What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place

This is the time of year when lots of schools right across the country are holding open days to let parents and children see what they can offer in terms of education. Over half-a-million children will change schools between primary and secondary in England every year, and it is quite a stressful time for parents, and our offspring, as we try to make the best decision for the future of our child. 

We went through this process last year so I’m sharing our top tips on factors to consider when choosing a secondary school, and I’ve also spoken to other parents for their help too. Don’t forget if your child is in Year 6 the deadline to apply for a secondary school place is October 31, 2018.

What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place

What to Consider When Applying For A Secondary School Place

We now live in a city but I grew up in a rural area. When I was a child there was only one school, and you went to the closest local comprehensive unless you attended a private school. Now you are no longer guaranteed a school place at your local school. This is one of the greatest travesties of all time for me. Rather than making parents compete to attend the better schools, I wish we had a government and society that was more focussed on making sure every school was of a high standard, so communities were educated together rather than communities being broken up because people want to be in the ‘right’ catchment area, go to the ‘right’ schools and befriend the ‘right’ types of people. But let’s put politics aside for now.

What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place

Secondary Schools

Choosing our Primary School was easy after we visited the first we had decided. We'd found a head teacher who believed in a rounded education, a focus on arts and culture as well as sport, and who was also willing to meet us as parents and who hadn't stepped foot in a school since we'd left ourselves all those years ago - not things we found at all schools in our area. We couldn't have made a better choice but this year my eldest child has started secondary school. 

The selection process started over a year ago. We have three secondary schools within a couple of miles of our house and a further heavily over-subscribed Catholic School. Last autumn we started the process of visiting each of the non-religious schools on their open days. Each has its own positives and negatives but when choosing a school, I truly believe you have to look at your own values and see which school supports those best and also which will be the best for your child. They are all different and for me, it is about understanding in which environment your child will best thrive, not just survive.

What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place

Five Factors to Consider when Choosing A School

1. Location – All three schools are a couple of miles away so how accessible the school is by public transport was important to us. Two of the schools are at opposite ends of the same bus route, however, the third would have been far harder to get too. Our youngest is still at primary school so schools close together would also be easiest for us. Not the deciding factor but one of the things to consider.

2. Friendship groups – My eldest has a strong network of friends, some of whom he’d been with since nursery, and they are all going to to the same school. They may not remain best of friends as they develop their own teenage personalities, new interests and characteristics. But at this stage, it was really important for him to be with his friends. And for me, this also means I’m still with many of my school mum friends too – relationships that are far too often taken for granted.

3. Uniform – Our chosen school has no blazer and no tie, but does have clear uniform guidelines that are strictly enforced. I’m not afraid to admit it but at some of the open days and meetings, I attended I was pretty horrified to hear some parents were more bothered about whether a child could wear leggings to school than the standard of education they were going to receive.

4. Subject selection – My eldest is really keen on maths, science, and coding and it was great to see all the schools were really strong in this area, however, one of the schools was really indifferent to him when he asked about support for children with their weaker subjects – this didn’t impress him or me.

5. Focus on education – At only one school we visited was the focus of the information about education and academic performance, and how they were continually striving to improve performances for not just the ablest but for every child. Hearing head teachers say that they are the best, without any evidence, and have the best food (not the reason I send my child to school) really did not inspire me.

What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place

Should You Choose a School in Special Measures

The secondary school, for which our primary is a feeder school, recently was put into special measures after failing an OFSTED inspection. I’m not going to pretend that this hasn’t been a concern. I took my photography A Level there a few years ago as a mature student so I knew the building. But a school is much more than bricks and mortar. I also know teachers at the school. I know parents that already have children at the school. I have friends who went to the school themselves. And I talked to them all and discussed it fully. It has been another avenue to explore and factor to consider. 

There are many rumors it was a political decision. I don’t know the truth in that but for me, the school my eldest will started at this month has never had so much scrutiny, a new regime and new values are in place, new structures, discipline, and support systems offered. It was the most impressive by far when talking about education, and not just academic success but the all-round development of our young people. And also the most sought-after school in the area was in special measures itself not that long ago, so for me, the fact that it is in a transition phase is not a huge issue, but I will watch the school’s progress and development, as I will that of other schools in the area. So if your local school is in special measures don’t be put off, think about the positives it could bring that school and consider it as another factor to take into account.

What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place

Top Tips for Choosing a Secondary School

As well as thinking about what had helped me make our decision last year, I also talked to other family bloggers about what was really important for them when choosing a secondary school for their children. 

Here is what they consider to be the most important factor when selecting a secondary school:

Emma said “Location & feeling. We visited a good school but just didn't like the feeling. The staff seemed nice but corridors dull and uninspiring and strange communal area. Ultimately I let my daughter choose & we are very happy so far.” 

Mandi said “The feel of the school, if I thought my children would be happy there, I obviously looked at their exam results (which fortunately were very good) but the fact it had a real community feel and the way the teachers interacted with the students was my deciding factor, so much that we moved my son at the end of year 9 because it had made that much of an impression on us, now had third child start at the same high school and all doing amazing.” 

Pete “How much parents complain about a school is a good factor to look at. Local Facebook groups are really helpful for this kind of thing. I know people will always complain, but some schools get moaned about far more than others. These groups/posts are also a good indicator of how much bullying goes on. We have one school in our local area that I would not even consider because of the number of complaints”. 

Emma said “We chose based on academic results and the ethos of the school, as it was a faith School it meant they went to a school different from their old primary friends but it was the right decision and both teens flourished.” 

Becky said “For me proximity is important. want them to be able to stay for after-school activity and walk to and form as much as possible as I think its good for them to move and a great way to make friends.” 

Michelle said “It has to suit the child. Whether that be a sports academy or music and arts specialist school or focused very much on academics. Each school has its own merits and you have to go by what’s right for your child. You often know when you go around and visit schools if it feels right.” 

Tracey said “Distance from home. Ways to get there (can you walk/cycle or have to catch a bus etc - and costs associated if not a free bus). Where the bulk of friends are going - not vital to us, but is to our children, and this helps with them settling in quicker (in both cases). And finally knowing people with children already in the school - how have they found it/what do they think.” 

Christy “Feedback from other parents is vital to me, especially in the case of any special needs at all. After that, the location would be critical, along with the general feel of it and the vibe I received after talking to the teachers on an open day.”

What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place

Rosemary said “It was really important that he felt happy at the school and his friends would be going. There’s no point in going to the best performing school if your child is miserable.” 

Cass said “I chose a school with a good reputation for results which was outside of our catchment area and also a Catholic school (we're not Catholic). The school that all of her friends were going to had a poor reputation and there was no way I wanted her going there so we talked about it and applied for a different school to everyone else and it was genuinely the best thing we did for her. She's now in Y11 and the happiest, content teenager I've ever met!” 

Joy said “How the ethos suits my child. Do they set children, how harsh are the rules etc? What is the pastoral care like as well as the academic results? How much do they listen to parents and what opportunities do they offer. Although my children’s secondaries have always chosen them (through selection tests).” 

Fozia said “The feel of the school along with location was important for us. There was one school I was dead set against sending my child to, although they had a 'Good' Ofsted. But people were saying the school wasn't good, mainly from people who didn't actually send their kids there. We almost didn't go to the open day but glad we went. The children who showed us around were so proud and excited about their school, the facilities were great and I liked the staff I came across. She is now in Year 8 there and thriving.” 

Jenny said “Don't listen to accounts of what the school was like 30 years ago, look at it now. A new head can make a complete difference within a couple of years - for good or bad - what it was like "when I went there" is almost irrelevant nowadays. And I second what everyone else has said, your child is the one who has to attend every day, so respect their opinions. We have 2 high schools very close by and so far 2 children went to each :) (even though we have a fairly low opinion of one of them).”

Fariba said “What your child thinks about it. Take them to the open days and see how they react. It won’t be the deciding factor but they have an instinct maybe you don’t. If they really get along with boys and don’t like the ‘feel’ of an all-girls school, there must be something to it. Listen to your child.” 

Selecting a Secondary School 

We chose a school that values diversity, promotes well-being and actively supports all students whether they are the academically gifted all not. The school itself is new, it is very large but appears to manage a large number of children really well. Its facilities are second to none and it is clear about what is expected of both students and parents, as well of themselves. I’m really hopeful about this school and the years my children will spend there. I hope they have a teacher just like my geography teacher was, willing to take risks and question the world and its behaviors, to educate future generations to think for themselves and not be taught what to think.

What made you choose your child’s school?

Deb x

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What to Consider When Applying for a Secondary School Place


  1. Thanks for including mine - some really great tips! :)
    Best of luck to everyone making the choice this year :)

    1. Thank you for your contribution which will be a real help for some people.

  2. My child visited our 2 local schools in year 5 for a day each to give the child a feel for the school. He liked both but one school he came home just full of beans and enthusiasm - the school his older siblings didn’t attend! So he started at the school that made him so enthusiastic- he is nowin Year 9 and he is absolutely enjoying school! He loves all his lessons and has thrown himself into after school activities! Results wise - he is doing very well. There wasn’t much between the 2 local schools- academic results were roughly the same - it was the method of teaching that differed. One was more akin to a grammar school approach; the other had a more updated technical approach. I was impressed with my son’s headteacher and staff too - their commitment to the children is commendable.

    1. So pleased to hear he is loving it still!