Open days

All secondary schools hold Open Days/Evenings for prospective parents and these are your opportunity to form your own opinion of the school.It is easy to listen to local views and allow that to dictate your decision and reasons for choosing a school.You know your child better than anyone else and you have some idea personally as to what type of education would suit them for the future. Your family lifeclassstyle, your child’s interests, your other children and your child’s personality all play a large part in determining your decision and your reasons for choosing a school.

  • Some children are better at a school which specialises in performing arts, music or sport to promote their natural abilities
  • Some children need more focus on an academic education but one which also includes the facilities for sport, music, ICT and art
  • Some children would benefit from a school which gives the child vocational training and qualifications in these for a job in later life i.e. the opportunity to take NVQ’s etc
  • Some parents favour boarding school to create independence or to give their child a wider experience.

Children with all these differing needs can be catered for in the schools in your area. Visit as many schools as possible and take notes on the salient points for you. These may be:

  • That your child is in a safe and controlled environment
  • That the quality of the teaching is stimulating and of a high standard
  • The pastoral care is good so that the children in their teenage years are encouraged to develop into responsible adults
  • That the subjects taught in the curriculum include foreign languages, sciences, ICT etc (Check which subjects are on offer for GCSE, AS and A2)
  • The buildings and atmosphere are welcoming and conducive to working hard and

Questions to ask when visiting secondary schools
In the advertisements for most senior school Open Days there is usually a time given when the Head teacher will speak. It is useful to be there at this time and to hear this talk. It will be a good introduction to the ethos of the school. As well as this ensure that all your other queries are answered. As you go around the school you might like to bear the following points in mind:

  • Talk to the teachers and try to assess what relationship they have with the pupils
  • Meet some current pupils and decide if they reflect the way you would like your son or daughter to be later in life i.e. articulate, friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and polite
  • Sample the ethos in each department
  • Look at some of the work on display and discuss this with the staff and the pupils
  • Ask about extra-curricular activities before school, at lunchtimes and after school
  • Enquire as to whether or not there is Saturday school
  • Examine the library and ask what use is made of it by pupils and whether it is computerised. Is there a qualified librarian and are there library skills lessons? Ensure that there is the facility for research and that the librarian can help pupils access any information which might be necessary for coursework
  • In the computing department ask if every child has access, is taught to use the internet and what control is there over this, if formal lessons are given in using ‘Office’ and understanding the basic way computers work. Programming will be included, especially if the pupils have the opportunity to do IT or computing at AS/A2 level
  • Try and assess that the relevant facilities/resources are available for specialised subjects e.g. sciences, art, music, sport and languages etc
  • Is the school clean and is there regular maintenance of all the departments? Is there a current building plan to improve facilities?
  • How will your child travel to school
  • What does the school provide for school lunches?
  • Ask for a written copy of at least the last years if not last two years external examination results in the areas that are relevant to your child
  • Ensure that you obtain a copy of the school prospectus and any other information available.

When you come home read all of these and compare them with other schools for the form of education that you want for your child. Remember that if you have two children what would suit one may not suit another… two children in a family are not necessarily similar.

This may logistically make life more complicated but you may well end up with happier children!

It is always difficult to choose a school at 11 when you have not got a crystal ball! All you can do is make the decision that you consider right at the time and at a later date change if it is really necessary.

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