Six Things To Think About When Choosing a School

SIX THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN CHOOSING A SCHOOL FOR YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER.

Twelve months ago I had a new experience in education, I was the parent for the first time. My wife and I chose the school that my eldest daughter now attends. It wasn’t easy. Even for myself as a Principal and someone who by most standards would be considered an ‘expert’. 

In fact I got it wrong.  I looked for the wrong things.  I studied Department for Education data and old Ofsted reports and on tours I studied feedback systems and looked at target grades.  I over-complicated things.  Luckily I changed my mind in time and now my daughter has started at the local school and she is happy and flourishing.

And now it is that time of year again where parents are picking secondary schools for next year.

The government has introduced all sorts of new measures to gauge how successful a school or academy is. You may have heard of ‘Progress-8’ or ‘Attainment-8’. Out goes the old percentage of five A* to C and in comes a number that no school can actually publish until after parents have named their choices.

Kathie McInnes, the educational correspondent for the Sentinel, wrote a fantastic article about ‘Progress-8’ and ‘Attainment-8’ here.

So how can a parent, without the government measure, know that they are choosing the right school?

Stoke-on-Trent schools have, on the whole, done very well this year. Against a national decline in results, most schools in Stoke-on-Trent have improved their results year on year. Our progress scores put us in the top 20% of all schools.  And that’s brilliant news for us and for Stoke-on-Trent. Rest assured that every school in Stoke-on-Trent has dedicated staff with passionate leaders and they want the best for your child. The second thing to say is that the government measure doesn’t give you the whole picture.

The first port of call is that you could look through Ofsted reports. I would consider what is important to your child and don’t just take a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ as acceptable but read the report. Every school publishes their latest Ofsted report on their website. Ofsted reports can give you a sense of the behaviour in a school, the standard of teaching and the ability of leaders to ensure that the school will continue to improve.  But if a report is more than three years old, ignore it; it is likely the school is very different now.

Consider the future. Your child may be in this school for at least five and up to seven years. Just because a school have had a good set of results last year – don’t take it for granted that they are going to continue to improve. Are they in a stable position? If they are in a multi-academy trust, has the trust got a proven track record of improving schools? The Department for Education publishes performance tables for multi-academy trusts and you can find that here.  Only one secondary academy in Stoke-on-Trent is not part of a multi-academy trust.  The Sutton Trust publishes a report on multi-academy trusts and academy chains every year. It looks at which schools perform well in areas, like Stoke-on-Trent, where there is a higher number of disadvantaged pupils. The report table can be found here.  Our own academy trust performs very well out of interest despite serving some of the most challenging communities in the North and Midlands.

Remember that education isn’t just about attainment and passing exams. Schools have a responsibility to develop the whole child, giving each child the opportunity to develop what makes them an individual. What does the school offer in-terms of extra-curricular activities? What do they do aside from standard lessons and what can they offer your child to ensure that they have the character to go out into the world as a confident, well-rounded young person?  The Co-operative Academy of Stoke-on-Trent won the 2016 Character Awards in recognition of the excellent work in personal development and character building. 

Does the school have clear values and principles and do you share those values and principles? Get to know what the school stands for and learn everything you can about it.  Our Academy is based upon a movement with over 170 years of history and with over a billion people worldwide as members.

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