Choosing a secondary school for your child can be one of the most difficult decisions that you ever make as a parent. While you will want to select a school that will help them flourish academically, you will also want to find somewhere they will be happy first and foremost.
Allocations day rolls around and, whether by post or email, you receive your child’s test scores or school allocations and have a number of big choices to make. In the best case scenario, the hours you and your child have spent preparing for this, studying question styles and practice papers, have paid off, and they have achieved a coveted place in all of their top choices of school. Now, as a parent, you have the choice between state, grammar and independent school.
Results Day (National Allocation Day)
Of course, even the calmest parents can find it difficult to remain sanguine as allocations day approaches. Regardless of the outcome for your child, whether they secure their first choice of school or not, there are some things to keep in mind to help ease the stress of the process itself.
Repeatedly hitting the refresh button on the Admissions website is guaranteed to fray your nerves. Get out of the house, meet up with friends, find something to do.
𝐒how your support
If your child has not been allocated the school they had hoped for, give them time and space to come to terms with it. Hide your own disappointment as far as you can.
Comfort your child
Remind your child of your “Plan B” and reassure them that the world will not end if they didn’t get the school that they are hoping for.
Point out the positives
Over the coming days, weeks and months make the occasional positive comments about their new school (whether it is the great drama facilities or that they will have friends there) and praise them for good results at school.
If your child has been allocated a different school to their friends, explore with them how they will stay in touch with them after September. Remind them that they will make new friends at their new school as well!
Be mindful of feelings
Remind your child to be mindful of other children in the same situation as them before sharing their acceptance status, and exercise caution before talking to others about whether your child has qualified or not.
So how do you choose which is best for them?
Here are some of our tips for making the right decision for your child’s education, regardless of the outcome of the 11+.
Independent Schools vs Grammar Schools
If your child has been accepted by both independent and grammar schools, you may be wondering which of the two is the best option for them. When considering this, your focus should be on which is the right fit for your child, rather than which one has a presumed inherent superiority.
Grammar schools of course generally offer an impressive and academically focussed education for your child, without the fees that are required for independent schools. They are exclusive, and places are usually limited to students who live in close proximity. Grammar schools are usually praised for the high work ethic of their students, who have had to study rigorously to pass their 11+ and gain entry, and their high achievement as a result. There is a focus on traditional academic subjects and pursuits, with particular regard for the core subjects, and so, if your child is more interested in niche humanities and arts, they may not find their interests necessarily catered to.
Independent schools, on the other hand, may offer more subjects that grammars are unable to. There may be a greater ranger of extracurricular opportunities, including sports, music and performing arts. Investment in infrastructure may make this more accessible, and for a creatively minded child they may thrive in a space that allows them to dedicate themselves to less academic pursuits. There is a cost to this, however, in the form of admission fees, which should be carefully considered when weighing up the right option for your child.
While both types of institution aim to offer the highest quality of education, the choice of which one to attend will generally depend on more practical considerations, such as your child’s academic interests, their distance from their choice of school and economics.
Do your research
In order to know which school will be best for your child, there are certain things worth researching and considering. If your child has been offered a place at several of their top choices in independent and grammar schools, consider some of the following to help you decide between your choices:
What subjects are offered at each school and how popular are they?
This might include particular foreign languages or specialised arts. Consider the sixth-form options available: if you child has their heart set on a particular career or field of further study, but there is no A Level option for this at a particular school, it may not be right for them.
Look at all the OFSTED reports for each school – not just the most recent one.
Summaries may tell you everything you want to know, but the full report can give you a greater insight. Consider where improvements have been made and check for areas where standards may be declining.
Check the league tables for all of the schools you are considering.
Do remember a league table is not definitive in demonstrating the virtues of every school. Some independent schools have opted out of appearing in league tables, for example, and good results can come from many attributes in a school – the head teacher, the governing body, the senior management team and so on. Schools can, and do, rise and fall quite dramatically in the league tables within only a year or two simply because there has been a significant change to one of those elements.
Check out our ElevenPlusExams Forum for your area for views on the schools you are considering, and ask any questions that you may have.
Discuss the options with your child
It can be easy to make assumptions about your own child and what school will be right for them and so it may be worth taking a step back and considering their perspective on the matter, as well as any presumptions you may have on the best kind of schooling for them.
Think about your child’s current school.
What do they seem to enjoy or dislike about it? What problems at school have you had to deal with over the years? What are their academic strengths, and are there any specialist facilities that will cater to these in their choices of secondary school?
These questions might seem straightforward or self-explanatory, but they may also give you a good indication of what type of school is the most appropriate for your child!
Where will all your child’s friends be going to school?
Although it is not necessarily a key factor in your decision making, it may help your child to have one or two friendly faces around them in the first few weeks at “big school”. This may be more important for a very shy child.
Consider the distance from home to school.
This is another social factor of choosing a school that should be considered carefully. If your child attends a school that is many miles from home, they may make friends who also live a considerable distance away.
If you and your child disagree on which school to attend, talk to them about it carefully.
One of the most frequent questions concerning choosing a school that appears on our 11 Plus Discussion Forum is when a child and their parent disagree about which school is the right one for the child. The child is often being influenced by their peer group and playground chatter about which schools everyone is attending. The child will almost always be looking at the choice from a social perspective, while the parent’s priority is invariably the quality of education that a school will provide.
If your child has a marked preference for a school, try to discover where that preference has come from and what lies behind it. It is usually best not to confront a strongly held conviction about a school head-on, because that may only make your child more determined. Instead, try to “sell” the advantages of the alternative schools to them, such as the quality of the facilities and education. It is also worth checking with other parents exactly which schools they are leaning towards, because they may not be the same as the ones being mentioned in playground chatter either!