Yikes, It’s Secondary School application time

Considerations when choosing the right secondary school for your child - Africanfinestmums

Hello Africanfinestmums!! It’s that time of year when parents of children and young people in transition years start to think about school places for the next academic year in the England and Wales. This period and process can be quite daunting for all involved. In this article, I will focus on children transitioning from Year 6 to secondary school.

A little about me. I am an educator with 16 years of experience, working within the UK education system (Foundation Stage to College level, including Special Schools). I am also a mother of a Year 6 child as well as a teenager in Year 10. This is my second time going through the process with the added privilege of being on both sides of the fence…a service user and a service provider. Below are some of my tips/advice about choosing school places for your child. This list is by no means exhaustive but should give you something to think about.

1. Your child’s strengths and weaknesses

As a parent, make yourself the ‘expert’ on your child. Every child has areas of strengths and weaknesses. Consider these and how a potential school would support your child to manage or eliminate areas of weaknesses, while helping your child to capitalise on and develop their strengths. As an ‘expert’ on your child, by now you should know what their interests, talents, skills and gifts are. This is important as this could be the key to their independence, happiness and success in the future, if properly developed, supported and tapped into.

2. The school

Considerations when choosing the right secondary school for your child - Africanfinestmums

For me, choosing a school could be equated to buying a house. What looks good from the outside or on a prospectus, might not necessarily feel good on the inside. It is good to consider reviews and sample the opinions of others, but go and have a look for yourself. Go with your child to visit schools, ask questions, enquire about facilities, resources and staffing at the school. Key questions are – Is it the right school for YOUR child, and will it support and enhance their potential?

3. Don’t ignore the UNIQUENESS of your child

Considerations when choosing the right secondary school for your child - Africanfinestmums

Do not follow the crowd!! Consider YOUR child’s needs and academic ability. Mental Health problems in children and young people (CYP) is REAL dear mums. Do not put your child under undue and unnecessary pressure. For example, not every child is able to go through the rigorous preparations for 11+ exams, nor is suitable for Grammar school education, hard as this might be to swallow! Stop comparing your child with others or to their siblings. My daughter who is now in Year 10 did not sit the 11+ exams as I realised very early on that her strengths were in sports and creativity. I encouraged and supported her in that path and got her into a comprehensive school that catered to and developed her strengths. I have no regrets, she is happy and thriving.

On the other hand, quite early on, I noticed my son was quite academically able and have put him in for the current 11+ exams. However, with what I know about schools as an educator, him getting a grammar school place, although desirable, is not a do or die affair. I have other good, local comprehensives in my sights as backup plan. He knows that the expectation is for him to do his best so that he can be proud of himself irrespective of outcome. My children’s mental health and happiness is important to me. A happy and well-rounded child is a happy, well-rounded and productive adult… in my opinion.

4. What are your child’s aspirations?

Considerations when choosing the right secondary school for your child - Africanfinestmums

Listen to your child and take their opinions and views into consideration. This does not necessarily mean you have to agree with or go with them all of the time. Create a channel of communication where give and take is an option rather than a dictatorship. As parents, it is natural to worry about your child and their future and to assume you know it all. Your aspirations for your child matter, and will have a bearing on decisions such as this, but must not be the only factor determining this decision. Many of our own parents made mistakes with us in terms of our education choices that affect many of us till today. For many the regret and repercussions are still being dealt with. Let’s avoid doing the same with our children.

We now live in an age and in a society where there are many options and opportunities, if we just open our minds and be creative. We have to equip our children to begin to learn (with our support and prayers), about life through being involved at this stage in the decision-making process regarding their own future. Also invest in your child in other areas (where possible) outside of their academics so that they are well-rounded, have diverse skills and are equipped for adult life. I tell my children, “As far as you love and are good at whatever work you do, it will pay your bills and is not illegal or immoral, … I will support you!”

5. Finances

I hope this should not be a barrier to or place a great level of influence on your choice of school. However, if you are considering a fee-paying school, review your finances and be sure that you can afford to send your child there for the duration of their education. For many children, especially at this important stage in life, change, although sometimes inevitable or necessary, could cause setbacks and could be quite distressing for your child.

6. Travel

Consider how far your child will have to travel and how long it will take for them to get to school. Travel during summer periods is bearable but can be difficult and problematic in winter time (when it is dark and cold for long periods) or during heavy rains or snow. Some travel routes also often have traffic issues or poor public transport links, so you will want to check and take these into consideration as well. It will be good to also consider before and after school activities (booster classes, sports, clubs, detentions etc.) ensuring that you child can attend where necessary and travel safely.

Travel costs tie in with finances (number 5) so you will do well to plan for potential travel expenses (school buses and train rides) to see if they are affordable. With everything else you will have to pay for (school uniforms, school supplies, school trips etc.) travel expenses can put a big dent in your monthly budget.

7. Application process

Considerations when choosing the right secondary school for your child - Africanfinestmums

Online applications for 2019 Secondary school admissions is now open and will end on the 31st of October 2018. Be sure to visit a number of school open days with your child and make a selection of up to 6 choices of school. Your choices could include a combination of Grammar school, Faith Schools and Comprehensive Schools. Check with Independent (paying schools) what their admissions procedures are, and whether your child would be eligible for a discount or scholarship place before you commit yourself. There may be other associated costs you may not have considered at this early stage. For faith schools, you will have to complete a SIF form (available online on school website or obtained on open day) and probably need your parish priest or reverend to write you a reference or sign your form to get a good chance at a place. Some priests are very strict on this especially if you are not a regular attendee at church, you are not known to your parish priest or your child has not been baptised or gone through the holy communion process (Catholic Churches).

All applications are made online through YOUR local authority. Order your school choices (including grammar and faith schools) wisely from 1-6. Read all potential school admissions criteria and only put schools at the top of your list that you have a good chance of getting into. Do not waste your choices!! Look out for and avoid over-subscribed schools especially if you do not live in or near the area. Some schools are very strict on catchment area, how near you live to the school, if there is already a sibling at that school, etc. Put down a school for all 6 choices as best as you can. This will give you some control over where your child ends up in case they do not get any of their first three choices.

8. Support structure

Africanfinestmums - Considerations when choosing the right secondary school for your child

It takes a village to raise a child (family, friends, community, professionals, etc.). Raising children, no matter how well informed and resourced you are, can pose various challenges at various times. Tap into this support when you can and need to. Being stressed out or overworked is neither good for you nor your child. Take time out to relax, recharge and enjoy your child and family life.

Good Luck and wishing you and your child success in reaching the right decision.

Useful links

If you need more information and advice on the process for applying see your local authority’s website.

Applying for a Secondary Place

Thanks to Nuwa for this insightful post. Do leave a comment if you found this useful, or have anything to add, and please share this with others who might benefit from reading this. You can also follow Nuwa Omo via LinkedIn or Facebook @Hombebay education to read other insightful articles on child development in general and relating to children with Special Educational Need and/or Disability (SEND).