Choosing a secondary school for your child

Open days are a good way to help you decide which secondary school is best for your child. Picture:

Open days are a good way to help you decide which secondary school is best for your child. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Choosing the right secondary school for your child may seem like a daunting task, but preparing in advance can take the stress out of the situation.

When should you start looking at secondary schools?

Many schools organise their open days at the end of the summer term and during the autumn term. Visiting potential schools when your child is in Year 5 will make for a calmer experience, giving you time to really think about your choice.

Open days

Open days are a great way to help you decide which secondary school is the best for your child, so be prepared and get the most out of them.

You should be able to visit a school during its normal working day where you will be shown round by one of the pupils or staff, giving you the opportunity to ask plenty of questions.

Always bring your child with you so you can both get a feel for the school and ask yourselves if the open day is well organised, which will reflect on the running of the school.

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Look at the work on display and enquire about extra-curricular activities. Schools where pupils can develop their interests usually have motivated pupils and staff.

It's also a good idea to chat with the pupils to see if they seem happy and engaged. The website says that "children can be a school's best advert" and that you should meet the Headteacher as "they are responsible for the ethos of the school and can help you to get a feel for its academic focus, policies on discipline and the classroom support it can offer." They also recommend that you trust your instincts: "Forget the detail and ask yourself about the atmosphere. Could you see your child sat at a desk here?"

The Good Schools Guide says: "Open evenings may not truly reflect day-to-day life at a school (this will be school at its best) but they'll give you a flavour of what's happening and allow you to soak up the atmosphere.

"They are your chance to have the upper hand, get a feel for the school and chat with pupils and staff. Remember it's not just schools that select and choose pupils, parents select and choose schools too; so seize the evening."

It's also important to visit more than just one school. Comparing and contrasting can help you to see what each one does differently and figure out what you like and dislike.

Good Schools Guide tips for secondary school open days:

- Is it access all areas or are you closely ushered, monitored and supervised?

- Does the school feel cared for?

- Is there a band, choir, orchestra and sport for all? You may not have a musical or sporty child but music and sport often set the tone of a school.

- What is the atmosphere like? For example, is it calm or chaotic, relaxed or formal?

- Take a look at the bathrooms. Are they clean, with locks on the doors and in good order?