The time has come for us to choose a secondary school for our oldest. We are lucky in that where we live, almost every school in the town is ranked “Good” by OFSTED. That means that, while we are likely to end up in a pretty good school, we still have to consider the things that matter, to us as parents and to our son, and decide which order to put our preferences in. Here are our reasons for choosing a secondary school.
Our Number One Reason for Choosing a Secondary School: The Journey
As when we looked at primary schools, I’m keen for my children to go to a secondary school they can walk to. For us, this factor takes our choice for top spot on the application form down to two schools. There are a number of reasons that this a priority for us. I don’t want to deal with driving to school every morning and I’m not keen on paying for a bus pass either. I am keen to squeeze some extra exercise into the day in the form of a walk to school. The biggest reason however is that I would like him to end up with friends who live close by, allowing him more opportunity to play out with them which fits with our free range parenting philosophy.
If you’re looking at schools where your child won’t be walking, I’d suggest exploring the transport options in detail before making your application. If at all possible, do the journey at school run time by whatever mode of transport you plan to use. This will give you a true idea of what it will be like. If you’re a really long way from a secondary, you could also consider home education for secondary.
While the GCSE options choice is a long way off, I am factoring it into the decision. I believe we all do better when studying subjects we care about and so I’m keen for him to go to a school that will allow him to take as many subjects he enjoys as possible. This means that we’re are considering both the subjects a school offers at GCSE and the number of them they can choose for themselves.
When considering subject options, it’s also useful to look at the facilities available for those subjects. What are the science labs like? If your child enjoys IT, do they have a good numbers of up to date computers?
The Atmosphere at the School
Visiting a school is the only way you can really judge this one and different people will perceive the atmosphere in a school differently. This year it’s harder to make a judgement on this due to the COVID-19 related restrictions. We have been able to visit both of our closest schools however while one took us into all of the buildings and let us stand outside classrooms, one only allowed us a tour of the grounds and the a short visit to the library. This has made comparing the two tricky.
Another way to get a feel for the school atmosphere is to pass by at the end of the day. Be warned, it will be chaos! What it shouldn’t be scary. If you generally find groups of young people intimidating I wouldn’t suggest doing this as it will make you worry more, but if you want to compare the feel at a couple of schools it can be a useful measure.
The OFSTED Report
While both of our top choice schools are rated “Good”, one has “Outstanding” in several areas. Reading the detail of the OFSTED reports gave more incite into what the schools do well in and what they struggle with. For example one school doesn’t do so well as helping more able students to stretch themselves and one highlights some issues with behaviour. Both offer high quality teaching with is something I want having had some pretty questionable teachers myself!
It’s useful to note the date of the OFSTED report and I’d there have been any major staff changes in the interim. Things can change quickly, particularly if there have been changes to the senior leadership team so if the report is a few years old it’s worth asking current parents for their views.
How Well they Support Learners
As parents of a child who has found school tricky, I’m keen to send him to a school that will support him. I worry that a school will judge him on his SATS results and not help him to achieve his best, whatever that turns out to be. Luckily I don’t feel either of the schools we’re really interested in would do that and both have good records for helping children achieve more than would be expected based on their SATS results.
if your child has found the academic side of school easier then this may not be one of your reasons for choosing a secondary school. You might look instead at how good they are at stretching their pupils to chive their potential or how well they support gifted children.
Unless you’re looking at an independent school, class size is unlikely to be an issue as it tends to be pretty uniform across most state schools. If you want to know about the school’s academic success their marketing materials will give you the highlights but it’s likely to show it in the best light so you might want to dig a bit deeper for the full results.
Extra Curricular Activities
If your child has particular interests they want to pursue then you’ll want to find out what extra curricular activities the school offers. Being able to play their preferred sport for their school can be great for a child’s confidence and development.
If they can’t do their activity through school, then it can be useful to explore whether or not the school is supportive of outside activities. For example, if your child does something that might require them to leave school early from time to time, would the school allow that?
As a former librarian, I can’t help but take special interest in the library provision. Reading for pleasure has a significant correlation with academic achievement and so I was keen to see a library that was embedded well in the school, providing opportunities for children to fall in love with books.
Initiatives like “Drop everything and read” are great to see in secondary schools and I was happy to see that both schools involved the library in the work of their English department.
It’s useful to consider whether the behaviour policies of the school fit with your own beliefs. It can leave you in a tricky position if they don’t. While the uniform policies at both schools are fine for our son, our daughter currently prefers to wear boys uniform and this will likely be an issue at one of the schools when the time comes for her to choose.
It’s useful to check out the school’s policies on things like haircuts, make up, bags, shoes and punishments so that you know what’s expected. If they aren’t policies you feel you can support then you may want to consider a different school.
Social Reasons for Choosing a Secondary School: Where Friends are Going?
While as adults, we know they will probably make lots of new friends at secondary school, I know it is important to him. At the moment everyone is in the middle of visiting schools but as it becomes clearer who is putting which school as their first choice, I imagine this will become a bigger factor in his thinking.
While I don’t think friendships should be the number one reasons fir choosing a secondary school, I do think knowing they they will have friends there can ease the transition for children who are worried about it so it is worth taking into account.
Consider Homeschooling Instead
If none of the secondary schools you visit feel right to you, you could consider home education for key stage 3 instead. While secondary school can be a great experience for lots of children, it isn’t right for all children. In the UK we have the legal right to home educate our children if we want to and so it’s worth considering if you don’t think your child will thrive in secondary school.
Should You Let Your Child Choose Their Secondary School?
It has been interesting chatting with other parents about secondary school choices. Some are very much of the opinion that it’s a parents choice, others, myself included, feel that the child should have a fairly big say.
A lot will depend on your child and the choice of schools around you. Some children will choose purely on what their friends are doing whether it’s right for them or not, in which case the decision may be best made by a parent. If you live in an area where some schools are good and some aren’t then there is more at stake.
If our son wanted to go to a school that would make our lives inconvenient without a very good reason I would certainly be saying no. As we have two good, close schools to choose from, as long as I feel he is taking the right information into consideration, I will likely let him make the final decision.
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