Choosing your child’s secondary school is a minefield, so we asked Ofsted for their advice to help make this big decision a little easier…
If you are the parent of a child at the higher end of primary school, then you will already be thinking about which secondary school to send them to. This is a big decision — you only get one chance to gain a good education, and our school system means that parents have a big say over their child’s schooling. Parent power is a good thing – there is a wealth of evidence to show that parents who are engaged in their child’s education help to improve their learning.
The good news is that Ofsted can help you to make an informed choice. We’ve recently launched our new ‘find an inspection report’ website. Type in your postcode, select secondary schools within three, five or ten miles, and you can view details for all your nearby secondary schools, including their most recent inspection reports and judgements. These pages contain lots of useful information about each school, for example, the number of students on roll and absenteeism rates, which can help you make the right decision for your child.
Parents of primary school children are often time-poor, but it is vital to visit all the secondary schools you’re considering, and meet the teachers and leaders. Open days will enable you to a get a sense of their culture and learning environment.
You’ll be able to find out if pupils’ behaviour is good and what exclusion levels are like. You can ask teachers about the support available for students who struggle with learning, and how the school handles bullying. Or how children are supported in the final year of their GCSEs or A levels. All the brochures and well-designed websites in the world will not give you this first-hand opportunity to find out if the school is the right fit for your child.
You will also want to know if the school has a good range of extra-curricular activities, including music, drama and sport. Is it the kind of place where your child will gain a rounded education that leads to success in the next phase of their education or employment?
If a student is assigned to show you around the school, ask them about the topics they’re studying, what they like about school and the kinds of after-school activities on offer. Try to find out what pupils aspire to and ask yourself whether this is what you would want your child aspiring to. You might want to ask them what advice they would give a child new to the school – I’ve always found that the answers to that question tell me a lot.
Tests and exams are undeniably important. But children should not be relentlessly taught to the test. They deserve to enjoy learning a wide breadth of subjects, and gain a rich body of knowledge that will hold them in good stead for life.
By Emma Ing, Her Majesty’s Inspector and Ofsted’s Director for the East Midlands, @EmmaIngHMI