Choosing which high school to send your child to is one of the biggest and toughest decisions you will make as a parent, but choosing a high school during a pandemic is even more difficult.
Gone is the open evening, when the school puts on its best show to attract future students and parents. Gone are the league tables and exam results where schools can demonstrate how they compare to other schools. Instead they are having to rely on virtual open days, social media and their reputation.
I have two sons in Y13 and Y10 as well as a son in Y6. This time last year, choosing a high school would have been an automatic decision. However, our experience of lockdown and remote learning has made us re-think choices available to us.
Factors to consider when choosing a high school during a pandemic:
Lockdown and Remote Provision
Covid 19 is not going away anytime soon, and how a school has coped during lockdown with remote learning provision for its students has to be a major consideration this year. There will be future lockdowns and students isolating at home. The most effective way of finding out how a school has coped is by talking to parents and students as they are on the receiving end of the home learning.
Exam results and league tables
There is attainment and there is achievement. Attainment is the raw results of the schools, for example what percentage of pupils attain 5’s in English and Maths. However, the most revealing measure is the achievement or progress of the pupils. This tells you about what the pupils achieved compared to other pupils nationally with similar primary school data. The Government website www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk provides data on all schools. Anything above 0 means above average progress. 0.5 is half a grade higher than average progress across eight subjects and 1 would be a full grade higher. Schools can give you individual subject progress if you want to compare departments. Look for trends over a period of time.
Independent or State?
Independent schools do not buy you better teaching, because you will find good teaching in all schools, and often the most cutting edge practice takes place in inner city schools. However, it will buy you smaller class sizes, increased attention, more resources and greater extra-curricular opportunities. In these Covid times when we’re all concerned about further lockdowns, the additional space in classrooms and of recreation facilities in many independent schools may be a consideration.
Schools gain positive reputations as well as negative reputations for themselves and these can change very quickly. What might be the ‘sink’ school one year can be the ‘most improved’ school the next and vice versa. A change of head, an Ofsted report, a news story can all transform a school’s reputation over night. In these times when schools are closed to the public, try to do your own research rather than rely on reputation. Talk to parents and students, ask for a virtual meeting or phone call. You will gain a lot by watching pupils leave a school at the end of the day. Do they look orderly, safe and happy? How integrated are the pupils?
Your child’s needs
Does you child have a particular need and will it be catered for at their high school? If your child has a special educational need, arrange a meeting with the SENCO to discuss what provision the school will make. If it is a special talent that your child has for example musical or sporting ask if there will be an opportunity for your child to develop and showcase that talent in the school? If musical, is there an orchestra, a choir, regular school concerts? If sporting, are there sports teams, house competitions, after school clubs. Schools will often shine in one area, but seldom in all.
This is the spirit of a school and is probably the hardest to get across in a virtual opening evening. What are the values, qualities and aspirations of a school?
Distance from home
Distance is important when you become your sociable teenager’s taxi driver or when you make an emergency trip to collect your child from school. Enquire about the school’s transport provision. Children do enjoy a bus journey to school with their friends but it depends on the length and how early the start is. Nearby schools will have children primarily from your area, whereas schools that serve city or county wide areas have children from many varied areas, each bringing something different to a school.
At www.studentnavigator.co.uk we provide bespoke primary and secondary mentoring as well as a range of other support programmes, including academic coaching to help your children. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you.