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What to look for in a secondary school?

(16 Posts)
beadyboo Thu 23-Jun-16 16:55:46

Dd is at the end of year 4. All the local secondary schools have their open evenings in the next few weeks and I'm hoping to take her along.
There are a range of options- mixed comp, free school, single sex grammar, mixed grammar etc. but I'm really unsure what I should be looking for to help her decide.
I'm sure part of it will be a gut feel, but what did you look for to help you decide?

DoItTooJulia Thu 23-Jun-16 16:59:21

*Whether there were any books (some schools had surprisingly few)
*Whether the science teachers had the relevant degree
*Whether the children seemed happy
*what the discipline policy was
* what the school do about children not reaching their potential
*what the extra curricular activities were like

And the gut feeling!

steppemum Thu 23-Jun-16 17:10:36

first, be aware that many parents base their own prejudices on what a school was like in the area when they were at school.
Schools can change massively in 10 years, so if you do gather opinions of others, it is worth asking what they base it on.

Secondly, every child is different and what they need at school is different. My ds is very peer led and it was very clear he needed to be in a school where it was cool to be clever. He is now at a superselective, competitive boys grammar school, and is thriving.
dd1 on the other hand is very self sufficient and couldn't give a toss about what others think, but she is very quiet in class and tends to get overlooked, even though she is clever. We chose a school for her which was academic, but very strong on pastoral care and a calm working environment. It also happens to be a grammar school, but our second choice was a good comp, where we felt she would do well.

Although your dd needs to be involved with the choice, it is a mistake I think to let the child decide. ds for example would never have chosen his school as it meant taking the 11+. he loves his school now and is really happy there. At 10 years old he simply did not have enough experience and understanding of education to understand the difference between schools.

Visiting schools is a good place to start, but beware. One really cool science lab where they set fire to your hands, or a D&T lab giving out free kitkat and your kid may be saying I love this school!

I found that I was swayed by the attitude of the school on open evening, did they want my dc?
I also looked at results, but carefully. By switching between raw results and English Bacc results you can make the top school in our area sink to bottom. Don't forget, that you cannot compare Grammar and non grammar directly either.

facilities, after school clubs, pastoral care, teams for sport, music lessons, etc are all things to look for.

If you do go down the grammar route, you will need to do some preparation in year 5. depending on your area, you may need to do a lot of prep.

steppemum Thu 23-Jun-16 17:12:53

whoops, bit of an essay.

but lastly - your support at home will go a very long way in her success, so if there is a choice between two good schools, don't tie yourself in knots over it, she will probably be fine at either.

TeenAndTween Thu 23-Jun-16 17:15:18

- whether they are good for your type of child's academics (whether that is high, mid or low achiever) (i.e. GCSE results)
- what is their pastoral care like (you don't know who will need it)
- when do they set or stream, how flexible are they
- do you agree with their homework policy
- what is their policy regarding who gets to do triple science
- when do they introduce a second MFL
- how fussy are they with uniform etc
- how to contact staff

- does it 'feel' right to you (academic, relaxed, pushy, nurturing)
- do you feel you could 'work with them' if the need arose
- could your child be happy there and achieve to their potential

- if you care about music / drama / sport / art do they do enough in that area

(DD1 has left secondary, DD2 is about to start)

vikingorigins Thu 23-Jun-16 17:25:31

Look at what their GCSE Options are.

It seems too early and I stupidly didn't check for DS1. His school had a compulsory option of Tourism/Business/Health and Social Care/ and one other, equivalent to 3 GCSEs, so wasn't able to pick History and Geography and an extra science.

Obviously there are always the core compulsory subjects plus they have to avoid timetabling clashes, but check whether the school has any issues of what you can't take.

Also look at do they set/stream? From what year? In all subjects or just Maths/English? Can you be in set one for English and set 4 for Maths, or does your weakness in maths make you set 3 for everything?

What time do they start/finish every day?

Pastoral care/uniform/grounds/facilities

How will she get there? Is there a bus? Is it a service bus or a dedicated school bus? How much is it? Can she walk?

Second not giving DD the choice.

TeenAndTween Thu 23-Jun-16 17:46:08

'third' not giving your DC the choice. Age 10/11 they are not mature enough to see the rounded picture (unless you really don't mind either way).

BackforGood Thu 23-Jun-16 17:49:11

I'd agree with everything written so far (especially that it is an adult's decision, not a 10 yr old's).
Keep in mind that the curriculum will change, so don't base the whole decision on (for example) the fact they can do triple science or a 2nd MFL. Take it into account, yes, but don't pin everything on that.

Go and look at the toilets.

icouldabeenacontender Thu 23-Jun-16 17:52:57

Don't under estimate the importance of pastoral care just because somewhere might be great academically.
My dc is at a grammar, but developed serious health issues just as she started.
Pastoral care has been beyond shite.

beadyboo Thu 23-Jun-16 21:43:39

Thanks all. I really appreciate your points.
In terms of pastoral care, how do you find out about this? I've asked about practical stuff, languages offered, how options are chosen but how do you know until you actually require it?
I've only been to one open evening and it was swamped with people. A lovely year 10 girl showed us round the buildings but getting access to staff was almost impossible due to the sheer volume of people looking round.

chicaguapa Thu 23-Jun-16 22:03:58

Re pastoral care, ask them. Ask for examples of good pastoral they've provided.

Like a PP, DD has long term health issues and the pastoral care at her school has been fantastic. It makes a huge difference.

TeenAndTween Thu 23-Jun-16 22:12:26

Pastoral care
- ask how it is organised and accessed
(e.g. assigned person per year group who moves up with them, drop in location to see pastoral care, timed meetings if needed, will they 'call in' someone if prompted or does the DC have to find them)
- ask about how they deal with bullying
- ask about numbers/instances of anorexia / self harming and how they are dealt with
- what if issue can't be dealt with in-house

teacherwith2kids Fri 24-Jun-16 10:11:57

For a variety of reasons, i ended up having to see schools for DS and DD outside the normal open evening round.

If this is possible for you - or if the choice becomes very hard to make - i would recommend it. One school (grammar, outstanding) was so appallingly rude about the suggestion that i might want to see them on a normal school day that I did end up asking them what they were afraid that I might see. Another school, far more oversubscribed, did me an individual tour with a senior member of staff, who quizzed me about my individual child and then stopped a range of pupils (by name) as we walked round the school, selecting those who could answer my questions specifically.

Even just walking round - or even sitting in the car park of - the school on a normal day gave me huge amounts of information. The school where the preferred mode of walking around the corridors appeared to be fists out and bags swinging (and where sexist language towards the girls was a loud norm) was not, despite its high academics, our first choice. The one where students poured animatedly out at the end of the day, dispersing in ambling chatting amicable groups who politely asked me if i needed directions, was.

mummytime Fri 24-Jun-16 11:23:02

If it is too busy to ask questions on an open day - then phone and request an additional meeting and ideally a tour when the school is in action on a normal day. Meeting the Head of Transition or Year 7 should be able to answer your questions about the pastoral side.

Badbadbunny Fri 24-Jun-16 11:32:09

My yardstick was how well the teachers engaged with parents/children during the open days. I was shell-shocked at a couple of schools where the teachers made no effort whatsoever to talk to visitors and just carried on chatting to each-other in a huddle in the corners of classrooms and then making out it was a real inconvenience to them if you excused yourself in to ask a question. Those schools just relied on loads of their young pupils (looked to be first/second years) to show you around and answer the questions. Not good at all, very bad vibes.

But at two other schools, the teachers couldn't have been more helpful, virtually pouncing on you as soon as you stepped into a classroom, taking our son aside and showing him things, science experiment demonstrations set up in the labs, practical "hands on" activities such as sanding in the tech rooms, and where all the tours were done by sixth formers. Even the head was stood at the door, to greet and chat with people.

Our son chose one of the latter, he said because of how it was so friendly and how the teachers spoke to him.

TheDailyMailareabunchofcunts Fri 24-Jun-16 11:40:47

Lots of good advice already.

My only addition really is to prioritise matching your child to the other children.
This is especially important if you have a quirky child in any respect

I wanted to find a school that was full of ds's. Where he would be the average child there. That was a tall order given his quirks and personality

He was an obviously out of place child at primary, socially it was difficult and he really struggled to find a like-minded child to rub a long with.

He is absolutely thriving at high school, I've never seen him so happy and when I pick him up, the huge grin on his face says it all.
On gut feeling, I get the warm fuzzys still about the school. They just 'get' him. Frankly I adore the place.
He oddness once was problem for him and now it's celebrated.

Also.. After being in the school, not on an open day, but a normal working day, I just knew.
Good luck.

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