This is a collaborative post sharing why I think it is important to choose a secondary school with your children not for them. As a mum who has been there and done that, I hope it’s helpful to other parents starting that process.
Choosing schools for your children is a big parenting decision and takes time, research, gut instinct and a lot of thought. We have done the process of choosing a primary school and a secondary school and the secondary school choice is much harder.
When you are choosing a primary school, it is mostly you, the parents, making the decisions, checking out the schools available, and making sure you feel it is the right choice for your child or children.
When it comes to secondary schools it’s really important to involve your children in the choice. In fact I would go as far as to say that your child should be very much involved in the process and their thoughts and opinions need to be taken into consideration.
For us, finding a smaller school (the secondary schools near us are large, with over one thousand pupils being considered small) that felt like our child would feel safe and flourish in, was paramount. Academics were also important but if you consider that children spend most of their time at school, it needs to be a place where they feel happy, supported and can grow and learn comfortably, with kind staff who do their jobs well. We didn’t consider private school for our daughter, because we felt that the schools near us and even slightly firther afield, that are part of the state system, are all excellent in many ways and but we would have considered that if we felt it was the best option for her.
We also chose a co educational school for her, because we felt that it would be good for her and her brother to be at the same school, but that also depended on our local school choices. We did consider a girls only school and they can be an excellent option and there are many reasons why a high school for girls only might be the best choice for your daughter.
But the primary thought for us was to choose a secondary school with our children not for them. We wanted our daughter to be able to be part of the decision so we took her views very seriously when we did the rounds of school visits with her, to see which schools we liked. One school she walked out of and simply said “I don’t like how it feels” and whilst she was only just 11 at the time, I knew that she was telling me it was not the place for her.
Some tips from us on secondary school choices:
- Results and academics are important but pastoral care and student welfare in secondary school are just as important. We love our current school for their support and relationship with families and how they care about students. The head knows all the children and is always approachable.
- Size matters. Not all large schools are awful and not all small schools are perfect, but very large schools or academy chains can make you feel like your child may get lost in a system and that may not sit right with you.
- Find out what other families have to say and what local thoughts are about the school. This doesn’t always mean the school is a bad choice but if you can talk to parents who are already at the school it can help you see what the school is like.
- Values of the school are important. Make sure they align with yours and that you understand the expectations. Secondary school tends to want parents to be more hands off, let children grow up and be more indpeendnt and that can be a bit of a shock if you are used to a small primary school where you were very involved with your child’s time there.
- New and fancy doesn’t mean a school is good. I have been to some beautiful schools with excellent facilites but came away feeling the atmosphere was cold and uncaring or that the school might look good but maybe wasn’t the safest or most nurturing place for children. Yes, you want your child to have access to good facilities and amenities but don’t be blinded by those.
- Last of all, ask your child. Yes, they may want to go to a school that all their friends are going to, that is natural, but they do need to feel happy and confident at school and if they are not happy with the choice, you may find they will struggle and their school life won’t be as smooth as it could be. Let them be involved, ask their opinons and also help them to see the good about all the schools you visit so they can learn to start making choices.
It’s not always an easy choice and we took a fair bit of time before deciding on where our child would go, based on what she wanted and needed but also what we felt was right. We actually opted to not go to the school that most of her primary school year group went to, but chose another school where she went not knowing anyone. It was the best choice for her and also what she wanted. We definitely have no regrets on that choice.
So, whilst you are the one filling in the forms and sending your child off to secondary school, my advice would be choose a secondary school with your child, and not for them, because their opinion on that counts the most.