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How to make the most of a school open day

By Atom | Jun 9, 2023, 9:25 AM

Man with a neck lanyard pointing out something to two students dressed in normal clothes in a corridor

In the next couple of months, secondary schools across the country will be holding open events for pupils currently in Year 5. This is an ideal time for families to visit potential schools and decide whether to register their child for Year 7 entry in 2023.

During the pandemic, many schools did a fantastic job of creating virtual open events for prospective families. If a school has shared videos and virtual tours on its website, use these as a shortlisting process to help you decide whether to visit in person.

Attending a school open day will allow you to get a 'feel' for the atmosphere and the community. You will be able to get an idea of the scale of the school site and talk to pupils and teachers. If your child will need to travel to school by public transport, this is a great opportunity to work out if the commute is realistic for your child.

Types of open days

If a school advertises an open event, this is a public opportunity to have a look around. It's worth bearing in mind that open events are marketing tools for schools; they will be showcasing the best of what they have to offer. While you may not experience a 'realistic' school day, you will get a sense of what the school values most from how it presents at an open event.

Some schools will have several different options to visit. Here's our breakdown of the different types of 'open days':

  • Open day: held on a Saturday or a weekday. There will often be group tours, talks from the headteacher and extra-curricular activities going on in the background. Even if the event is on a school day, the pupils will likely be 'off-timetable' so you may not experience a traditional day-in-the-life.

  • Open evening: held during a weeknight and condensed into about two hours. There will likely be group tours and talks from the headmaster, but you might not witness many extra-curricular activities.

  • Individual visits: some schools offer families the opportunity to visit the school for a private tour during the school day. These will likely need booking in advance. You will be able to witness a normal day at school and get a realistic sense of how it runs day-in, day-out. Bear in mind that as the timetable will be in full flow, you will not be able to chat with pupils or teachers.

Looking for expert guidance? Watch our recent webinar in partnership with Katharine James from Talk Education:

Webinar: how to make the most of open days with Talk Education

Tips to best prepare for an open day

Check the booking information early

Don't assume that you will be able to turn up as some schools make their open events ticketed only due to capacity. If an event advertises that access is by booking only, ensure you're ready to book at the time tickets are released. Schools that are particularly popular have been known to reach full ticket capacity extremely quickly.

Our guide to 11 plus key dates for 2023 entry includes all the known open days at grammar schools across the country this term (and links to booking where required).

Plan your questions in advance

Before the open day, talk to your child about what they’re interested in finding out about their potential new school. Are there any extra-curricular activities they’re interested in, such as sports teams or drama clubs? Find out who leads the programme (an activities coordinator or the department head) and try to talk to them at the event.

As a parent, you will naturally have your own questions about the admissions process and the pastoral support in place at the school. Bear in mind that if the school is large, the open event may have hundreds or over a thousand attendees – so a chat with the headteacher may be unrealistic. Your best bet will be to talk to the school’s pastoral lead and someone from the admissions office.

Attend the event as a family

It’s important that both you and your child attend an open day together. Remember that this school may be the one where your child will spend up to seven years of their education, so it needs to be the right fit for them.

If your child has a second parent or carer, try to attend the event as a group (depending on your own availability and the event capacity limit). Every individual notices different things, so you will have more pairs of eyes to take in the surroundings. You can compare notes after the event to get an overall picture of the school and decide whether to proceed with registration.

Attend the headteacher's talk

Find out the times of the headteacher's talk and make sure to attend one (the talk may be repeated throughout the programme of events). If you've done your dues and sifted through the school website and prospectus material in detail, you may have read a lot of the content before. However, attending the headteacher's talk will give you a sense of what they are like as a person – and in turn, how they manage their school. It is important that what the headteacher says about the ethos of the school aligns with your vision for your child's education.

Be open-minded

We recommend attending an open day with an open mind. If you have friends or acquaintances with children of the same age who are also considering the same school, it can be easy to be influenced by their opinions. However, every child is different and will be looking for a unique school experience. Consider your child’s wants and needs and go to an open day with only these in mind.

We know how crucial this time is for you and your child. Our team at Atom is on hand to support you and your family every step of the way.

You can book a call with one of our Education Experts to ask any questions you might have about the transition to secondary school or the 11 plus admissions process:

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