Choosing a secondary school for your child can be stressful. There are lots of factors to consider. Most of all, your child should be excited about their new school. And you should feel confident that they will get the education they need. Some parents take league tables and Ofsted reports into consideration. Others prefer to see the school for themselves and ask questions in person. There’s no one right way to do it, but getting a complete picture of your school options is helpful. There are five main things to consider during this process. Let’s take a look at them and some frequently asked questions.
As mentioned already, a number of things are important to consider. When you look closely at a school’s history, facilities, and values, you get a clear picture of what they offer for your child. Then, you and your child can visit the school in person. Visiting schools gives you and your child the chance to see the current students, the building, and some of the teachers. All of these steps will build an overall picture of the schools you consider. When you have the big picture, the decision becomes easier.
A lot of this comes down to your child. If they love the school when they visit, this is a strong sign that it’s right for them. Add this to all the other things you’ve considered, and you should have a good feeling about the right school. Of course, you can’t leave the decision entirely up to them. But if your research shows that the school can provide what your child needs, and they love it, hopefully it’s a no-brainer!
Ask the school as many questions as possible when you go and visit. This is the best way to get a complete picture and compare with other schools. If you don’t get the chance to visit, send the school an email or go to the FAQs section on their website. It’s likely that other parents want the same answers, so this is a great place to look. Encourage your child to ask their own questions as well. This will help them engage with open evenings/open days, too. Here are some example questions you and your child might want to ask:
What does the school value most?
What extracurricular activities/clubs are available to students?
How many students per class/tutor group?
What sports/drama/music facilities do you have?
What teaching methods do you use?
Can we have a look at some examples of schoolwork/homework?
This is a good place to start, once you’re aware of the schools in your catchment area and the ones you want to aim for. Be careful though - league tables are not definitive or totally reliable. Pay attention to how consistent the school is over time. If a school gets roughly the same amount of student satisfaction year after year, for example, that’s better than a school whose student satisfaction score goes up and down. Head over to the school performance data service here to get information for your chosen school options.
Again, Ofsted reports aren’t always reliable, because they don’t give a full picture. However, they do provide another chance to see whether the school is consistent. There’s no harm in checking, just don’t rely on this as the only consideration.
If you don’t already know, find out what your child is passionate about. If they love drama, for example, see if the school has an up-to-date theatre space. While modern facilities aren’t everything, they can make school a lot more enjoyable and special for your child. So pay attention to what’s on offer and, of course, go and visit the school and see for yourself (more on this below).
The headteacher of a school impacts what the school stands for. Check what their values are and what they say on the school website. Usually there will be a statement from the headteacher about their passions and plans for the school and its students. If these are in line with you and your child’s values, this could be the school for you!
Perhaps the most important part of the choosing process is visiting schools. Oftentimes a child will visit a school and know instantly whether or not they feel comfortable there. Of course, anxiety may play a part. Your child may not know or be sure which school they like the most. Take everything else into consideration too. But pay close attention to how your child behaves when they visit the schools. Are they engaged? Do they seem excited? Do they want to talk about it after they’ve left? All of these are signs that they like it.
This list includes the main things to consider when choosing the right school for your child. But there are lots of other ways to inform your decision. You might want to speak to other parents, for example. You could also have a chat with your child’s teacher. They may have recommendations that you value. Overall, stay positive and trust that you and your child can make the right decision together. Support them and listen to their opinions. And don’t worry - it’s rare that schools are terrible. Most of the time, there will be several schools that suit your child. So use this list and do your research. The right school is there!
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