I feel like my head might burst!

Feeling like it's all too much choosing a secondary school? Then read on...Our latest blog is full of top tips from Coventry parents and carers

secondary school

Top tips on choosing the right secondary school for your child...

Choosing which secondary school your child goes to is a big decision. In fact it can feel like a MASSIVE decision. And to make it even more complicated, some of that decision may be taken out of your hands depending on catchment areas and the number of applications received by a school, it may even depend on performance in entrance exams.

No sooner have the children started back at school then there is a flurry of open days. Because of this the process may feel rushed, particularly as secondary school applications have to be submitted by the end of October, and at the time of writing that’s not far away. It may feel overwhelming at times, so here are some top tips from Coventry parents and carers for making it a less stressful experience.

“It only seems two minutes since they started primary school. The time has gone so fast.”

Get organised!

Make a list of the schools you may be interested in (Coventry school admissions). All schools will be stronger in some areas than others and it’s worth trying to visit a few so you can compare and contrast.

Check out the admissions criteria as this may rule some options in or out, and look at the catchment areas. Just because you may be out of catchment for a particular school does not necessarily preclude you from getting in, so they are still worth considering. Children who are ‘Looked After’ by the Local Authority have first preference for schools so catchments are not so important for foster carers- although travelling to and from school will need to be considered of course. You may also want to compare what is on offer at private schools who offer bursaries.

school classroomThe school’s Ofsted report is always worth exploring, but treat with a healthy dose of caution. Reports don’t reflect everything the school is doing and achieving. Be mindful of the date when the report was written as changes of key staff and other factors mean that schools can change quite quickly. Also, are the strengths or weaknesses of the school identified in the report YOUR priorities? 

It’s natural curiosity to want to look at the school league tables and compare school with school, but again, treat with caution. Go beyond the year-on-year headline figures and look instead at the value-added and expected progress figures for that year. These measures are far more indicative of what a school is like.

For children with any additional needs, check out what experiences the school has had, what are the planning processes for support and what resources are available. For Looked After Children- can they demonstrate how they work with carers to implement Personal Education Plans (PEPs) and other additional support, pastoral and educational

Coventry child learning

Have a look on the school website. Are policies and contact details visible. What does the parent information section look like? Does the school look like it communicates well with parents and students?

So, you’ve done the background research, what next?

Go and have a look for yourself!calendar

To go and look at a school yourself is the most important thing. You can read as many reports and glossy brochures as you like, but finding out how you actually feel about a school is invaluable.  Some people say choosing a school is a bit like choosing a house. You might just know which school is right.

Find out which days the schools will be open and get the dates in your diary. View Coventry's open evening dates

Top Tip

If your child is in Year 5, then consider going to view the schools this year so you can visit and compare next year too. It gives you a year of speaking to parents and others who know about the school and next year you can visit again and see if you still feel the same as before or has something changed?

Be prepared. Consider what your child is interested in. Make a list of what is important to you and your child, whether that’s sports, drama, technology or traditional academic subjects. What ticks your boxes?

Take the most important person with you. After all, your child will spend a lot of time there over the next 5 years (or even more). Discuss the visit with them. How did they feel about the school, what did they like or not like and why?

Try to avoid small distractions. If possible, leave younger siblings with a friend, relative or sitter so you can concentrate fully on the school visit!

Go armed with questions. Make them hard! Teaching staff will be all too happy to answer your questions. Don’t be afraid to grill the teaching staff, it’s important to ask those tricky questions and the answers might surprise you! If something is important to you and your child, ask it - and if you forget to ask, email it or call them back.

Beware the marketing! Most schools will produce a lovely glossy brochure and the headteacher will talk to parents and carers about why their school is simply THE best choice. When you get out into the corridors, speak to the student guides about their school. They tend to be incredibly honest! And, if you are feeling super sneaky, try to look in some of the classrooms that aren’t part of the tour. Are they the same standard as the other areas, or is there a reason why they have not been included? Ask why certain departments are not on the tour route.

How did you feel about the teachers? Are they friendly, approachable and engaging? Are they knowledgeable? How do they engage with the students? Did they talk to you, your child or both?

What’s the food like? The school canteen/eating areas are the social hubs of the school so are super important for students, but are often overlooked on open days. Take time out to check out these facilities and you might even get to try some of the food on offer - often better than you might remember!

Do a double take! School open evenings/weekends will give a flavour of the environment, but do bear in mind that you are not seeing it in its ‘normal’ state, going about it’s day-to-day business. Many schools, though not all, will welcome visits during the day so it is worth arranging to go for another look. When you go back, try to speak to some students who were not at the open day and see what their opinions of the school are!

Logistics. Just how easy is it to get to and from the school? Is it walkable, is there a safe cycle route, is there public transport or would you drive them there? Would they want you to take them to school or would that be “so embarrassing”? Is the school close to home to encourage friendships in the local area? It’s useful to check out the outside of the school when students arrive and leave. What is behaviour like? Is there a lot of traffic?

Word of mouth. Ask other parents what they thought of the school, maybe they have got older siblings in secondary school, what do they think? Are they happy with the school? This can be a useful indicator, but be mindful that all children are different and will experience and react to school differently.

teacher and students

“The most important question to consider for me, is will my child be happy at this school?”

Andrew, parent of Year 6 pupil, Coventry.

reading to your child

Value-added. Consider what before-school, lunchtime and after-school clubs are available. Is there something that interests your child as an extracurricular activity?

Ask your child's primary teacher. What do the primary staff think of certain secondary schools? They may have some advice, especially if your child has special considerations, whether that be SEN-related, as a high achiever, or as a looked-after child.

Detective work. If you get the opportunity, perhaps before a second visit, sit in the reception area on a normal school day for 15 minutes. You’ll get a really good insight into the culture and ethos of the school. Is it clean and welcoming? Are people friendly? Does it feel comfortable?

Coventry child learning

So, what next?  

The most important consideration of all is of course your child, and you are best placed to know what works for them. Ask yourself, are you confident your child will be treated and inspired appropriately according to their strengths? Match the school’s strengths to your child’s strengths.

“J will have the casting vote for which school he goes to. We can guide him, but at the end of the day, it is J who will be at that school every day. It’s important he feels safe and comfortable there. We are prepared for his younger brothers to go to different schools as they have to suit their needs”. Sarah, parent of Year 6 pupil, Coventry.

Your child is about to make this seemingly huge transition from primary to secondary school. It is an important time for them (and you!) and they need your support - and your ears. Your child is an individual and it’s important to remember that what best suits one child will not suit another.  

Foster brothers

Your child may be initially swayed by schools where their friends are hoping to go. You can reassure them that they will make new friends in whichever school they go to, everyone starting Year 7 will be in the same boat. However for children where there has been a lot of change in their lives, or those who find making friendships more challenging having a local school can be really helpful, as Sally, Coventry Foster Carer shared ‘I chose a school close to home to encourage friendships in the local area and to help with the transition to secondary school with familiar faces’

“They may be worried about losing their friends, going to a new school and knowing nobody. You can discuss this and ensure them that they will make new friends and that also they can still keep in touch with old friends.”

Diane, a Coventry mum

Some useful parting advice from Coventry mum Becky,

“Remember that it’s only a part of their lives and you as a parent are a bigger part. Make time for them once they have started, stop sorting the laundry and look at their timetable with them. Show an interest in what they are reading and learning. Make time to listen to them talk about the new friends they are making & enjoy sharing this time with them as in a few years they will be a grunting teenager. Make the most of this time to be beside them in their transition as they need you even though they may not show it and let them know you are burstingly proud of them every single day.”

foster dad and boys

Made your decision?

Then it’s time to apply.

Applications need to be submitted by 31 October 2016.

View the online application form.

Still got questions? Coventry City Council has a dedicated team to help. Email: [email protected]  Tel: 024 7683 1552/1573

Useful links

Thanks to Mrs C and our fostering team including Coventry foster carers and Coventry parents for this blog. Please let us know what you think and leave any of your own tips or thoughts below (all posts are moderated so there may be a short delay before posts appear)

Coventry needs more people to foster Coventry children and provide them with safe, positive homes

To find out more give the team a call on 024 7683 2828 or visit our website.

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There are 5 responses to “I feel like my head might burst!”

  1. Emma Says:

    Really brilliant and helpful article. I looked round on my own in year 5 and am now taking my year 6 daughter round. I'll definitely make appointments to see a couple of schools during the day, and will arrive 15 minutes early to observe! Good tip! Thank you. It would be great if you could share this around next year early in September, before the madness of open evenings kicks in.

  2. Sally Says:

    Great, useful blog. A friend of mine also had this to add. Also check Parent View for the schools. This can be accessed through the OFSTED website and shows what real parents of children actually think, including whether their children are happy there and if they would recommend it to others.

  3. Rachel Says:

    What a great blog- it seems like such a scary decision to make and the schools or seem so big after primary school. I completely agree about the ofsted reports- they are only focussed on certain aspects of the school which might not be my priorities, I also think you can see a school's particular focus from looking at their websites. Thanks

  4. Fostering Team Says:

    Thanks for the comments- we're glad that you found the blog useful. We will certainly share it next year earlier in September- although there are a lot of potential changes afoot so it may need a good update by then! Thanks The Fostering Team

  5. Sarah Says:

    Great article!! This is such a massive decision - my head does feel like it will explode! Agree with visiting open evenings in year 5, we did a couple last year and this year is decision time!