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Choosing a secondary school

The last year of primary brings a fresh set of challenges (and not just keeping a dry eye at the final class assembly/ carol service/ leavers' disco) because you need to start choosing your preferred secondary school as soon as your child enters Year 6. Some parents, of course, have been doing this since Reception.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Oct 12, 2023

Secondary school students
"It seems to be the sole topic of conversation lately - how good/bad the local comp is, how extra tuition will be needed for the local grammar etc etc. The kids are five to six years old." sandyballs

The big question is: do you choose a school or does a school choose you, or, more precisely, your child? And the answer is: it's a bit of both because, while it's up to you – and your child – to decide which schools are worth applying for, it's then up to the school to say yes or no to your application.

How do you decide between different schools?

It's a decision that seriously stresses some of the most sanguine parents, so how do you go about deciding which secondary school is best for your child?

It's best to use a variety of antennae to suss a school out: ask around, be aware of a school's reputation, read their Ofsted reports online, be across the exam results and browse the school website.

Hang around outside the school one afternoon at going-home time – remember, a school's pupils are its best (or worst) advert.

"In our area parents and children are invited at the start of Year 6 to visit schools. They can, of course, make an appointment sooner, but open evenings are targeted at that year group. Top tips when you do go, look at the loos, says a lot about the school! See how the teachers interact with your kids, if the teachers only talk to you and ignore them , alarm bells. See if there are lots of examples of the kids work on the walls. Ask any current kids (and the school will get some in to help out) what they think of the school (take into account the school will have picked good ambasadors." happymerryberries

"If there were a lot of police vans at lunch time - off my list it went." cherryblossoms

Open days are the only chance you get for a nose around, so use them wisely - look at the toilets as well as the prominent displays of work, sports trophies and school exchange photos.

"I do think you have to be sceptical of the carefully manicured hype, but at the same time there is still a lot you can tell about a school by what they choose to include in the hype. It does help to see a few, then you can hear what everyone says and what differences there are that indicate a genuine difference in emphasis." roisin

"Some schools you shortlist, you might want to see twice - once for the head's speech and evening exhibitions where you can talk to the teachers, and once to see the school in action with pupils during the day. It all takes loads of time. If anyone reading this is working, do take this warning and book as much holiday off as you can." tigermoth

Ask the children showing you around leading questions about how many mobile phones they've had nicked and how many pupils bunk off at lunchtime.

Mumsnetters also recommend paying close attention to:

  • Where the children go when they leave school - how many do further education? What sports/music facilities do they offer? Even if your child isn't interested, it tells you if they are just an exam factory. Do they offer many clubs? Usually a sign teachers are prepared to put in an effort. tatt

  • Is your child particularly interested in or good at one area of the curriculum - science, languages, music etc? If so, you probably want to make sure the school has good facilities and enthusiastic teachers in that area. AmumInScotland

  • Do the kids look happy? Staff? Are the displays slightly rough round the edges but relatively recent? Do at least a few pupils gain 10 A/A* grades? What does your instinct say from the open evening? Do you like the building? Umlellala

  • I thought deeply about the whole business, wrote down loads of questions, but felt in the end that just soaking up the atmosphere on the open day and trying to imagine my son in the position of the pupils showing us round was really what mattered. Hallgerda

So you've done your homework and whittled down your secondary schools shortlist. Now for the fun bit - getting your child in.

 Last updated: over 1 year ago