First Steps in Choosing a School
You need to choose your child’s next school, but where do you start?! You know your child best, and that’s very valuable. You just need to find the right information to use in tandem with that personal knowledge, to identify the ideal school for them.
In this blog, we will cover the first steps parents need to take and the things they need to consider at the very start of thinking about choosing their child’s next school. These steps apply whether you are simply planning the move from primary to secondary school in your current area, or whether the family is relocating within or from outside the UK.
In next month’s blog, we will move on to explain how best to make a shortlist of schools. These will be the schools to which you apply. Our guidance will include refining your key criteria, planning school visits, who to speak to and what questions to ask!
What do You Want?
Be clear about what is important to your family and your child. At the most basic level, you need to decide whether you want a co-ed or single-sex environment, and whether you want a state, state selective or independent school. After that, consider how close the school needs to be to home, and whether you want a day school or one that offers boarding or flexi-boarding.
Consider the entry requirements you are likely to face. A state school’s admissions criteria will be based primarily on a geographic catchment area, but state selective schools will have entrance exams, while academically selective independent schools will often have both exams and interviews. We will go on to look at academic selection in more detail.
What do You Need to Know?
Once you’ve established your basic criteria, you will need to research the schools that meet them. You can do your initial research online, viewing school websites and reading Ofsted reports or Independent Schools Inspectorate reports. Do remember to check when each inspection took place and whether there have been major changes since then, such as a change in Headteacher. The reviews undertaken by the Good Schools Guide is always a great additional resource, providing more insight into school life and culture than the official inspection reports alone.
If you are looking at secondary schools, it can be helpful to look at league tables as well as senior schools’ GCSE and A Level or IB results, and leavers’ destinations, but do remember that these results are attained by groups of individual children and cohorts might differ in ability and ambition. This is where Value Added figures can reveal a lot about the quality of teaching in schools, because the academic ability of each cohort can vary widely between schools at the point of admission, depending on their academic entrance requirements.
Are there certain subjects or school activities that matter most to your child? If so, look at the results, resources and time given to those areas, both in the curriculum and in extra-curricular activities such as sports and the arts.
When to Move?
Competition for school places is increasingly fierce, particularly for secondary schools and especially in London. Part of your early research into future school options might involve choosing the age at which you want your child to move schools. Many parents are seeking to avoid the highly competitive entry point at 11 plus, by using the 4+ and 7+ entry routes into selective independent schools, although one result of this is that children are now facing increased competition at a younger age.
The 11+ remains the major competitive entry point to both independent and state selective senior schools, as well as the standard start-point for state secondaries. Some combined day and boarding senior schools in the independent sector have also added two-year lower schools in recent years, therefore adding an 11 plus admissions opportunity to what used to be simply the 13+ Common Entrance admissions process. Even those schools with a 13 plus intake generally use ISEB pre-tests in Year 6 for entry in Year 9, so it pays to be prepared well in advance.
Do You Want a Selective School?
It is crucial that you choose a school for your child that is academically appropriate for them. It’s not good either for children to be bored, or to be out of their depth and struggling to keep up in class. Therefore, it’s important that they aren’t pushed towards a school that it is too academic, or one that cannot meet their curiosity and need to learn at an appropriate level.
Assessing your child’s academic achievement and potential is a key step in finding out which schools might offer the right academic environment for them. A JK Academic Assessment establishes how your child is performing at school in relation to the national average, identifies their strengths and weaknesses, and how they learn. Unlike most assessments on offer, it also assesses their academic potential, which can help establish whether they should be looking at academically selective schools.
To gain entry to most state selective schools, children need to be currently performing in the national top 5%, and have the potential to succeed and thrive in an academically ambitious environment. Children should only apply to schools that are appropriate for them, not tutored to get them into a school beyond their natural ability where they would ultimately struggle. We are of course very happy to provide tutoring to ensure that children can achieve their best in entrance exams, if the schools are a good fit!
Equipped with detailed academic knowledge of both your child and any potential schools, you can create a longlist of potential destination schools that would be the best academic fit for them. JK Educate’s school admissions experts can also help you at any stage in the selection process, drawing on our extensive knowledge of the schools themselves and our students who have successful applied to them. We can advise on local school moves, or on relocations from within or outside the UK, and we have a long-established track record of getting children into the right school for them.
Look out for our next blog, with information about the next steps in the school selection process, including school visits and creating your short list…