Doing some homework
(before you visit your secondary schools)
Year 6 families, are you counting down to secondary school visits/open days and evenings?
Obviously you are best placed to know what is best for your child, but schools are all different and the world of education has changed massively since most of us went to school.
So before you make your visits why not spend some time getting prepared? Here are the two things we suggest.
1. Get as much information from the school as you can, including their brochure and/or website. They will give you good information about:
The school’s vision or mission:
Think about the type of school that will best suit your child. The pictures and language can give you clues. Some schools are traditional, hierarchical, some focus on the broadest type of curriculum and extra curricular activities, some want your child to learn how to succeed in different environments, some are concerned with discipline above all else and so on.
The size of the school:
There are advocates on each side of the debate here and it’s true that small schools can be creative and make a wide curriculum offer to your child and that big schools can be imaginative and support strong community building. But consider the size of the school and think about what questions you might want addressing when you visit.
The structure of the day:
There’s a growing number of schools that run extended or non-traditional days. And some that run a timetable that breaks with the traditional short lessons followed by a bell. Be clear about this before you visit. But also consider start and finish times. You know your child, their strengths and their interests.
There are hundreds of accredited exam subjects in our system. And hundreds more exciting opportunities for learning outside the traditional curriculum across our schools. Again, this is going to make each school different. So look at the focus for extra curricular activities; is it sport, literacy, drama, music, board-games, computing? The list could be endless and so obviously can’t be endless in each school!
And don’t forget school specialism. Most schools have one or more where an area of the curriculum has particular strengths and resources that could benefit your child. Schools can select a certain percentage of students each year based on this specialism wherever they live.
Brochures and websites are marketing tools. Yes, their job is to give you information, but it’s also to advertise and sell the school. Bear this in mind and match what the school says about itself with what you see when you visit.
Schools ARE all different. No school can prioritise everything. Be clear about what is most important to you and your child.
The best school isn’t always the best school for your child. Use what you find out about the school to decide whether or not it’s a match.
2. Get as much information about the school as you can including exam results and OFSTED reports.
Look at whether schools get a good percentage of higher grades. Whether you child gets those ultimately or not, it will tell you that the teaching quality overall is good.
Look at the results for the subjects your child cares most about. Yes, there are 10 year olds with their hearts set on mechanics or medicine. Your child will need strong grades in related subjects to stand the best chances later.
Make sure all students make progress. If I’m above average when I arrive in year 7 and am still just above average when I leave in year 11, what difference has school made to me?
Useful places to look:
For all kinds of school info across the state and independent sector, including exam results.
Put the school name in the ‘search by institution’ box.
And of course for associated new stories!
Includes a useful Local Authority search.
Exam results are a good indicator of the success of a school but not the only one. Don’t read them in isolation.
Make sure you fully understand the percentage claims that come directly from schools themselves. You are often NOT comparing like for like. Use independent sites as well.
Beware of schools that seem to focus on exam results above all else. A good school just gets on and does it. In the words of a 14 year we know “My Head doesn’t care about me, all she’s bothered about is the school target.”
The framework for inspections is undergoing change at the moment but most reports you look at will still be in the same format.
Look at quality of Leadership. It’s key to the direction of the school and the important times for your child might be in 6 or 8 years, not today.
Look at the quality of teaching and learning. A car might have beautiful body work but if it’s got no engine…..you get the idea.
Just go straight to:
Look at the whole report about a school not just the sound bites you see in the brochures or on the websites.
Consider how old the report is and whether that throws up any questions. Has the Head changed for example?
For detailed information on any of the above and for further advice on choosing a school buy our Guide,