Choosing a secondary school – Top tips for parents

It’s getting to that time of year again, where the kids are going back to school and some parents are returning to work after a nice break. But for those parents who have children starting year 5, there may be something playing on your mind: what secondary school will your child be going to?

Many have probably got an idea, and might even have a list of the schools they have in mind. But for those who are undecided, it’s best to start getting ideas together now.

Don’t fret, as Educate will take you through some helpful tips on what you can do during this period.

1. Research

Before you start planning ahead on what open days you should go to, you should first have a look at secondary schools in your area. Consider how far away a school is from your home – is it a five-minute walk or a 20-minute bus ride?

How early would your child have to get up and get ready for the day? How are they getting there?

Find a list of schools in your area and have a look at the distance, and whether this would be an issue for when your child starts school – could they commute or is it just too far? Many schools do take location into consideration, so it is always best to check on this.

Gov.UK has a helpful site that can compare schools’ achievements to England’s national average, looking at things such as the percentage of children who achieved grade 5’s and above in maths and English GCSEs, and how much its pupils progressed between key stage 2 and key stage 4 (Progress 8).

Make sure to check all the schools’ admission criteria. Some schools require an assessment for admission, so see if this is right for your child. Also check whether sibling priority is given. If a school you have in mind is a faith school and you do not follow that faith, this will give other pupils who follow the faith priority. Narrow your ideal schools down to three potentials, but always have backups in mind too.

2. Attend open evenings…wisely

There’s no point in going to hundreds of open evenings if you aren’t going to engage with the staff, pupils and school around you. Have a look at the three schools you have picked and have ready any questions you would like to know, and make sure you have read the admission criteria so you know whether your child will be able to attend.

Make sure to question the students who are there to help out with the evening. They are most likely there because they like the school, but this doesn’t mean they’re biased. Ask them about how they feel they have progressed since leaving primary school. What are other pupils like? Are the teachers helpful?

Also make sure to talk to the teachers. First impressions are important because many times, your first assessment of a person is right! Are they being helpful to you or not really interested? Answering your questions? Do they even look like a teacher – are they professional? How do the helping pupils engage with them?

Talking to other parents might be helpful. Do they want their child to go to this school? If they are planning for their child to go the school because their older sibling is there, ask them if their other child is enjoying the school and how they have progressed.

Make sure that if your child excels in a certain subject, that you ask teachers of the subject what they will do to ensure they are still challenged. For example, if French is a mandatory subject, but your child speaks fluent French, starting as a beginner of the language in year 7 might be too easy. Or, if your child has a very high grade in a musical instrument, perhaps the school’s music syllabus may not challenge them enough. What will be done to make sure every child benefits from the lessons?

When it comes to the headteacher’s speech, make sure to pay close attention to what is being said and whether you think they are skipping out on the details. In a way, the speech is how a headteacher sells a school to you, whether it is oversubscribed or not. If you do manage to catch the headteacher, ask them specific questions – what are you doing to help the underachieving students? Do many students go on to do their dream jobs? Do you help students personally to ensure they achieve what they want while at the school?

3. Listen to your child

A lot of the time, children will want to go where their friends are going. Just because their friends are going to a certain secondary school, however, does not mean it will be the right fit for your child, as everyone is different. But, this does not mean their opinion is worthless. At the end of the day, they will be

attending the school. Talk to them about the ideas you have, explaining why you think the school would be right for them. Then take them to the open evenings. Schools will sometimes do small demonstrations in subjects like biology, to give children and parents a taster of what they will be doing if they get a place in the school. Have a look at your child’s reactions. Don’t ask them straight after you get home if they liked the school or not. Instead, let them have a feel for all the secondary schools. A few days or weeks after you’ve visited the last one, ask them which schools they liked the most out of the ones you visited.

4. Visit the school again…after school

There’s a very high chance that no matter how well a school is presented during an open evening, the reality is very different. Do students go straight home, or do some engage in antisocial behaviour that intimidates outsiders trying to pass through? If pupils are misbehaving, are there teachers that stand guard outside the institution to put a stop to it? Or, is it once students are out the gates, they are not their responsibility anymore? And what about the other parents who have come to pick their children up? If they drive, do they pull up on the yellow zigzag road markings outside the gates, causing a hazard? Just to note too, just because a school’s Ofsted rating is outstanding, does not mean it will be outstanding for your child.


You have a lot of time while your child is in year 5 to consider what school you want your child to go to. You can start registering your child for schools when they are in year 6.

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