Secondary school visits - what should we ask?
My son is in year 5 (aged 10) and is due to take his 11+ exams in September. We need to start viewing potential secondary schools in July... When I was visiting schools for my daughter (now at grammar school) I said nothing and just trudged around feeling very overwhelmed. I'd like to be a bit better equipped this time! What should I ask and look for? These will be grammar schools and comprehensives.
4 experts and 1 parent have answered
I would ask about sports, extra curricular activities, and which universities children end up getting places for. I'd also ask if there was any extra support available just in case my child got to a point where he/she was struggling with a particular subject, and was in need of additional help.
Academics are of course important, but I do think there needs to be a nice balance between academic and non-academic to help shape a child.
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You could ask:
any individualized learning?
any Project Based Learning?
how are diversities in children welcome an nurtured?
how is Maths taught? Inquiry, directed, mixed, with or without technology?
Computer Science? what languages, which approach?
personal coaching available?
specific skills or teachers? I'd strongly suggest to have a personal meeting with some of them
Hope this helps.
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It might seem irrelevant now but could prove useful when it comes to exam time for your kids. If you're interested in exam success rates, i.e 14/15 kids passed their end of year maths exam, make sure you ask how many kids were in classes to begin with. When I was at school teachers were all for boasting about success rates but you might be surprised to find out how many kids were asked to leave or voluntarily left a class before being submitted for an exam.
It might sound silly but schools are more likely to tell you how many kids sat and passed exams and pass it off as a success rate as opposed to how many kids were in a class to begin with then how many passed.
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I am the chair of a board of governors of a large secondary academy. I agree with Priya, that its not just about education so ask about clubs, sports and drama etc but also ask about the schools raise on line score. In terms of education the exam results can hide the facts so ask about how many levels of progress the young people make at each year group, ask to see the last ofsted report, and if possible try and speak to some young people who attend the school. Good luck.
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I came here this morning to ask exactly the same question. I've done two school visits so far, one local comprehensive and one grammar school. Fortunately we're looking a year early, so I have another chance next year to be more focussed. I came away from last night's visit thinking I got very little from it. I was bored, basically, so really need some help.
The comprehensive was interesting, the school is starting a grammar school stream so I asked the deputy head why we would choose his school over a 'conventional' grammar school.
His answer was interesting, and comes from the position of being both a teacher and his previous occupation as a schools inspector.
His view was that in some cases the highly selective nature of the grammar school system can allow teachers to rest on their laurels and rely on the inherent ability of the students they allow in. Good teaching is not always a pre-requisite to get good results. From his experience as an inspector he knows that in many cases teachers bring out their 'best' lessons for inspection time.
Within his school he said this cannot happen as all of the teachers undergo lesson assessments on average every couple of weeks. Lessons that aren't up to scratch are dealt with. There was much more he said along the lines of obvious active management of the school, but I came away thinking that it was a school that by it's results was consistently improving and actively managing it's day to day activities to get the best possible results from its students and teachers.
Very high expectations were present, but there was a real feeling that the both the teachers and the students played a critical part in achieving this. They had lost a fairly significant number of teachers in the early days of the new management process, but the school was stronger for it. My impression was that inadequate teaching was not tolerated, and probably an element that the school has some prejudice to tackle from those more comfortable with the conventional grammar school.
In contrast the grammar school head repeatedly talked about the innate ability of the students, with less emphasis on what exactly the school did to get good results. I regret now not approaching the head to quiz him on why last years results weren't as good as previous years and what they were doing about it. The pastoral and extra curricular activity list and teacher support was excellent though and included some great clubs which I know would appeal to my son. I got a good feeling for the school but also felt that it does well because it only accepts the most talented students.
These events are so artificial though, and it's easy for anyone to put on a good show and a good sales line, but getting to the core of the school is much harder challenge. The students we met were brilliant and enthusiastic (but equally self-selecting, probably!).
As it is, based on current behaviour, my son probably is one of those students who will be successful under his own motivation, but it's when, for whatever reason someone falls off the track that a good school can make a difference.
The value added is so much more important to me than absolute results in a league table, but if anyone can come up with some specific questions to ask of teachers or heads that can help get to the core of the school ethos, I'd value them greatly.
I love Robert's list above, especially the one about nurturing diversity, often something that so many teachers struggle with in my experience. Those students that don't fit the norm are a great test of a teachers ability in my view.