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Choosing A Secondary School

The deadline for secondary school applications in the UK is fast approaching. The ongoing pandemic has meant that many schools are not offering their usual open days and it can be hard to feel you’re making an informed decision. 

Here are some tips to help you with your choice...

Enquire about a virtual tour

Many schools are unable to run large-scale open evenings, but may be offering virtual tours instead. These videos will cover many of the things you’d normally expect to see at a school open evening, such as a welcome from the head, tours of the premises and even interviews with students and teachers.

The benefit of a virtual tour is that you can watch the video more than once, making note of any questions that come up as you go. This will allow you and your child to go back and revisit anything you want to double check on, and to really think about any questions you might want to ask

Check The Admissions Criteria

Some parts of the country have grammar schools which require applicants to sit the 11+ exam. Other state-funded secondary schools are usually non-selective.

Check the school’s website to see if there are specific criteria and bear in mind that if the school is often over-subscribed and your child doesn’t meet the criteria there is little chance of gaining a place.  

Many schools don’t have a specific catchment area, but use distance as a criteria which may vary year on year depending on the number of people applying for places.

Choose More Than One School

Most local authorities will ask for a list of up to four schools in order of preference. In London this increases to six. Aim to include at least one school where you feel there’s a strong chance of gaining a place, even if this is not your first choice. If you don’t provide a list of options, there is a risk that you will be allocated a place at a school that would not normally have made your top 10 list, either because of distance or some other reason. 

Spend Time On The School Website

The school website is not only for finding out admissions criteria or viewing a virtual tour video. It will showcase the values of the school, not only with photos of pupils and facilities but in many other ways. For example, delve a little deeper to find out specific policies around bullying and homework. Parent newsletters are often also published on the school website and this can give you a real insight into what life is like at the school. 

Talk To Families With Children Who Attend The School

Bear in mind that every school has students who sail through and have a fantastic time - and also students who have a hard time for one reason or another. You will always be able to find someone who thinks the school is fantastic, and someone else who thinks it is awful. Try to speak to a variety of different people about their views on the school.

If your child has any additional needs or an aptitude for a particular subject, try and find parents with a child in a similar position: how has the school catered to their needs?

Drive Past At The Beginning Or End Of The Day

The way students arrive at and leave a school can tell you a lot. Are there safe walking routes? Is there a teacher there to greet students as they arrive? What safety precautions are in place? Pay attention to how the students and teachers interact with each other. One issue many schools have these days is the number of parents driving to and from school - this can cause issues with local residents who then hold a dim view of the school as a whole, but more importantly can make for a less safe environment for children walking to school and crossing roads congested by parent drivers. This may be an important factor for you if your child intends to walk to school each day.

Talk To Your Child About Their Preference

At the end of the day, your child is the one who will have to attend the school each day. Find out how they feel about the options open to them. They may have their heart set on a particular school; they may be anxious about being separated from friends. That may seem like a poor reason to choose a school, but if your child finds it hard to make friends or is particularly anxious in new situation it may be beneficial to bear this in mind when choosing a school.

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