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Secondary school tours and open days - what to look for and what to ask?

(51 Posts)
ArchMemory Mon 23-Sep-19 22:22:57

Just that really. We have a child in Y5 and are booked to attend some open mornings / evenings etc but I don’t know how to get the best out of them. Is there anything we should be looking out for? How do we spot a good school? How do we know whether a school will suit our child? Will it be obvious?

It may be a moot point anyway depending on maximum distances but I genuinely feel overwhelmed by the significance of the choice. At primary school we just chose the nearest school (admittedly we were lucky it was good anyway). It just all feels so significant at secondary.

Thank you

OP’s posts: |
JoJoSM2 Mon 23-Sep-19 23:00:26

Have a think about what’s important to you and ask about it, eg co-curricular provision or strong Maths or SEN support etc.

Have you looked at Ofsted reports and stats too? That might raise further questions.

ArchMemory Tue 24-Sep-19 07:26:51

Thank you.

I am never sure I understand the statistics. The school we are visiting this morning has a Progress 8 score of 0.4 which is above average but not as high as some other local schools. Made the error of adding Queen Elizabeth’s Barnet to the list and now everywhere else looks rubbish! Gahh.

Our local school is very big which I know puts some people off but does mean it has a wide choice of subjects.

It feels like SUCH an important decision I’m scared of getting it wrong.

OP’s posts: |
Damia Tue 24-Sep-19 07:49:47

In all honesty I think as long as you pick a school your child could be happy in you cant go far wrong. Chances are they will get similar gcses no matter where they go, as long as they are at a place they can study and not be disrupted in class I.e. a school with enough discipline. I also think friendships matter a lot, so possibly if your child makes friends easily they could go anywhere, or if it's hard for them keep them at same place as friends. I think a good range of subjects sounds nice and a good setup for their future.

TeenPlusTwenties Tue 24-Sep-19 08:24:08

See this recent thread:

JoJoSM2 Tue 24-Sep-19 08:42:18

Lol never good to add a top grammar to the comparison.

0.4 progress score is excellent. Good luck with the tours!

SnuggyBuggy Tue 24-Sep-19 08:44:06

I would ask if there is a system for detentions or if teachers are expected to arrange their own. If the latter that would put me off massively as in my experience the teachers didn't have time to and there wasn't much that could be done about classroom disruption.

CassianAndor Tue 24-Sep-19 09:13:00

I know people always talk about the pastoral care but how do you go about finding out if it's good or not?

TeenPlusTwenties Tue 24-Sep-19 10:00:35

I know people always talk about the pastoral care but how do you go about finding out if it's good or not?

Talking to existing parents or pupils. Is there anyone they could go to if they were upset / fallen out with friends / being bullied etc. Do they have any friends who have been helped?
Is all pastoral care done by teachers, or are there any dedicated pastoral care staff? If you have a child who would need above average pastoral care, is there anyone you can talk to about it?
Does the HT talk cover the 'whole child' and 'well-being' or just results, and extra-curricular successes?

CassianAndor Tue 24-Sep-19 10:10:08

but how do I get to do that? The only parents I know there are ones who's DC have literally been there a couple of weeks at the point I go to an open day. And would a child showing a group of parents round, when asked this question, say 'no, I've been really bullied here and they did nothing'?

I can find out about the dedicated staff, thanks for that. Though every school in our borough has had its budget cut so they're probably ditching all support staff sad.

TeenPlusTwenties Tue 24-Sep-19 10:17:19

Cassian If you go to the open evening there should hopefully be plenty of pupils around the place. Ours has them in the subject classrooms, and then around to help take individual people wherever they want to go.

The open evening is much better for asking specific questions of specific people. The daytime tours help you see the school in operation (so you can see a snapshot of behaviour in lessons and at changeover) but only contact with specific people.

Girasole02 Tue 24-Sep-19 10:22:12

Teacher here. Bear in mind that open days are opportunities for the school to put on a show. Displays will be freshly put up and lessons planned to show everyone at their best. If you have a guided tour, the route will be devised so as to cherry pick the best staff with the best groups. My advice is to ignore all the show. Look at previous Ofsted reports online as the school will only quote the good bits. Get a feel of the place in terms of does your child feel comfortable there. What are lunchtime eating facilities like? Having to be outside in winter isn't fun. Are things like homework and communication done online? Does your child have any specific interests that they'd like to follow up in a school club? Do they offer such a club? Basically, ignore the spin!

CarolDanvers Tue 24-Sep-19 10:27:05

The school we picked was one she was smiley at as soon as she walked in. It is an all girls school and she just relaxed as soon as we walked into the library. The students were smiley and happy and proud to show off their school and it just felt right. At one school we went to one of the students showing us round stopped to have a big old flirt with a gang of other students we came across. Was as though the parent group being shown around no longer existed. That student while not overtly slagging the school off could find nothing that good to say about it and just seemed bored. I honestly thought that if this is the best child you could get to show parents round then this is not a school I want mine to go to.

BertrandRussell Tue 24-Sep-19 10:28:46

If you’re shown round by a pupil on their own, ask if rhey’d like their little brother or sister to come to the school.

CassianAndor Tue 24-Sep-19 10:34:22

I have to say, most of the pupils conducting tours have hardly been stellar adverts for the schools. Very inarticulate most of the time.

mastertomsmum Tue 24-Sep-19 10:37:07

As the prev poster says, open days and evenings show schools at their best. I would say, though, that a chaotic and badly organised school won't pull off a good open evening with full finesse. However, most schools will show you what you need to see to be impressed.

You might get a feel for the character of a school at their open day/evening. If drama or sports are flying, if science facilities are good etc. they should shine through. What they want to show you is what they are good at so if the things they are good at are what you are looking for it should be there to see.

Spotting how good pastoral care/SENCO provision/anti bullying policy etc. is more tricky. Parents with older kids can often advise.

Talking the talk on pastoral care the school website is not always an indicator. My DS's Prep school rave on about how good they are at this, but were hopeless

BertrandRussell Tue 24-Sep-19 10:39:53

@ArchMemory - have you looked at the results for the high attainers? That might give you a bit of perspective if you’ve added a highly selecive school to your list!

BertrandRussell Tue 24-Sep-19 10:45:24

About pastoral care. Ask about bullying. Ask about support for mental health issues. Ask the kids showing you round if they know specifically who to go to for help if they need it, and how to contact them. Ask them what extra curriculars they do- then ask if they always happen. Ask if their homework is returned promptly.

BertrandRussell Tue 24-Sep-19 10:47:31

Oh, and if the school has an event- a fair or a concert or something that the public can go to, go to it. Hang around somewhere near in the morning and at home time and see how they behave and interact with each other.

mummmy2017 Tue 24-Sep-19 10:52:45

You need to see what your child feels.
Most want to go with friends.
Mine just wanted to escape from a class she hated and start fresh, she was the only child to go to the school from her primary.
So just listen to what your child says.

Kazzyhoward Tue 24-Sep-19 10:55:16

Look for the teacher's attitudes and approachability. At some schools we looked at, some of the teachers seemed very aloof with everyone, they huddled in corners talking to each other and making us feel like intruders when we went over to ask questions, never approaching or greeting us when we walked into their rooms etc. Some teachers just talked to us and ignored our son completely who was standing next to us. Teachers and pupils walking around just ignored each other.

At a couple, it was the opposite, many of the teachers would come over to introduce themselves, talk to our son directly, show him their displays, one guy, who we later found was head of maths, actually sat down with our son to play a maths board game. As we walked around, the teachers and pupils were greeting eachother on the corridor, opening doors for eachother, etc - it was a really good friendly atmosphere.

Needless to say, we chose one of the latter and son has been remarkably happy there and has confirmed many times that it wasn't an act for Open Day only - he says most of the teachers are really friendly and approachable which has been very important on the few occasions he's had problems and needed to discuss things.

Kazzyhoward Tue 24-Sep-19 10:57:24

About pastoral care. Ask about bullying. Ask about support for mental health issues.

Not much point in asking. It's easy for them to talk the talk, but it's whether they walk the walk that matters. Not many schools will admit they can't control bullying in their schools or aren't really interested in MH issues. They'll all have the paperwork, procedures, etc., but it's the reality that matters. That info can only come from asking a variety of pupils who've been there a while, i.e. 5th/6th formers.

CassianAndor Tue 24-Sep-19 11:03:30

yes, that's my concern. No school is going to admit their pastoral care is crap. I think unless you know a child who's been there a while or really until your own child starts can you know what the real state of affairs is.

But I shall ask some of these questions nonetheless, so this is all very helpful, thank you.

mummy DD wanting to go to the same school as her friends is not a good enough reason for us to choose that school. It's a reason, of course, but won't be the deciding factor.

BertrandRussell Tue 24-Sep-19 11:06:56

Obviously they aren’t going to say they are crap. But by asking you’ll at least know that they know what the policy is. And you’ll be able to make a judgement about whether they sound sincere. Most people are crap liars. And asking the kids if they know how to get help is helpful.

user1474894224 Tue 24-Sep-19 11:11:22

Questions I asked...what languages do they teach, when do kids pick their GCSEs, what music lessons do they offer, what international opportunities are there? My son asked what food does the canteen sell? What clubs are there?

We knew our local school had good progress 8 scores and good GCSEs etc I only looked at 2 schools but realistically we knew there wasn't really a choice due to address. But we moved here specially to get into this school.

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