This post is about important questions to ask when choosing a senior school. Hop over to this page to see the questions you must ask when choosing a primary school!
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Secondary School
After this year, my daughter Flea will only have one year of compulsory secondary education left.
How scary is that?
I blinked and suddenly she’s 14, all hormones and strong opinions about what bag is the right bag, and which shoes she can’t be seen dead in.
Regular readers will know that Flea has actually attended two secondary schools.
She attended one school for 18 months until we made the decision to move her, for a variety of reasons. The school she’s at now isn’t perfect, but she’s happy enough and seems to be doing okay.
What I’ve learned from our experience is that the things I thought were important in when choosing a secondary school turned out to be almost irrelevant. The things that have made most difference to her day to day experience of school are things I didn’t really think to ask.
Here are some of the questions to ask when choosing a senior school. What others would you add to the list?
What provision is there to support students’ mental health?
Flea had a fantastic time in Year 7, but at the end of that year had a major wobble. It became painfully apparent that her school (like many others) had almost no provision in place to support students’ mental health.
That’s why it’s essential to ask secondary schools what provisions are in place to support kids’ wellbeing and mental health. Don’t be fobbed off with daily charts the kids fill in with smily or sad faces, or random booklets about mindfulness.
With a rising number of children suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, schools should have a clear pathway for supporting students. Is there someone on staff with training? Do they have good knowledge of what services are available in the area? Many schools used to have on-staff NHS counselling, but this has been withdrawn – if so, what has plugged that gap?
What is the school’s record on participation in sport?
For me one of the most important questions to ask when choosing a secondary school is what sport will be offered.
I happen to think that sport is important to ALL children, in terms of developing teamwork, communication, resilience and – obviously – physical fitness.
At the first senior school Flea attended, the PE department had a policy that all children who attended coaching sessions could participate in matches. There were A, B and C teams for most sports. Most kids were on at least one team.
At Flea’s current school there’s a more competitive, exclusive approach to sport. That’s great for kids who are high performers but I do miss the days when Flea was on the school hockey, tennis, rounders and cross-country teams. I’d love to see her being encouraged to get involved in something I know she’d benefit from.
What Trips are Offered?
Ah, school trips. Whatever sort of secondary school you’re looking at, there will be some form of school trip.
School trips are a HUGE deal for kids. They’re an opportunity to cement friendships, learn some independence, and experience new places and activities.
But as a parent, it’s important to know what the expectations are. How many overseas trips are planned? Are they usually coach trips, or flights? Are there specific trips that happen each year? How much will they – gulp – cost?
If nothing else, knowing the fourth year always get offered a trip to New York for Easter will at least give you time to plan (and save) ahead.
Is There a School App?
Once your kids are at secondary school, you will have WAY less direct communication with teachers. Possibly, you could go for a whole term without even entering the school building. And the chances are your child will not be especially communicative.
It’s really helpful if a school has a decent app, or parents’ portal, or similar. So make sure one of the questions to ask when choosing a secondary school is what sort of tech is on offer.
These apps can tell you things like what lessons and homework your child has. They might track what they’ve ordered for lunch (and let you top up their budget). They’ll remind you of important dates for sports matches, performances and the like.
Flea’s school app also gives me details of merits, test results and school reports. If there’s an issue, it tells me who all her teachers are, with details of their email addresses, so I can easily get in touch if I’m worried.
How Many Teaching Vacancies do you have?
I can tell you from experience that the head teacher sets the tone at secondary schools. If the head is a numbers person but not a people person, you may well end up with disaffected staff, which in turn means high levels of turnover and illness.
Nobody wants to be taught by disaffected, unhappy teachers. And nobody wants to go through a series of young, newly-qualified supply teachers, none of whom quite know what’s been taught, and how. Kids who have the same teacher do better academically, but I also think it’s really important for our kids’ emotional wellbeing to have teachers who they trust and know, and who know them in return.
Secondary school is a HUGE change, but my biggest piece of advice is don’t make a decision about a school based on what you think the first term will be like. Make sure you think about questions to ask when choosing a senior school. We know that any school will be a big adjustment, but what will truly make school a happy place is what happens in Year 8, 9 and 10, once everyone is settled in.
What questions do you wish you’d asked about schools before your kids started?