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How to choose a secondary school.

Grammar school building
Grammar school building

How to Choose a secondary School For Your Child

Choosing a secondary for your child is a big choice – they will be attending this school for the next 5 or more years and while you want them to attain academically, they will also want them to be happy at their new school.

Many parents want their child to attend one of the 164 grammar schools across England. While others may be aiming for a fee-paying private school. Whatever your choice of school, if these school types are in your thoughts, then the 11plus exam may well be something to consider as almost all of these school types will have an entrance of some sort – the 11plus is a common method of selecting children.

Choosing a grammar isn’t just about making an application to these schools as many of these schools will be heavily oversubscribed sometimes with 10 applications for each place in year 7.

One key consideration by these schools will be your child’s 11 Plus exam results and this will be a defining factor when they select children. There may be other criteria such as proximity to the school, siblings attending the school or a one to one interview for your child with a senior member of the school staff.

Starting to choose a secondary school.

To begin the process, find out everything you can about the school(s) you want your child to attend. Also consider non-selective schools just in case the grammar school of your choice is really not an option.

Talk to friends and families who have older children who attend or attended the school of your choice. They can give you useful feedback on the teaching and learning, the ethos, after school activities, costs and other important information. However, do not base your final decision on this information as different children will have different experiences of the same school. Attend any open nights or make an appointment to see around the school.

Depending on your postcode you may have more or less choice in which school you will want to apply for.

As an ex-headteacher I always advised parents to consider the logistics of their child attending any school. How long is travel time and how much will this cost, can you pick your child up after school, who will collect them if they get ill and have to go home? Just some of the logistics that you need to consider.

Depending on your financial situation fees may or may not be an issue but some independent schools charge thousands of pounds per term. Some of these very expensive schools may offer bursaries or scholarships for certain reasons such as sport or music – worth checking this out with the school and details may be on the school website.

Gather more information.

Start by visiting the school’s website as this will contain details as to what subjects they offer, what activities and facilities they offer. Is it a sporting school or a music/drama school? These are all factors that may influence you. Reading reviews about the school from anyone can be a two-edged sword as people love to write negative comments – so just be wary of these reviews.

Independent reviews may have more substance but OFSTED reports will give a professional opinion of everything that the school has to offer.

Make yourself fully aware of the admissions criteria for each school.

As stated above the 11 Plus exam results may be a major criterion for selection but there will be other factors taken into account. Often these criteria must be written on the application form and if they are not written down you will not be credited with reaching this particular criterion. One example might be your home address – proximity to the school may be an important factor.

Reading in great depth a school’s admission criteria and costs may immediately help you to determine whether your child has any chance of being accepted into a particular school. School and LA admissions personal will have all the details about the entry process.

Open Days and school visits.

Most schools have Open Days or Open Mornings. Check for dates and visit your chosen school(s) bringing your child with you. Do be conscious that the school will be showing everything that they have to offer and this may not be the case in day to day teaching. If you cannot make the open events some schools will allow private guided tours for parents and perspective pupils. Check details with your chosen schools.

These visits give you the chance to see the school facilities, possibly meet current pupils or teaching staff. Often the headteacher may conduct your tour allowing you to ask any questions that you may have.

A personal visit will give you and your child a chance to “get a feel” for the school.

Talk to your child about these important choices.

When having this discussion be aware that your child will be 9 or 10 years of age and not fully aware of the importance of choosing a school. He may just want to go secondary school with his friends even though this may not be the correct choice for him or her.

There are a number of issues that you may want to discuss with you child. This discussion may help you and your child come to a rational decision regarding choice of secondary school. During this discussion try to get your child to verbalise why they ae choosing a particular school over another school.

You may want to discuss some of the following or indeed other ideas that you have:-

• The after-school activities on offer

• Distance and travel to the school

• Any impressions of the school your child has either from friends or a visit

• How your child felt about the teaching staff and pupils following a visit

• What academic strengths and weaknesses does your child have

• Is the school too academic for your child or not academic enough


Having been through this process you should be able to realistically rank any schools you are considering in order of preference. It’s important to have more than one “first” choice in case the real “first” choice doesn’t work out. Try to manage your child’s expectations about getting a place at their preferred school because as the adult you will have a much better idea of the potential final outcome.

Results in the 11 Plus exams will almost certainly play a major part in school selection and preparation is essential. We recommend the Learning Together 11plus books for structured preparation and revision.


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