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Choosing the right secondary school for your child


by Sophie

Choosing the right secondary school for your child can feel overwhelming at first, and with various league tables and Ofsted reports all telling a different story, it can be hard to know where to begin. So, we have put together a list of a few tried and tested methods for helping you come to the best decision for you and your child.

Visit the school.

Whilst this may seem fairly obvious, it is a huge help for gaining a better understanding into the way the school runs. You will be given the opportunity to talk to pupils and staff and it’s a great way to ask any questions you may currently have. Touring the school also allows you to take a look at the facilities it has to offer, an Astroturf for a keen football player, or practice rooms for a budding musician could be what sways a certain school for you. There is also no better way to get a sense for the overall feel of a school. Does it seem to challenge its pupils? Does it provide lots of extra-curricular opportunities? You can compare this immediate gut-reaction to that of the other schools you’ve visited to find one that seems to best fit what you’re looking for.

Visiting schools as early as possible means that you can come back a second time if you are still struggling to decide, and gives enough time to be fully prepared for any admission tests/interviews you may be required to take. Year 4 is when I began looking at schools and I would recommend this as a good starting point.

Involve your child as much as possible.

It is of course a decision that will ultimately affect them, and so if they feel strongly towards a school, it is important to let their opinions be heard. A child will do best at a school that provides the environment where they feel they can best flourish, and this may not necessarily be the school you had in mind for them.

Both my brother and myself were encouraged to go to the grammar schools in the area with the highest results. I decided that such a school would be a good fit for me after having visited one of them (Nonsuch High School for Girls), and had an excellent secondary school experience. My brother however did not like any of the grammar schools we toured and decided that he would feel far more comfortable at a comprehensive school (Rutlish School), and also thoroughly enjoyed his experience. The reason for both of our successes at these schools was that we both got to choose where we thought we would best fit, and were supported by our parents in this.

Talk to parents and students.

Reaching out to family/friends or contacts on Facebook who have children at the school and asking for their honest opinions is a good way of going about this. Parents are often the most critical when it comes to their child’s well-being, so if they have very few negative things to say, that stands the school in good stead.

Talking to parents and students with first-hand experience is also extremely useful for warding off any school-gate myths about specific schools. From personal experience there are many people with no experience at a school that will try to provide opinions about what it may be like. Before starting at the grammar school that I had chosen to attend, I had been warned numerous times about how I would be overwhelmed by the immense workload and would feel under ridiculous amounts of pressure. Had I spoken to any parent or student at the school I would have been painted a far more accurate picture of being gradually eased into the workload changes between KS2 and 3. As such I would really recommend speaking to as many parents and students with experience at the school as possible, to avoid your judgement being clouded by rumours of little substance.

Exam Results.

The progress 8 score at GCSE level can be a great tool for deciding between schools. Progress 8 is based on pupils’ performance in eight qualifications. These are English and Maths, up to three subjects from the Ebacc list, and students’ three highest scores from a range of other qualifications. English and Maths are given double weighting. The progress 8 compares the scores achieved at GCSE to those at KS2 SATs. This focus on progress rather than percentage A*-Cs gives a fairer reflection of the level of teaching and support provided to the students throughout their time at the school.

However, percentage A*-Cs obtained can still be important in decision-making, as it can reflect how likely your child is to achieve certain grades at GCSE/A-Level. It can also demonstrate the willingness of the students at the school to learn, and revise well for exams.

Admissions requirements.

These should be listed on the school’s website, and can include catchment area, entry exams and level of church-going for faith schools.

If you are unable to meet these requirements, you can immediately discount the school from your list, so it is a good way to avoid time-wasting.

It is a good idea to start preparing for these potential admissions hurdles early if you are looking at one or a few schools in particular. It may be possible to move into the catchment area or practice for entry exams to have a better chance of getting in.

Website recommendations.

  • Good Schools Guide
    The Good Schools Guide reviews over 1,200 schools, interviews head teachers, speaks to pupils and parents and analyses academic performance. It is a great website for an overall idea of what a school may be like.


  • School Guide
    Provides exam statistics, parent reviews and Ofsted reports all in one place. Their catchment area checker tool is particularly helpful for finding which schools are worth looking at.

Hopefully you found this list of use, and now have a better idea of how to come to a decision on which secondary school would be right for your child.