- Education and Science
Local Secondary Schools
Help - there are no suitable schools near me!
Well, there probably are. You just don’t know how to find them. And your version of suitable and someone else’s version of suitable may just be totally different. Consider these 4 different parents and let’s ask them all the same question about the suitability of the local secondary schools.
Parents 1 – their child is an outstanding learner and keen to embark on a successful career.
There are plenty of suitable schools near me because…our child will adapt to any situation in any school because their primary focus in on learning. They will probably be in the top set for a lot of their studies and so be with like-minded pupils, so in reality, as long as the teaching is good, then any of the schools near me can be branded as satisfactory for our child. They will also study on their own at home so I know they will succeed regardless. We attach greater importance to A-levels and University anyway so the choice of secondary school is not concerning us.
Parents 2 – their child is heavily into sport and is keen to do well in their GCSE’s.
There are plenty of suitable schools near me because…our child is never going to be an outstanding learner with 10 A grade GCSE’s, so we are not prepared to put added pressure on them by insisting they go to the very best school. We are also not of the mind that any school will do, so we are going to involve them in our choice of nearby school safe in the knowledge that they will be happy. As long as they are happy, they will study hard and enjoy their sport and develop a good group of friends. This is the most important consideration for us and means that there are plenty of suitable schools near to where we live.
Parents 3 – their child is intelligent and they are very well off.
There are plenty of suitable schools near me because…we will be sending our child to an independent, fee paying school and we will have a choice of them, so we are not overly concerned about finding the right one. We would assume that the schools are of a good standard and the OFSTED ratings are good, and if we are not content with the school, we will look to move them elsewhere. Whatever the scenario, we are really confident there are plenty of suitable schools near to where we live from which to choose.
Parents 4 – their child has a solid group of friends in their current primary school.
There are plenty of suitable schools near me because…our child will want to follow their friends wherever they go. Even if we don’t think the school is as good as we would like, so long as our child is with their friends and is happy, they will be more likely to study hard for their exams and do well at school. Plus, schools change over time, good ones go bad, and bad ones improve, so we are keeping an open mind based on their 5 years of secondary school, not the next 6 months. So, every school in our area could be considered suitable.
We have tried to take a small selection of pupils and their individual scenarios, if only to prove the point that there is always a suitable option, whether you first think so or not. It is best not to get too concerned about whether there are suitable schools nearby, and instead concentrate on finding the right school for your child. Remember – there are plenty of suitable schools near me!
How to search schools when moving to a new area
Sometimes the search for a school can carry slightly more issues than normal, and this is particularly the case if you are moving to a new area. You may be moving jobs, or moving back to the place you grew up – whatever the scenario, you are left with the task of searching for schools in a new area you may not necessarily be familiar with. So, how do you begin to search schools in the area?
- Do some research – the first place to begin to search schools in a different location is from the comfort of your own home, on your computer (or tablet or phone!). If you are reading this article then chances are you have access to the internet, so start by having a good look around at what is available on a map of the local area. There may only be a couple of schools which are suitable, there may be a lot, but you can do some research into the schools, check the OFSTED ratings and get yourself a shortlist of schools from where to begin.
- Go on visits – now you have a list of searched schools (or school!) you are considering, contact them and see firstly if they have open days or evenings, and if not see if they will show you around anyway. The chances are they will. Keep an open mind and be prepared to ask plenty of questions. It is a good idea to note your questions down before you go, to ensure that you ask the same questions at each school. This way you will end the process with a fair reflection of every school.
- Discuss with your child – if you are going to search schools in a location other than where you live then it is a good idea to discuss the options with your child as well. They will have an opinion of their own, and after all they are the ones who are going to be attending on a daily basis, so you may as well try to make them happy. They can probably help you search schools and research them anyway, so try to get them involved from the beginning.
- Visit again if needs be – if you were left with a bigger choice than you thought and have been on visits which have been useful, then don’t be afraid to go and visit some of them again. You may get a different vibe second time around, you may spot things you didn’t spot at first, or you may be able to go on a school day as opposed to a structured open evening which is designed to show the school off.
- Remember you can always move – finally, when you start to search schools in another area it is important to remember not to get too concerned about making the perfect choice. If you do make a bad choice, then you can always move. You are not tied in forever so don’t worry about it too much. If your child comes home after a week and they are really not settling in, or likely to settle in, then be open minded and start your school search again, it isn’t a bad thing, you could never have known.
The search for schools is not a difficult process if managed correctly, so remember to do your research properly before you begin, visit the schools, and chat to your child about them. More than anything, don’t get too concerned, picking the right school first time is important but not irreversible if you get it wrong.
How to find a school that’s right for your child
There comes a point when every parent goes through the process to find a school for their child. It can be a difficult process – you might have a different opinion on choice of schools than your child; you may be moving to a new area; or you may be looking at an independent, fee paying school for your child. Whatever the scenario, help is on hand to ensure you find the right school where your child is happy.
So we have put together some general advice to help you not just find a school, but to find the right school.
Moving area – finding a school in an area you are not familiar with can be very tricky, especially given the amount of assistance given by existing primary schools to get their pupils into the right secondary school. The best place to begin is by making a shortlist of schools in the area you are moving to, you can do a postcode search here. Once you have your list, contact them and find out when they are open for you to go and visit. The whole process can then be broken down into a simple, enjoyable exercise for you and your child.
Find an independent school – if you are looking for an independent school for your child then your options will become much narrower. Outside of major towns and cities there are often only a handful of independent, fee paying schools to choose from and you may already know what these are. Independent schools will always have open days or open evenings where you can call in and take a look around to see if it is right for you. As they are fewer in number, it is likely you will need to use the school’s transport service to get your child to and from school each day, so check where this stops and picks up in relation to your home.
Find a school with good OFSTED ratings – OFSTED ratings work on a numbered rating from 1 to 4, with 1 being the best (Outstanding) and 4 being the worst (Needs improvement). A school in category 4 will sometimes be put in what is known as Special Measures, meaning it has outside assistance from the local authority to try to improve, and the senior management team can be replaced if they are deemed to be ineffective. Whatever the scenario, every schools’ OFSTED rating is published online and can be viewed for free, so always go and take a look to find out more and use them to help you find a school.
Find a school your child is in disagreement with – quite often you will have a differing opinion than your child’s. This will almost certainly be the case when you come to find a school for them. They may favour a school where their friends go, or which has the best sports team, or is nearest your home, whereas these may be the schools with the worst OFSTED ratings, or the worst transport links, which you (rather more sensibly!) deem less adequate.
Finding a school is often a very simple process but for some there are a few more hurdles to overcome. When there are, help is at hand from a variety of sources to make sure you find a school your child is happy at.
How do you find the best local schools?
We often get asked here what are the best local schools in a given area, or where should we send our child to get the best education. Of course we don’t really know the answer to this and aren’t in the business of handing out bad advice! We also struggle to offer advice on an individual basis because choosing a school is a personal matter. We can, as always (!), help a bit though. We wanted to tell you what we could about the best local schools in any given area. What makes them the best, how do you know they are the best, and how do they stay the best, local schools.
The anatomy of a good school
The best local schools will generally have good OFSTED scores, scoring either a 1 or a 2 overall, and at least one Outstanding in the 4 sub categories. But this doesn’t tell the true picture. As we spoke about in our blog about how to read an OFSTED report, it is important to look at the previous OFSTED result as well, not just the most recent. Inspections are carried out generally every 3 years, so you can build up a picture of how the school has progressed over time. The best local schools either maintain good or outstanding scores, or show an improvement from category 3 to category 1 or 2.
The best local schools will also generally have the best facilities. We have spoken about this in more depth previously as well, but it is a fair assumption that the better the facilities, the better the school. You can see this yourself when you walk around the schools on the open days. Check out the science labs, the catering facilities and the sports pitches. Consider the transport links and the age of the buildings. The best local schools will look aesthetically nice. A word of warning though - don’t forget, a brand new build academy will always look sparkling – you will need to delve a little deeper here to look into how good it is – it may be a new academy because it was a failing comprehensive school previously!
Maintaining the reputation
So the school looks nice today, and it has a good reputation and good OFSTED results. However, your child is going to the school for the next 5 years, so how do the best local schools maintain their reputation as the best? Well, every school, as previously alluded to, has regular OFSTED inspections which encourage them to maintain a level of quality within the school. Senior management take full responsibility for the failings of the school and so have a big incentive (together with professional pride) to maintain their status and be amongst the best local schools.
The best schools also attract the best people. They attract the best teachers, and in many instances the best pupils. Provided senior management continue to market the school well and keep up standards within the school, the school itself will prosper. Picking the best local schools in the first place will ensure your child is in the best possible place long term.
How to find a secondary school – 4 golden nuggets
Many primary schools in the UK act as feeder schools for secondary schools and so making the choice as to which school to go to is straightforward. However, what if you want your child to go to an independent school, what if the recommended secondary school is in a location inconvenient to you, or what if you are moving to a new area and need to look at schools in that area? The process is not as tough as you may fear – finding the right secondary school for your child is pretty straightforward, if you follow the advice set out below.
- Do your research – the first place to go to find a school is to make a shortlist of available ones. If you are looking at independent schools or schools in a different district, put a list together of the schools which are available and start your research from there.
- Check the OFSTED reports – all secondary schools will have been visited by OFSTED in the last 4 years and been graded as to how well they did. OFSTED reports can be found online on their own website, whilst various comparison websites provide links to them making search easy. The report will give you a good indication as to the quality of the school and its teaching, making your quest to find a secondary school nice and easy!
- Go and visit the schools – if you are moving to a new area, you may want to take a day out to go and visit as many schools as you can in the local area to find out what they are like and what their admission criteria is. Physical visits can make the process of finding a secondary school so much easier as you can get a feel for whether it is the right place to send your child. Going on a school day is also advised so you can see the school in its full operation. If you are considering sending your child to an independent school, then you will be able to visit these schools on pre-arranged open days and open evenings, often held on a weekend. These can give you a great insight into the school as you will be shown all the facilities it has to offer.
- Speak to your children – it is your child who will spend the next 5 or more years at the school you choice so make sure you find a secondary school they are comfortable with. Nobody wants to be forced to go somewhere they don’t want to and at age 11+ they should be mature enough to assist in decision making. So talk to your children and their siblings if appropriate and take their opinions seriously – they will always come up with factors you haven’t considered.
When the time comes to find a secondary school for your child or children, help is on hand from a variety of sources. Don’t forget to listen to your children, take in their point of view, and go to some open days/evenings. You will learn a lot about the local schools and feel comfortable you have made the correct choice for them.
How to read an OFSTED Report
OFSTED reports are standardised documents showing the ratings and recommendations from the last inspection carried out. Most people choose to focus on the overall score, a grading from 1 (Outstanding) to 4 (Requires Improvement). Some schools at level 4 can be placed in what is called Special Measures, but more on that later. This article is designed to explain how an OFSTED inspection report works and how to interpret its meaning. This will help you understand better how good your current school is, or if you are looking at moving schools, how good or otherwise other schools are.
Let’s take a look at the above OFSTED report carried out a couple of years ago and help interpret its meaning.
- The first piece of the report is the school’s name and address so we know we are dealing with the correct school.
- The second section of the report gets straight to the point and delivers the school’s score. Although in our example above there is only one rating, there will, in more established schools, be a previous inspection score as well as a current one. This allows the reader to see quickly and easily if the school has improved, got worse, or stayed broadly the same as the previous inspection. Inspections are generally held around every 3 years, with the school being given just a few days’ notice.
- The third section of the report gives a breakdown of how the overall score has been obtained. In this example, the school has achieved a 2 (Good) overall, however they have achieved a 1 in the leadership and management category. So, we can look at this section and compare two schools with the same overall OFSTED score in more detail to find out if they are at the top or bottom end of the category.
- The fourth section gives an explanation into why the school has been placed in that particular category. This section is one of the most interesting as it starts to go into a lot more depth about where the school achieved good results. This is the inspectors’ opportunity to accentuate the positives of the school and tell the OFSTED inspection reader what makes this school Good (or category 2).
- The final section of the report details what the school needs to do to move up to the next category. This again is useful for parents considering sending their children to the school to read, because it contains information about where the school is not doing so well. You can then decide if these problem areas are even concerns for you. It may be that the problem area is a particular subject, which you have no interest in, however quite often the improvement is recommended in behaviour control, which would be of interest to most parents. In our example the major criticism is that students aren’t being challenged enough and teachers aren’t preparing students for examinations adequately enough. They are most probably two ends of the same problem, but it gives us an insight into how close the school is to being outstanding.
OFSTED reports provide an invaluable insight into schools’ relative performance when used correctly. This guide is intended to help you understand properly how to read the report and how to apply it to your own decision making progress.
How to choose a local secondary school
Finding the best secondary school for your child is not easy. There are considerations for today, like distance from home, quality of GCSE grades, after school activities, and there are considerations for 5 years down the line, like does it have a 6th form centre, what job prospects are there and so on.
With all these considerations, finding the right local secondary schools for your children requires some serious thought, and probably some input from your children themselves. So where do you start?
Firstly, search the locality. Look around your home or their current primary school in a realistic radius. You can now begin to make a shortlist of the schools which you might consider them going to.
Next, check the OFSTED reports. This allows you to see how good the school is and what OFSTED rating it achieved at last inspection. Here you can view links to OFSTED reports for local secondary schools and see for yourself how they got on.
Next, check the transport links. You need to find out whether you can get your child safely to and from the school and if the school runs its own school bus facility for your child to get on. It is important to consider how much additional time and resource you will need each day, as there are far fewer secondary schools than primary schools, so the local secondary schools will potentially be further away from your home.
Next, think about what you want your child to achieve at school. All schools offer a range of extra-curricular activities, some more important than others. You need to consider just how important sport or social activities are to your child’s development and whether the local secondary schools you are considering offer enough scope for your child to develop in this area. For some, this will not matter at all, for others, this is a huger factor in choosing a school.
Next, consider the quality of the catering and the school meals. This subject has attracted much publicity over the last 5 years and for good reason too. School meals need to be nutritious as this will have a big impact on your child’s development and their ability to both concentrate and learn. Ask the school for a sample menu if you are not sure what the facilities are like, they should be happy to provide you with one.
Finally, when picking the right local secondary schools, look at the job prospects or the availability of a 6th form beyond the 5 or so years at that school. This may not seem important now, but it is vital to think about where you want your child to be studying or working in years to come. If they have ambitions to go to university or want to follow a certain career path then this is well worth thinking about today.
With over 9,000 local secondary schools in the UK to choose from, or more realistically 10 or so around your home, it is important to make the right choice for your child and their development. Choose well now and reap the benefits later on.
Three common traits of the best secondary schools
What do the best secondary schools have in common? Well the short answer is – nothing! No two schools are the same is make up or quality, which makes judging them very difficult. That is why the OFSTED reporting system is designed to compare a school against itself, rather than other schools in the locality, like a league table system would.
But, if you are looking for secondary schools around you to send your child to and want to know a little more about them, it is a good idea to try to do some comparisons between them. So, what do the best secondary schools have in common and what makes them the best?
Firstly, the best secondary schools all have good OFSTED ratings. Remember when reading an OFSTED report that you need to look at more than just the OFSTED grading (on a scale of 1 – 4, with 1 being outstanding and 4 requiring improvement). The OFSTED report displays a whole host of information which may or may not be useful to everyone, but the best 2 places to look are at the previous inspection score (to see if the school has got better, worse, or stayed the same) and the areas of improvement. This will give you a snapshot into how well that school is performing and how good it is.
Secondly, the best secondary schools all have good facilities. By good facilities, we are talking about the school buildings, the classrooms, the IT facilities, the catering facilities and the sports facilities. It is easy when trying to judge which schools are the best to focus on the teaching facilities and to make decisions based on pupil performance, but pupil performance is mainly down to your child and their willingness to learn. The best secondary schools will almost always have a good set of catering facilities, good sports facilities and teams, as well as a good IT infrastructure to teach your child more about the world of the future.
Finally, the best secondary schools do attract the best teachers. Moreover, the best teachers then stay at the schools. Think about it – teachers work on pay grades, so they are unlikely to get more money in a different school for doing the same job. The upshot is, therefore, that if they find a good school with good facilities in a location convenient for them, they aren’t going to look to leave the school in a hurry. If they are good at their job, the school maintains its standards and remains as one of the better schools in the area. Good teachers generally teach in good schools.
It can be very difficult to compare school A with school B on every ranking factor, but thinking about what makes the best secondary schools what they are gives you a good basis for making the right choice. You can decide which ranking factors (teaching; catering; sports facilities) are most important to you, and start your decision making process from there.
What 5 things will help you to search for secondary schools?
The search for the right secondary school for your son or daughter can be a difficult process. It can be straightforward, you may be fortunate enough to have a primary school which acts as a feeder school and all the details are arranged for you, but what if that isn’t the case, what if you need to make your own arrangements and do your own research. Where do you begin and what can you do to help yourself?
- Keep an open mind – it is really important when you begin your search for secondary schools that you keep an open mind. You may well have preconceptions about certain schools based upon their reputation, children you know that currently go there, or the quality of their sports teams. The first thing to remember is that none of these preconceptions matter. What matters is that your child gets the best possible education and to do that you need to start off by being open minded and considering all options. Don’t discount anything from the outset!
- Talk to the primary school – the next phase of your search for secondary schools should be to consult with your child’s primary school. They will already have schools which their children are recommended to go to, but even if these are not on your list of options (you may be leaving the area or considering an independent school) your primary school will still help you. It is their sole task to take children in at a young age, and prepare them for the next stage of their education, so they will always assist you to search for a secondary school.
- Consider what your child wants to do at GCSE/A-Level – it may seem a long way off, but it really isn’t. Your child will start their GCSE studies three years after they start at the school, and so will need an idea of their subject choices after about two and a half years. When you begin your search, remember that some schools obtain better results in some subjects than others, and indeed some schools offer different subject choices if your child’s ambitions are a little less mainstream!
- Talk to your child – don’t forget that it is your child who will attend the school, not you, so make sure they join in the search for a secondary school with you. What you think is an important factor may not be as important to them and vice versa, so it is important that you each come up with a list of key points and discuss them properly. They may be inclined to follow their friends but wherever they go to school, they will meet new people – they are joining a year group with about 3 – 5 times the number of children in it whether they follow their friends or not.
- Visit as many schools as you can – search for a secondary school by actively going to visit them. It sounds obvious, but few people take advantage of this. All secondary schools have open days or open evenings, and even if you can’t make it to one, contact the schools anyway and make your own arrangements, they will always be happy to see you if you are considering applying to go there.
The search for a secondary school can seem like a lonely process, but it needn’t be – talk to others, talk to your children, talk to their current primary school – there is more advice available than you think!