How can you narrow down your secondary school choices within the limitations of the pandemic? We asked three experts to share their advice.
Looking at and choosing prospective secondary schools is an important mission. It's likely that your child will spend at least the next five years at the school they get into, which means the decision is a weighty one.
But in pandemic times, many of the ways in which we'd usually find out about possible secondary schools, such as open evenings and tours, aren't happening, which means we have to use different strategies to inform ourselves.
Here, we share 12 tips to help you choose a secondary school in 2020.
1. Make the most of virtual tours
With large-scale open evenings ruled out by Covid-19, many schools have produced virtual open evenings instead: videos that aim to cover many of the elements of a normal open evening, such as a talk by the headteacher, interviews with students and tours of the premises.
2. Don't rule out a visit
It's undoubtedly harder to visit schools in person at the moment, but don't rule it out completely. `Don't be surprised if it's not possible, but some schools are running events,' says Sarah. 'These are generally by appointment and first come, first served, so get in quickly!'
3. Check out the school website…
A school's website is designed to showcase its ethos and values, so spend some time exploring it, with and without your child.
4....and its social media
A school's social media pages are also a great source of info about what's going on in the life of the school. For example, they might share examples of students' work, details of how they're marking events like Black History Month, job vacancies (a good indication of staff turnover) and Covid-related announcements.
5. Talk to other families
Few people know more about a school than its students and their parents, which makes them a mine of information about what it's really like to be part of the school community.
6. Check out reports and league tables
As well as getting an overall feel for a school, you'll want to look at how well it performs by looking at its most recent Ofsted report, its position in league tables, performance measures like its Progress 8 score (a measure of progress from Year 7 to Year 11), its GCSE results and its post-16 destinations. All of this information will be available on the school website.
7. Do a start-of-school drive-by
You can tell a lot about a school from how its students behave when they're arriving and leaving, so it's worth waiting near the school gates at the start of the day to see how they conduct themselves. This is particularly relevant at the moment, when, for example, students may have been asked to wear masks, or have staggered start times which could mean they're loitering outside for longer.
8. Look at transition procedures
Induction procedures for new Year 7s and transition for the other years are likely to have been different this year, with most students having been away from school for six months because of Covid-19. Finding out how schools have handled these transitions can be very enlightening.
9. Find out about what matters to YOUR child
Every family has its own priorities when it comes to choosing a prospective school, so keep these at the front of your mind when collecting information. You might have a sporty child who wants to be able to join lots of teams, for example, or an autistic child who'll need good special needs support.
10. Find out how they're tackling Covid safety
Schools have had a lot to think about in terms of making sure they can function safely. We don't yet know how things will pan out over the next 12 months, but it's worth finding out how they're handling issues related to the pandemic.