How to choose a secondary school for your child

If your child is entering Year 6, two things probably weigh quite heavily on your mind right now: the looming Eleven Plus and your secondary school choices.

Sian Goodspeed, Founder of Flying Start Tuition, offers advice for parents on mistakes to avoid when taking this decision.

ID-100103394Try not to stress!

Of course there are schools that might be better suited to your child than others and it is certainly worth doing your homework and formulating a shortlist. However, since school choices are limited by the child’s results and location, be realistic and remember there really is no point in stressing about something that is out of your control.

Ofsted is not everything

Reading Ofsted reports is a good way to get an impression of a school on paper but remember that Ofsted inspections are only a snapshot of how a school is performing so don’t let this be your only source of information. Similarly, school league tables will give you an idea of how many pupils reached the required level in maths, science and English but there are other issues that could be obscuring the picture. Nonetheless, looking at these figures is a good starting point.

Ignore word-of-mouth at your peril

As with most things, the parental grapevine is well worth tapping into. Are parents avoiding eye contact or foaming at the mouth when you ask them about the school’s results? Not a good sign. Are you struggling to find anyone with a bad word to say about a certain school – this can only be a good thing because most parents tend to be super sensitive when it comes to how their children are treated at school. Again, this is not infallible, but helps to form a picture.

Don’t fall for marketing speak

Most schools offer open days to prospective pupils and their parents – and you should definitely attend. However, don’t simply swallow the head teacher’s slick speech and marketing speak on glossy brochures.

Try to get information from the horse’s mouth. Do the children seem happy? Ask them how they feel about school. Speak to the teachers in charge of the subjects your child is interested in and try to gauge how passionate they are about their subjects. Ask tough questions – listen for examples of how bullying is dealt with in the school and how exactly children are motivated to fulfill their potential. Where possible, visit the school on a normal working day too – don’t just wait until the open day.

Don’t ignore your gut!

When you visit a school, you will likely get a ‘gut feeling’ about whether or not it is the right school for your child. Listen to your instincts and ask your child for their feelings too.

Don’t decide alone

Yes, of course you have hopes and aspirations for your child – and let’s be honest often those are linked to your own successes or failures. But you don’t have to go to this school – your child does. Would the school fit his or her personality? Does it seem too formal? If your child is interested in art and literacy and the school is focused on science and maths, how happy will he or she be? Don’t choose the right school for you – decide together what will be best for your child.

Flying Start Tuition offers Primary and Secondary courses in English and Maths, plus exam preparation for the Eleven Plus and GCSEs. They host a programme of free educational information sessions for parents throughout the year – please email or call for further details.

Tel: 01494 772 898


(Image courtesy of Ambro/