, languages.

Which MFL(s) they take in Y7 and when/if they add a third.

How they teach Science (all one teacher, or separate lessons with three different teachers).

How they allocate pupils to forms and when they get mixed up.

PE offerings.

Extra curricular drama and music, if this is important to you.

Use of IT, particularly the level on online homework (you will want to have a decent computer, printer and Internet connection at home, or good availability in the school library).

The times of the school day - earliest possible arrival and latest possible leaving times.

If the school does well in a particular area, they will let you know. If they seem silent on anything, you might need to probe.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 16-Sep-12 14:46:57

Another important thing - how can you contact the school? Can you email the form tutor and when can you expect a reply? How easy is it to see the head teacher, or head of pastoral care? Who is your first point of contact, etc etc.

Sparklingbrook Sun 16-Sep-12 14:51:14

After school and lunchtime clubs.

Do they do vertical tutoring?

Are there lockers?

seeker Sun 16-Sep-12 14:56:27

And my two questions when you are being shown round by earnest year 8s-

1)Do you have fun here? 2) Would you want your little brother or sister to come here?

noblegiraffe Sun 16-Sep-12 14:56:32

What extra provision is made for G&T students in maths at KS3 - clubs, competitions, university master classes etc. How they will ensure that he is challenged given that he is so far ahead. What extra exams will he sit and when - e.g. GCSE Stats, additional maths, starting A-level early? What grades are their top set aiming for? Hopefully A* to A, any wider and it shows that there aren't that many high achieving students so they might not be as prepared to deal with them.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 16-Sep-12 15:06:41

Good questions, seeker smile

HauntedLittleLunatic Sun 16-Sep-12 15:07:06

How many KS4 pathways are there (a lot isn't necessarily a good thing because teachers have to dilute their planning time too much but kids need some choice).

Is the timetable structures so that he can move between ability groups mid term?

How does the school communicate with parents?

As well as going to parents evenings I would definitely recommend making an appointment to go and look around during the working day. Wait until spring/summer terms tho when the yr7s have found their feet and aren't quite as docile. Look at any you are interested in within a reasonably close period of time so you can make comparisons fresh in your mind. I would say this is far far more important than the polished performance they give at open evenings.

Takver Sun 16-Sep-12 15:27:29

Two very good threads on this recently here and here.

I liked the suggested question for pupils showing around 'what's your favourite lesson in the last week' - getting them to open up a bit is really helpful.

CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 18:49:50

Thank you. Keep them coming!! I am compiling a list.

The Maths thing I am also concerned about how much he will be expected to work independently if he is given work so far ahead of the rest of the class. And if they don't set them or differentiate until after October half term (as they do in DD's school, they give them all the same, L4 work in the first half term until after the CATS results, leaving those with SN's not understanding deck all for 1/6 of the first year, wonder if they're the same at the other end of the scale).

Music lessons - important as he wants to continue with the violin.

They've ALL just changed to an 'Academy Consortium', so any questions about how bring an Academy will affect the pupils.

*Academy Consorium meaning that all the schools are now joined like a mini LA, first town in the Country to do this without a sponsor, so god knows how it's going to affect my DS1!

CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 18:52:59

Ah, KS4 pathways. Wish I had thought about that with DD! That could be important - things like is there the option to do Statistics GCSE (or whatever the fuck it is by the time Gove has finished fucking around with it all), is there the option to take two languages at GCSE, is there the option to do triple science as well as the above subjects? IT and Electronics also need to be added to that list.

They're going to loooove me!

Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 16-Sep-12 18:54:33

That's pretty bad if you have to wait for CATs results till half term - one sixth of the year, as you say (and more like one fifth when you think of the lost weeks in the summer term).

I am, on a practical level, only familiar with MidYIS, and the school gets the results straightaway. It means that baseline data is available to teaching staff within 2 weeks of the start of term.

CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 18:56:17

I KNOW one if them does vertical tutoring. I dislike vertical tutoring, especially as they do PSHE in their form groups. I'm hoping that has changed at school 2, because it was one of the reasons I discounted it for DD.

I think it's inappropriate to teach sex ed and relationships in a situation where you could have a 16yo girl or boy sat next to an 11yo girl or boy, as they are at completely different stages of maturity.

Anyone got anything to change my mind on my dislike of vertical tutoring?

CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 18:57:21

Yep, school 1 doesn't 't set at all until 1/6 of Y7 is gone, school 2 does vertical tutoring (or did 4 years ago.)


Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 16-Sep-12 18:59:37

I would imagine that most schools offer two languages and three sciences. You should check that they can offer both, however.

If you have a bright child, I don't think you have to worry about Mr Gove's reforms.

Given your DS plays the violin, make sure you ask the music department about an orchestra. If they have one, they will snap him up. smile

happyAvocado Sun 16-Sep-12 18:59:46

For me was - can this school offer physics at GCSE.
Surprisingly many don't which shows that they don't expect kids to excel at Sciences.

noblegiraffe Sun 16-Sep-12 19:04:08

Schools that set straight away tend to set on SATs results. This is dodgy for a few reasons so I wouldn't worry about a school that waits for results from internal assessment before setting, they are just making sure that they get it right.

In the interim, it is far easier to chuck a few challenging questions the bright kids' way than it is to adequately support the weakest - those are the ones I'd worry about more by the lack of setting early on.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 16-Sep-12 19:05:05

My DDs' school does vertical tutoring. However, I don't see where this is any different from non-vertical. I think it basically means, in that school, is that the whole form is in the same "house". I don't think, however, that they see their housemistress as their point of contact in the pastoral system. They have their form tutor, the head of year.

Vertical tutoring works when you are in a small school setting where year groups are of different size.

Sparklingbrook Sun 16-Sep-12 19:12:36

I will try and explain a bit about how vertical tutoring was helpful in our case.

DS1 did his first year at Secondary in Year 8 (we have middle schools) it was a large school and he didn't get to see any older kids much. So when he did he was very anxious, and ultimately quite afraid. I must add that he is quite sensitive and a worrier by nature.

He had other problems at the school, and although academically he was doing very well it wasn't the school for him.

He moved to new school (with VT) in June this year. He sees and talks to kids from every year twice a day in tutor time and considers that they are his friends. It has boosted his self esteem.

CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 19:57:59

The way school 2 did their VT (this IS 4 years ago, though, need current up to date info), in a school with 1,600 pupils Y7-Y11 (school 1 is larger, neither have 6th forms) is like this :

30-ish per form. Made up of 6 DC's from each year group, they try (tried?) to make an equal amount of girls and boys from each year group. So only 3 boys the same age in the form.

I really didn't like the idea of it...

CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 20:01:52

This is to say, the firm class (and PSHE class) was made up of :

3 Y7 girls, 3 Y7 boys
3 Y8 girls, 3 Y8 boys
3 Y9 girls, 3 Y9 boys
3 Y10 girls, 3 Y10 boys
3 Y11 girls, 3 Y11 boys.

For form time and PSHE.

It wasn't just 'houses', it was for form & PSHE too.

Sparklingbrook Sun 16-Sep-12 20:02:24

I wonder if it was better that DS1 didn't start at the school as a Year 8, and that the VT Tutor group was already established when he joined it? He thinks the older boys are great now.

AFAIK the tutor group don't have any lessons together.

noblegiraffe Sun 16-Sep-12 20:07:01

As a teacher I'm not personally keen on vertical tutoring because a) it makes the management of a tutor group much more difficult - you can't focus adequately on Y9 options when you need to think about Y10 work experience applications and on Y10 work experience preparation when you need to help Y11 with exam revision. Y7s don't get much time to settle in when everyone else already knows what they're doing. b) it's all very well if your older students are nice, well-behaved role models, but if they are scruffy, poorly motivated and cheek the tutor then the Y7s are exposed to and influenced by behaviour they might not have encountered till much later on. c) if a kid doesn't get on with the few others in their year in their tutor group, they are likely to be isolated rather than mix with students from other years.

Sparklingbrook Sun 16-Sep-12 20:09:38

Sounds like DS1 struck lucky then noble, his group sound like a really nice bunch. Hadn't really thought of the downsides.

But he is sooo happy at his new school, he really is a different child.

CouthyMowWearingOrange Sun 16-Sep-12 20:53:05

Hmm. Still not convinced on VT. I think that will be a very important question at school 2! I hope it's changed in the 4 year interval between looking at school 2 for DD and now looking at it for DS1.

But I'm still worried about the first half term not being setted in Maths at school 1.

I just hope he gets a high enough mark in the 11+ to get a place at the superselective Grammar, it'd take away all the angst as it would be a no-brainer!

Currently my draft form reads :

1) Superselective Grammar
2) School 1 (likely due to proximity AND sibling link)
3) School 2 (also likely due to odd catchment)
4) School 3 (unlikely due to massive distance, but is accessible by public transport)
5) School 4 (Possible despite massive distance as there are some selective places, but frankly impossible to get to on time by two buses)
6) None so far, School 5 has been in Special Measures since SM was created, I moved away from that area so my DC's didn't go there, and also doesn't stream at all or offer triple science to ANY student. School 6 selects on baptism as a Catholic by the age of 6 months, and he isn't going to meet that criteria. School 7, no DC of mine is going there. Ever. So choice 6 currently remains blank.

I need to decide whether School 1 should go after the Grammar, or School 2. He is virtually guaranteed a place at school 1, comes under Criteria 2 due to sibling link, and is more than likely able to get a place at undersubscribed School 2 under Criteria 3, distance.

We are well inside the last distance offered for BOTH schools, for the last 6 years at least, it's really just deciding which order to put them on the form. Or whether to put school 2 on there at all due to the stupid VT thing.


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