We're here to help you and your child navigate the admissions process from start to finish.
Choosing a big school for your child is a hugely important decision that will affect not only their next 7 years but the rest of their life. Whether or not you’ve already embarked on a 7 plus campaign, the school entrance process at age 11 is daunting. That is why we have compiled a list of things to consider so you can make a more informed choice.
Before you start looking at specific schools, it’s best to get a clear idea of the type of school you are looking for. That way you can cross off a large chunk of schools from your prospective list. For example, are you sending your child to a state or private school? Both have their pro and cons, but this is a major starting point that will allow you to considerably narrow your search. Another factor to consider is day or boarding? Single sex or mixed? IB or A Level? None of these choices are necessarily a one-or-the-other decision, but if you do decide to rule out any broad categories, it will make the selection process less daunting.
Another way to choose a secondary school for your child is to begin with all the schools that your child can commute to, then narrowing the list from there. Putting some considerable thought into your child’s commute is a sure-fire way to knock some potential schools off the list. It is key to consider how long your child’s school day will be structured, and how you want them to spend their travel time. Most schools would recommend only applying if your commute is no longer than 45-60 minutes.
Having a short and stress-free journey will be hugely beneficial to your child in the long run. You must consider how their journey will impact their everyday life. If they have a club, rehearsal, or sports fixture after school, is it reasonable for them to then travel home in the dark at 6 or 7pm? If the school offer a coach service, that will eliminate a lot of stress from their journey and be an opportunity for them to make friends. Or you may want to consider schools that will require an active commute. Walking or cycling to school is a healthy start to a child’s day that will force them to stay active.
Before attending any open days, there is plenty you can learn from your own home. Once you have a slightly pared down list of potential schools, you can begin research to build a better picture of each one individually. Check out the Ofsted reports, however, do not put too much weight on them as these tend to hold very little truth after the fact.
League tables are another resource to investigate. The government performance information website gives you detailed accounts of your local schools and allows you to easily compare your options. However, if you find yourself comparing the 1% A Level result differences of London’s top secondary schools, you may be putting too much faith in the tables. Similarly, do not pay too much attention to yearly fluctuations, some cohorts are stronger than others. Unless there is a clear trend over time, it probably does not mean anything.
Most schools will offer a prospectus on their website which is definitely worth a read. If you don’t find all the information you are looking for on the school website, it’s well worth ringing them up. Speaking to someone who works there will give you a sense of the atmosphere of the school and the people with whom your child will be spending their days.
After all that, it is a great idea to investigate the world of online forums. Hearing the experiences of other mums will give you an inside perspective. However, take everything you hear with a considerable pinch of salt, whether they are singing praises or tearing them down – everyone has an agenda. Also be wary of mothers preaching about schools that their darling child has only just entered in Year 7.
In a similar vein, word of mouth is a great way to get a consensus about a school and will likely fill you in on any glaring problems (if there are any to be passed around). If you can manage it, the best source of information is a child who is at or has recently left the school. They are the only source that can give you accurate information about what it is like to be in your child’s position. So, if you get the opportunity to hear from them – listen!
Once you have narrowed down your list the best thing to do is to visit your options. There is no substitute for getting your feet on the ground and doing some thorough poking around. Open days are an amazing tool to see the facilities on offer, ask questions, speak with staff and pupils and get the feel of a school. Bring your child with you and take note of everything you see.
Most Open Days have student led tours or a chance to speak to current students – utilise this as an opportunity to ask them about their experiences. Children will be a lot more honest than the school who are trying to sell themselves to you. If the school do not let prospective parents speak to pupils, that is a bad sign! You should also try to speak to teachers. While the Head’s speeches will be lovely to hear, they will likely all be similar assurances about high standards, pastoral care and great results. Further, your child will likely barely interact with the Head, they will instead be spending their time with teachers. Lookout for engaged, enthusiastic, professional and knowledgeable teachers – as these will be the people providing your child’s education and pastoral support.
Ask your child what they want! Once you have whittled down the expanse of options to a few promising schools it is time to get your child involved with the selection process. Take them on Open Days and ask them where they can see themselves attending. They may have some contrary views to you, but if they are particularly adamant about certain schools, it probably is not the best fit for them. At the end of the day, they are going to have to spend the next 7 years there, so it is important that they start on a positive note. Moreover, the transition period in Year 7 will go a lot smoother if they are excited about their new school and have a positive attitude.
We would recommend applying to no more than five secondary schools. The 11+ exam is a stressful experience for both children and parents. It is important not to put too much pressure on your child, so keeping the exams and interviews to a minimum is key. It is good practice to apply for an attainable school, an aspirational school, and a safety school. For more help choosing a big school for your child, get in touch with us!
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