Choosing a secondary school
Choosing a secondary school for your child should be done with as much care as possible. Unfortunately, there are too few good schools, many mediocre ones and too many that are grossly ineffective.
If you have a choice within reasonable travelling distance, it is worth considering whether to compete for a place in a grammar school (see www.ngsa.org.uk) or a popular academy, some of which require early entry for a selection test before a place can be offered, just like a grammar school. Would you prefer your child to go to a faith school or a secular school? A single sex school or one that is co-educational? One with a sixth form, or doesn't that matter? All such decisions need to be considered well in advance of any move.
Having considered such options, it is important to consider a school's exam results. Results for all state schools are available at the Department for Children, Schools and Families website – www.dcsf.gov.uk
At the bottom left of the Department's homepage you will see 'School performance tables'. Click on this link and you will be asked to specify the year and whether you require results for Primary (Key Stage 2 for 11-year-olds), Secondary (GCSE and equivalent) or School and College (Post-16). Choose 'Secondary (GCSE and equivalent)'.
Then you will be asked to choose a local authority from a drop-down menu. Having done that and clicked 'Search', you will see the name of the local authority you have selected in blue. Click on that link and you will see a list of all the state schools in that authority. Click on the tab on the left near the top which says KS4 results.
The most informative column here is the one listing the percentage of pupils who achieve 5 or more grades A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. Ideally, this percentage should be well over 50%. Anything below this level should set alarm bells ringing. Clicking on the name of the school you are interested in will also take you to useful information such as the type of school, its size, location and basic facts about its exam results over the previous 3 years.
Other considerations may include the general behaviour of pupils, whether the school has a uniform and what out-of-school activities are on offer.
If possible, it is always worth talking to other parents in the area, checking a school's prospectus (watch out for 'spin') and arranging to visit the school as a prospective parent. And, of course, considering the abilities, interests and preferences of your child.
Once you have made your decision or decided on your preferences, don't be afraid to be a 'pushy' parent. Time and effort at this stage will almost certainly be well rewarded.