If your child is in the latter couple of years of primary, they’ll soon be embarking on the next stage of their life and moving to secondary school. The Interchange spoke to local Multi Academy Trust, Olympus, for its take on choosing the right school for your child…
Begin shortlisting schools that your child has a reasonable chance of getting a place at, according to the selection criteria. This way, you won’t fall in love with a school that you’ve no chance of getting into – for example, on the basis of a religion that you don’t belong to, or on distance when you’re clearly out of catchment. You can refer to the Local Authority guide here for information on how places are allocated and catchment areas.
Listen, read, look – but make your own decision
There’s a huge amount of information out there, from league tables and Ofsted reports to website forums, and school gate chatter. This is about gathering it all up and assessing what matters most. Which schools fit best with your child’s needs and preferences?
Listen to friends’ and acquaintances’ views about local schools but note that your priorities may not be the same as theirs. Consider too that hearsay about schools might be out-dated – some improve quickly but are stuck with reputations that are unfairly negative (and of course the opposite happens too!).
Make time for open days
There is no substitute for getting your boots on the ground. Open days are a great chance to talk to staff and pupils and get a feel for a school. Check out what extra-curricular activities they have on offer (especially those in line with your child’s interests), see if the head’s ethos matches yours and assess whether it seems an engaging and enjoyable place to learn. Ask questions about the things that really matter to you – such as how bullying is dealt with, how sports teams are selected or how concerns raised in the Ofsted report are being tackled.
Speak to the students. Many schools will use students as guides on open evenings. Talk to them about their experience. Students tend to be honest about such things – occasionally brutally so. If the school doesn’t let you near its students, that’s not a good sign.
Also on any visit, you should witness interactions between the staff and students – possibly your own child if you brought them along. One emotion that cannot be faked is genuine warmth. How do the teachers speak to and about the students? How do the students talk to and behave around the teachers? Find a school with a warm and happy atmosphere, and you can’t go far wrong.
Try not to worry
In the overwhelming majority of cases your child has every chance to fulfil their potential. Rather a lot of parents have felt the world is ending when they’ve opened the offer envelope to discover their last option staring at them, yet have later found their child seems happy, fulfilled and doing rather well.
Above all try to remember that most of us went to a school based solely on the grounds that it was the closest to our house, and the vast majority of us are really doing rather well.
A word from some local headteachers……
“Having completed the process with my own son (now 13) recently I empathise with making the choice of a secondary school. I always encourage prospective parents to visit all our local schools as we are all unique and have our own merits. BSCS is fortunate to have been oversubscribed every year since opening, and we continue to be hugely successful which we are of course immensely proud of. As a Teaching School we are starting to work much more closely with other local schools to provide high quality training and support for school improvement in our area so I see first hand the good work going on in other local schools. I don’t believe that there is a ‘bad’ choice locally.” Steve Moir, Bradley Stoke Community School
“Parents rightly place academic performance at the top of their checklist, but league tables don’t tell the whole story. Remember to ask about the difference between attainment levels of students between Year 7 and 11; are the school supporting every student to make the best progress they are capable of- what value are they adding to each individual? For many students who might not be straight A* students this is crucial.” Dave Howe, Abbeywood Community School
“Speak to the teachers! Remember that your child will spend a long time with those teachers, but is unlikely to speak to the headteacher on a daily basis. Are the teachers enthusiastic? Shattered? Knowledgeable? Uninformed? Engaging? A school should welcome interaction with their teachers, which shouldn’t be forced or scripted.” Peter Smart, Winterbourne International Academy
“Try to think beyond year seven. What are outcomes like in year 11 and for post 16 students? It’s worth trying to find out what kind of aspirations the school has for its students and how it backs these up with a careers and personal development programme – ask staff and students because they should be able to give you answers which show that this is actually happening. Ask, as well, about the school’s polices on punctuality, uniform, discipline and homework – these will for a big part of your child’s school experience.” Karen Cornick, Patchway Community School