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Choosing secondary school - what do you wish you'd known?

(50 Posts)
Waitingonasunnyday Mon 05-Jan-15 14:37:35

My eldest is in Y5 and I am vaguely aware I should get to know a bit more about choosing secondary schools.

Obviously we will look round them, visit websites and possibly read their Ofsted reports (don't have a lot of faith in Ofsted though) - but please tell me what do I REALLY need to know?

Each school 'aims for the best' and all that bollocks, I mean stuff that really matters day to day, that will affect DC enjoying school and getting the best from it like
what's the cost of uniform and sports kits
are students allowed out at lunch time
are the sports facilities open to everyone or just the 'top'

yellowdaisies Mon 05-Jan-15 15:16:30

I'd try and look at:
- Actual exam results (by grade, by subject - they can send you them if you push - much more useful than just % A*-C)
- extra cirricula programme - actual programme for this term, (not a bit long list of everthing that migth have run at least once for at least one year group sometime in the last 10 years...)
- Options booklet for Y9 options - it may change but is very useful to see what kinds of things are on offer, and how much freedom they get to choose.
- Info about school trips

AChickenCalledKorma Mon 05-Jan-15 15:26:37

How long do they get for lunch and is there enough space in the canteen for them to actually sit down and eat it? One of our local schools has grown so much that they can't serve lunch to everyone at the same time, so they have two "breaks" at stupid times (lunch at 11:30am anyone?) and most of the kids have to eat outside.

What trips do they offer? How much are they? Does everyone get to go?

What extra-curricular clubs do they offer (especially in anything your DC enjoy).

What is their policy on bullying? And avoid anywhere that says "there is no bullying in this school" like the plague.

TheFirstOfHerName Mon 05-Jan-15 16:22:19

What is the pastoral care like.

Thankfully, it turns out that the pastoral care at DS1 & DS2's school is brilliant, but this really wasn't on my list of things to research when we were first choosing in 2010. Four years later, and after DS1 has suffered from mental health problems, I now realise that this should have been the most important factor, we just didn't realise it at the time.

KittiesInsane Mon 05-Jan-15 16:25:55

That sometimes, even if there is only one school the bus goes to, it's worth looking at the inconveniently placed one several miles away.

That the school that suits your eldest might not suit your next one.

And yes, the policy on bullying and pastoral care.

TheFirstOfHerName Mon 05-Jan-15 16:26:50

The things I like most about DS1 & DS2's school:
The pastoral care (see above).
SEN provision.
Subjects on offer (DS1 is doing two subjects for GCSE that are not offered by any other local schools).
Staff that answer emails within 24h.

The things I think could be improved:
Canteen is too small and lunch queues are too long (see comment above from Korma. )
VLE stuff on website is only kept up to date in certain subjects.

KittiesInsane Mon 05-Jan-15 16:27:44

If your child loathes sport, do they stream for it?

If so, will your idle sofa-hugger be forced to get up and try dance, kayaking, cycling and parkour? They might just find it's team-games they hate, not sport after all.

KittiesInsane Mon 05-Jan-15 16:31:31

Ooh, another one (benefit of three kids/three schools here):

Do they split the GCSE options into 'pathways' and direct your child down one of them, so you can't be a scientist-with-artistic-side?
Do they (conversely) insist that they pick one each from four contrasting blocks?
Or are they large enough and flexible enough to allow a pretty free choice (given the basic ability)?

Who does triple science? School's choice, or anyone who wants to?

How many boys do dance and choir? (sorry, not very useful generally, but it would have made a big difference to DS!)

KittiesInsane Mon 05-Jan-15 16:33:16

Any bloody silly rules on footwear that mean you spend half the summer seeking the impossible combination of H-fitting, full lace-up, leather, and no decoration <bitter>

Ericaequites Mon 05-Jan-15 19:12:20

Do all students receive lockers? Carrying coats, sports kit, and such all day is logistically foolish. What are the loos like? Filthy toilets suggest poor management. When are students streamed or setted? It's better for all concerned if English and Math are setted early in Y7, which moves possible each or every other term. These are suggestions from a childless person.

DoolallyMarjorie Mon 05-Jan-15 20:43:39

I wish I'd known that Ofsted outstanding at the last inspection means absolutely nothing at all, and gut feeling is a much better indicator.

insanityscratching Mon 05-Jan-15 20:51:15

What is communication like? We have the farcical system where all communication goes through Head of Year who then refers on to the relevant teacher only if he himself considers it necessary. Head of Year is a PE teacher, trying to get questions regarding Maths referred on has been nigh on impossible, not least because he doesn't understand the maths involved himself!

Quitethewoodsman Mon 05-Jan-15 22:09:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Waitingonasunnyday Tue 06-Jan-15 09:37:42

This is really helpful, thank you for all the replies so far. Tons of things I wouldn't have thought of. I will make a list!

Lancelottie Tue 06-Jan-15 10:03:18

Actually there could be other reasons for short lunch breaks. DS's excellent school has very short lunchtimes because it's a huge school (hence 'north half' go to lunch at 12 till 12:30, 'south half' go from 12:30 to 1). Never heard of any fighting!

It does mean that all clubs happen after school rather than in lunch breaks, which is a bugger when you're miles away.

lljkk Tue 06-Jan-15 10:53:02

I talk to parents with kids at the school now, trying to pay attention especially to parents of kids like mine. What to they like or have problems with. I value this above Ofsted reports or exam results.

Streaming for PE is fantastic, must say.

nicknamerunout Tue 06-Jan-15 11:41:15

My dd is in yr7 now. We visited all the reachable schools by direct buses while in yr5 about 6 or 7 schools. The school she s in now is the only school she felt somewhat just right for herself. Historically it is a well regarded school however it didn't have very good exam results and Ofsted weighting for the last two years. If you read it carefully the Ofsted report suggested that it s due to too many pupils were pushed to take their exams too early before they reached their full potential. This year the school exam results have retuned to very reasonable again. At the moment the school is working very hard to retrieve its reputation so I hope this process will benefit my dd. Needless to say I would use the exam results, Ofsted report and history of the school together as a guide. Also my own and my dc's instincts for the school/s. For myself the most important things are the teachers and HTs and the pupils. Are they practical, approachable, keen, posh, snobbish...... ? Another thing I like about dd's school is its international association. Other schools may have links with businesses or technology firms etc... Btw don't forget to check the loos!

happygardening Tue 06-Jan-15 11:59:25

OP do you have a dog or can you borrow one? People will always total to you if you have a dog especially other dog walkers. I learnt loads about DS1 school when I walked my dog in the fields around the main feeder primary school (the good the bad and the ugly) from current parents and past parents. Sadly it was too late to do anything about it as he was already there.

Northernsoul58 Tue 06-Jan-15 13:09:09

It seems there is a growing trend to do three years of GCSE instead of the original two years. My DSs academy went down this path after we started there. He chose his options in year 8 - far too early to know what you really like or don't. In year 9 there were no 'extras' like art, music, DT, drama, etc unless you chose one as an option, they just went straight into 'academic' mode.
All the other parents I speak to are very angry about this. It has added nothing to their learning - according to a parent who is also a teacher, our school did nothing they would not have done in year 9 anyway, but they just do more of it and none of the stuff that helps kids get through the week - the so called 'fun' subjects (I really wanted DS to learn how to cook properly at least). I predict DS will be bored to tears with many subjects in year 11. If I'd known this would happen I would have chosen a different school. <very bitter>

nicknamerunout Tue 06-Jan-15 14:11:47

North , is it a grammar school? hmm

jeee Tue 06-Jan-15 14:16:16

This isn't something you can really check on a one-stop visit, but a couple of schools near me never have soap in the loos. And when I say never, there was no soap over a period of a year or more. Not important in itself, but it really made me think negatively of the schools in question. Why didn't they refill the soap containers? Was it bad behaviour? Or a simple lack of respect for the children?

nicknamerunout Tue 06-Jan-15 14:17:34

That s sad! For many kids these subjects make school more enjoyable.

Mumzy Tue 06-Jan-15 14:19:07

North that's really common the 3 yrs of GCSEs in both state and private. So do ask. Also bear in mind that individual experiences of schools are just that and your dc may have a totally different one.

Guyropes Tue 06-Jan-15 14:23:02

Great thread!

Nickname runout.... Will Ny subsequent children be going to the same school?

I think I need both my dc to be party to the process as I'm not prepared to have them in different schools (unless it can't be avoided)

nicknamerunout Tue 06-Jan-15 14:23:23

Jeee, my dd told me in one of their toilets there s some brown stuff on the ceiling for a very long time and it s still there!hmm

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