We’ve summarised some of the key questions you should be asking during your research (and who to ask!)
What next if you’ve made initial searches and have drawn up a shortlist of favoured secondary schools, most likely based on practical requirements such as distance from home and admission rules? Once you know which exams pupil sit and have a good idea of how they perform, go a step further and start making comparisons between the schools using some sensible and probing questions.
In the search for your child’s secondary school, you’ll want to dig far deeper than the latest league table results and the pages of a glossy school brochure. Which is why we wanted to help arm you with some useful questions for when you visit each school in person.
Be sure to ask the same questions consistently of each school in order to stack the responses up against each other so that, by the end of the exercise, you’ve a clear feeling for which school strikes a chord with you and your child. To garner the most genuine insight into each school, try to organise your visit for a normal school day (most schools will accommodate this) and have the confidence to ask some very specific questions of the people you meet. This way you can bypass the rose-tinted promotional image presented to parents during school open days and you’ll be better placed to decide which school is best able to help your child fulfil their individual potential.
Here are some important questions to ask every secondary school on your shortlist:
WHAT DOES THE SCHOOL NEED TO DO TO IMPROVE FURTHER?
Asking to hear about a school’s targets is a sensible way to get advanced warning about a school’s weaknesses. Even ‘Outstanding’ schools have targets for further improvement included in their Ofsted reports. Visit reports.ofsted.gov.uk to arm yourself with background information before each school visit.
Who to ask? The Head
IS CAREER GUIDANCE ON OFFER TO PUPILS AS/WHEN THEY WANT IT?
With access to advice on possible career paths and higher education options pupils can fuel their passions, find inspiration and make informed choices throughout their secondary school life.
Who to ask? Teachers and pupils
HOW ARE BULLIES AND BADLY-BEHAVED PUPILS DISCIPLINED?
This question gives a school the opportunity to explain its behaviour policy and the rules it enforces on issues such as banned items, lateness and standards. Find out how pupils who break the rules are treated. For example, is detention imposed, are fights physically broken up and are pupils removed from class. A school’s approach to bullying must also be included in the behaviour policy.
Who to ask? The Head, teachers and pupils
IS THERE A POSITIVE SCHOOL SPIRIT AND CAN PUPILS CONTRIBUTE TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITY?
A positive school spirit can add greatly to a child’s education and opportunities to volunteer
on community projects can help them to develop valuable skills and life experience. Stories of a
school’s contribution to their local community (think charity initiatives, environmental projects etc) are often picked up and published by the local media, so keep your eyes peeled.
Who to ask? The Head, pupils and internet searches
HOW CAN I CONTACT MY CHILD’S TEACHERS AND HOW OFTEN WILL THEY CONTACT ME?
Take the opportunity to see how much information you’ll receive from the school, beyond the annual parents’ evening and annual school reports, and how much interaction with teachers you’ll be expected or able to have. Are urgent messages, such as school closures communicated via text or email? Could you expect to see letters being sent home with your child? Are parents encouraged to email teachers directly? And if so, under which circumstances?
Who to ask? The Head and teachers
Finally, don’t forget to ask your child where they think they’d be happiest. Perhaps the best choice of secondary school jumps straight out to your child based on their friends’ choices or the facilities offered by certain schools, for example, a swimming pool or dance/performing arts studios. Add their opinion to the mix before weighing up the benefits of each school and submitting your selection this October 31st.
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