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Choosing a secondary school. What things should I be looking out for?

Discussion in 'Personal' started by Orkrider2, Aug 28, 2015.

  1. Orkrider2

    Orkrider2 Star commenter

    I can't believe my first little baby has reached the age where I'm having to start thinking about 'big' school for him and to be honest, I don't have much experience of how secondary schools work and what kind of things I should be looking out for when I go on the open evenings. I'm hoping one of you lovely lot could give me a bit of advice or helpful suggestions for things to be aware of.

    For a bit of background, there are 2 schools I can realistically choose between. Both are within easy walking distance, and both seem to be doing reasonably well. I've been doing a bit of a poll in the playground, asking parents with older kids which they'd recommend and I've had mixed reports from both. What it seems to boil down to is this:

    School A has a good historical reputation, and is higher up in the league tables, but is now an academy and there is some suggestion that standards have slipped somewhat and that there is a lot of pressure on pupils to drop subjects or take a BTec instead of GCSE in order to keep the figures sweet. I've also heard it's not that great on the pastoral side of things, with parents complaining that the kids seem to be treated like statistics rather than individuals (one parent said the school phoned every day of the 2 weeks her son was in hospital with meningitis to ask when he'd be back at school, which she wouldn't have minded had they just once asked how he was actually doing). And it is a single sex school, which could be a problem for me as it'll mean my next one won't have the benefit of a sibling link when it's her turn to apply.

    School B doesn't have a very good reputation locally (Mr Ork went there and left at 16 without a single GCSE to his name but a lot of experience of drinking cider in the park). That said, it's not doing badly in the league tables and I've heard personal anecdotes that the pastoral side of things are really good now and it's generally considered by parents to be a nice, supportive school that pushes the bright kids hard and provides excellent support for those with difficulties. Plus, it's mixed so my daughter would be able to go to the same school as her brother (potentially important as if she doesn't, I'll have 3 kids at 3 different schools, and as I'll be back in full time employment by then it'll be a logistical nightmare getting all of them to where they need to be at the right time and actually get to work myself!)

    I know I need to go there personally and get a feel for them both before I make up my mind for certain, but I'm definitely interested in having as many opinions as possible.

    Thanks in advance (and sorry it's so long!) :)

  2. catmother

    catmother Star commenter

    The second one seems just fine.
  3. Lara mfl 05

    Lara mfl 05 Star commenter

    Different schools suit different children. So don't worry about a school to suit both. My two webt to 2 different High Schools, as they were a better 'fit'. Also less chance of having comparisons made , with the inherent pressure, with older siblings!

    I'd choose a school with a good pastoral record over one with 'good result' every time. More chance of your child being treated as an individual other than being 'league tab;e fodder'.

    Schools also change, as staff, SMT etc move, so whichever school you choose may be a very different one by the time they get to GCSEs.

    In my area there were 2 schools, one of which had by far the superior 'reputation'. School B had the staff as terrified as the students and had the best reputation. Then suddenly Head left and 'downhill' went the reputation. The school was essentially the same. Students the same. Then the other school was definitely the school 'of choice' Consequently many more parents chose to send their children there but when I went tp both on supply, as an insider, both schools were 'good'. Different, but 'good'. Able children thrived in both- they always do, but for less able I would personally have chosen the one with the 'poorer' reputation, because of the superb SEN dept.!
  4. foxtail3

    foxtail3 Star commenter

    Go to open evenings and get a feel for the schools. Ask if you can go and see the schools when they aren't 'all singing and dancing'. And putting on a show. Seeing a school on an ordinary working day can make a huge difference.

    One is an academy. How likely is it that the other will also be an academy by the time your daughter goes? If it is, the academy consideration won't apply any more.

    When you visit, does the school have a 'feel' that you like? Is the atmosphere relaxed? Do you get a sense that the staff really know the students?

    Some parents chose my school because it was small, they felt their children would be nurtured and the SEN department and pastoral system were effective. I would place a lot of store on that.

    If your child is a confident go getter, then he may not be worried by being treated as a statistic. I wouldn't have wanted that for mine and I wouldn't! have wanted to work in a place like that.

    There really is no substitute for seeing for yourself. See which your son likes too, but ultimately it's what you think is best fit. League tables aren't everything!
  5. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Read the information on the school's web site as well if you can and see if you can find out if they list any core values that they use. For example, do they believe in treating everyone with respect? If I were you I would be interested in whether my child is in a school with good behaviour management and good pastoral support. As a supply teacher I have been in schools where if I had to choose between that school and home schooling, I would have picked home schooling no matter what I would have had to do.

    From what you write, choice B sounds good.
  6. smoothnewt

    smoothnewt Star commenter

    That is key. You need to get a feel for the place, and so do your children. When we have an open morning for prospective Year 7 pupils it is amazing how many parents comment on the friendly atmosphere in the school, and how enthusiastic our pupils are. That is something you can't fake.

    So, on your visits, try to get a Year 7 student to show you around, and talk to as many pupils on the day as you can. Talk to any sixth-formers too, to see how they have been shaped by their journey through the school.

    From what you have said, school B does sound the most attractive option.
  7. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    Like newt's idea.

    Yr7 and Post 16. Horse's mouth.

    I have a natural antipathy towards academies and results-driven institutions.

    Happy, friendly, caring, kind would do it for me every time.
  8. marymoocow

    marymoocow Star commenter

    Pastoral, pastoral, pastoral everytime. Sometimes it is just a feel you get for a place, friendly, warm and welcoming. Do the teachers greet the children by name, seem to know something about them etc. If your kids are brought up well with the right values and home support, they will succeed anyway. Your child also needs to like the place too as teenagers are so easily turned off education what with hormones etc.
  9. Orkrider2

    Orkrider2 Star commenter

    Thank you everyone for your replies. I am more swayed towards School B, but my mother thinks I'm being stupid and that School A is the only way to go. She maintains that her friend's son who went there is doing very well. She's forgetting that my cousin also went there and he ended up as a thieving junkie, but there you go. I'm very conditioned into valuing my mother's opinion over my own, which is a very bad habit I must get myself out of!
  10. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    What it says on the website, and what actually happens are sometimes not the same thing.
  11. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    Plus I would NEVER choose an academy over a local authority school.

    Doesn't matter what the stats say and it isn't the fault of the teaching staff but I think maintained schools are better.
  12. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    I agree marymoocow.... I work on supply in an excellent school and it is just what you describe; and if children are brought up well then they will flourish.
  13. Orkrider2

    Orkrider2 Star commenter

    Agreed GDW, the academy thing is one of the most offputting parts of school A for me.
  14. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    I'd far rather see happy kids than cowed kids or kids bullied by the staff or each other.

    I think you can always tell. Results mean nothing to me. I'm firmly of the view that a child, whether practical, academic, sporting or a mixture of all or none, will do well and fulfil his/her potential if the atmosphere is encouraging and pleasant.
  15. Middlemarch

    Middlemarch Star commenter

    I doubt very much that school A is STILL encouraging children to do BTECs to bolster their results, since these are no longer any use for such a purpose.
  16. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    Mm!!!! It's been months!
  17. Orkrider2

    Orkrider2 Star commenter

    I admit I don't really know how it works. From what I could gather, the implication was that the pupils that were deemed not likely to get an A*-C were pushed into a different qualification and not allowed to take the GCSE option in order to preserve the near 100% A*-C GCSE results. Similarly, with A levels, some children had their choices dictated to them based on what they achieved in GCSE rather than being given a choice, i.e. you could only do an A level in a subject if you'd achieved an A or A* in that subject at GCSE. I don't know whether that makes sense, or whether that's common practice in schools (though I know it happens in at least one selective school in my area), because I'm the first to admit that how the GCSE selection and examination process actually works is a complete mystery to me at the moment, but it was what other parents were suggesting had happened to some of the children at that school.

    Is that something I should expect to happen at both schools, or is it something that shouldn't be happening at either? Any advice gratefully received!

  18. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    It might easily happen at both, I fear.

    You should make it very plain that your child will do the subjects he enjoys and wishes to pursue when the time comes. If they go ghastly pale and start blustering then you'll know their views. If they agree with you it's a good sign.

    But a lot can change in 3 years.

    Look, my grandchildren are just about to start YR3 and R respectively. Gawd help 'em. My grandson didn't stress about YR2 SATs but others did. It's a jungle out there.

    Look for staff with good interpersonal skills. Not smarmy though!
  19. InkyP

    InkyP Star commenter

    My twin grandsons are starting Year 7 this month and so my daughter and SiL took them to the Open Evening at the Secondary school they both attended. It is now becoming an Academy but they were pleased to find some of the same teachers they had liked when they were there. One favourite teacher is now DH. They spent ages chatting with staff and remembering old times and admiring the new buildings and resources. They are now all really excited and looking forward to the boys starting there. That kind of continuity is not something I ever experienced myself as I always moved around as a child and young person.
  20. Dragonlady30

    Dragonlady30 Star commenter

    I would agree with seeing the school as is-in other words on an ordinary day without the bells and whistles of an open night. It's not foolproof, but it does give a good indication of the systems.

    Again, I agree with a solid, caring pastoral system over a data-factory any day.

    Good luck!!

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