September is a really hard time to be a parent. For a lot of us it’s time to send the kids off to uni, or to school for a brand new year full of new challenges. But for some of us with children in year 6, we face the daunting task of picking which secondary school we want out child to go to. Now you might have already decided or be limited to just one school, but we are all given the impression that we can choose. All the local schools put on open evenings or open their doors for the day to show off what they can offer – which can be really confusing and overwhelming for us parents. Having been through the process once before (with my eldest just starting year 9) I am now about to embark on the same journey again with my youngest child. So for all the first time or veteran parent starting the process again, here’s my top 10 tips for picking your secondary school from both my professional and personal experience.
1. Go And Visit All Your Potential Schools
This might seem obvious, but don’t be persuaded to pick a school based on what everyone else says. This goes double for schools that are deemed to be ‘outstanding’ or failing. These views can skew our perspective when it comes to choosing schools and stop us giving them a real chance. Make sure you visit the open evening or go to the school during an open day to get a first-hand feel for how the school is run and how happy and engaged the students are. That’s where the real truth is.
2. Take Your Children With You
I know this is another obvious one, but many parents don’t take their children with them to visit the schools they are looking at. At the end of the day your child will be spending 5 days a week for at least 5 years in this environment, so they should at least be visiting with you. I’ve worked with a surprising number of teenagers who didn’t visit the schools they now attend – their parents chose for them. There is potential for disaster here.
3. Ask How The School Handles Year 7 Transitions
All secondary schools work hard on the transition to year 7, but they all handle it differently. Generally, year 7’s will start a day earlier than the rest of the school, and some even prepare residential trips so the children can make friends before they start. Ask the question of all your schools and consider what approach will work best for your child.
4. Friends, Friends, Friends!
Never underestimate the value of current friends for your children. Yesterday my younger son came home and told me that most of his friends won’t be going to the same school as him. Now he is an independent boy who is very self-sufficient, but for some children this news and the schoolyard gossip can really affect the way your child feels about secondary school. How will this change affect your child’s current friendships?
5. Single Sex Or Mixed Schooling?
If this is an option it’s another minefield for parents. I’ll be honest I wasn’t keen on single-sex schooling, but my son is much happier in that environment than the mixed sex school he started in (more on that later). So keep an open mind and prepare to be surprised.
6. Does It Offer The Right Subjects?
I know it sounds early, but subject options are an important part of your child’s future so should be considered at the beginning. Does the school offer all the artistic or creative subjects your child might want? Is there a choice of fresh, modern topics or are they more traditional? For example, I’m working with a teenager now who is very creative, but has just discovered she can only take one creative subject. Children tend to flourish and achieve more if they are able to do subjects they love, so make sure the school is right for your child.
7. How Will Your Children Get There?
Can they walk, cycle or take the bus, or will you need to transport them yourself? Is your child ready for independent travel or are you still going to be doing the school run for a while? If so, is there a possibility of carpooling? It’s a small thing, but it will make a big difference to your life, and your child’s.
8. Your Child’s Opinion Matters!
Don’t follow your natural instinct of ‘I know what’s best for my child’. Really listen to them and what they want. Discuss the options with them, take them with you and open their eyes to things they won’t have even thought of. They have to spend the next 5 years there after all!
9. Always Have A Backup
Once you’ve settled on your first choice, make sure you have a second and a third as well. The amount of heartache that can be avoided by having those different options ready is worth the pre-planning, and remember that there is an appeal process.
10. We Might Make The Wrong Choice
We all work really hard to get our children into good schools and hope that this will lead to a good life. But after one term you see your happy, confident child become withdrawn, distant and dreading going to school. I say this with sadness because it happened to us – my younger son just didn’t fit into the academic model of his firsts secondary school and it wasn’t working. But we were able to move him almost instantly and the new school fits him like a glove. So listen to your instincts – there’s ‘settling in’ and there’s ‘it’s not working’. Don’t be hard on yourself, just do something about it!
Good luck to you all, and hopefully I’ll see you at some open evenings soon!