Choosing the right secondary school for your child is an extremely tough and unenviable task. This will be one of the most important places in your their life and it's crucial you pick wisely. There are so many factors to consider, which you should consider when coming to a decision.
A good way to get an idea of how a school is performing is to view its OFSTED report (this can be done easily online). This will tell you about the school’s results and the progress children make there. However, it’s vital to recognize that OFSTED reports in no way reveal the full picture of a school.
Visit a few schools
Make sure you visit a few schools in order to compare and look at how different styles work. It’s important to work out what things you and your child liked about certain schools and things you perhaps didn’t like. As a guideline, try and view at least three schools if possible.
Although an open-evening offers schools the chance to showcase their work and talent, it’s perhaps more useful to visit on an ordinary, run-of-the-mill day. Be observant on your visit and ask plenty of questions. Look at the facilities available. Is there a good range of extra-curricular activities on offer? Is there a good learning environment? Also, keep a close eye on the small things like how the staff interact with the children and any conversations you may with the students. Remember, if your child attends the school, they could end up like them!
This is sometimes overlooked by people, as they feel obliged to choose schools solely on data and buildings- it is so much more than that. Almost immediately, you will get a "feel" for a place. Put yourself in your child's shoes and ask - "could I imagine going to this school?". If it doesn't feel right, consult with your child and see if they had the same feeling.
It is crucial that you involve children in the decision-making process. This is, after all, the place where they will be going, not you. As long as you encourage them to be open-minded and honest about their decisions, they will usually make sensible choices. It is important to also be aware though, that children can also make decisions based on things such as which school their friends are going to and from being "wowed" at a flashy open-day. Get them to plan clearly what they want from a secondary school before they visit and see how schools match up to those thoughts.
A factor many parents overlook is the difficulties of getting children to and from school. This can be an extremely stressful process for both parents and children and can cause many issues. Ideally, it is better to live as close to the school as possible. This frees up more time for you and them and allows for greater flexibility throughout the many different things they will be doing at secondary school. It can also be problematic if children are located far away from their friends and may leave them feeling isolated in the holidays. By all means, if the perfect school is a little far away, don't let it stymie things- just be aware of the potential pitfalls.
Word of mouth
Hearing things on the "grapevine" tends to be the most accurate and fast-moving "litmus test" on a school. If you hear nothing but good things about a school, it can only be a positive sign. However, if the word is constantly negative, seriously consider your options. Speak to parents of children with older siblings at secondary schools, who will be able to keep you updated with the latest happenings.
This is perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider when choosing a school. The head is individual who sets the whole tone of the school. The key decisions come down to them and they are the ones who decide which direction the school takes.