Simon Morris, Headmaster and Principal of the Kingswood Foundation, passes on his top tips for choosing the right secondary school for your child
We are so fortunate within Bath and Wiltshire to have such an array of excellent schools in both the state and independent sectors, but having such consistent excellence does not necessarily make the choosing of the right school at all straightforward. For the goal must be to find the right school for each child, and with each child being a unique individual, the reasons for each choice will also be unique to each child.
All schools will offer academic and co-curricular programmes alongside a pastoral structure which supports the students’ overall wellbeing. The challenge for each individual child is to find the school which offers the right balance of these three key elements in the light of the individual child’s particular strengths, character and interests – and, indeed, the parents’ priorities. For whilst each school will certainly offer a combination of academic, co-curricular and pastoral care, the way in which this combination is offered can be radically different between schools.
Examination results in public examinations certainly say something about a school, but raw results can be extraordinarily misleading. They say very little about the nature of a school’s intake, and especially how selective that intake is in terms of pure academic ability. Of much more value are those measurements of progress, such as the value added performance statistics published by the Department for Education. Such measurements of progress can say something, certainly, about teaching and learning in a school, at least as measured by examination outcome.
Quality of teaching and learning should, however, never be assessed solely on examination results. I would always be equally as interested to know about the academic enrichment offered beyond the classroom, about how the school engages students in learning, about how students are encouraged to think critically, analyse and take risks, and about how every student is stretched and every student is supported, whatever their ability or natural aptitude.
The nature of a school’s co-curricular programme says a great deal about whether a school is fully committed to all-round education. I would want not only to know about what is on offer in areas such as music, drama, sport and outdoor education, but whether that offering is fully inclusive. In good schools, all students should have the opportunity to explore the full range of activities – it is after all often in these areas that young people really discover a lifelong passion or are boosted in their self-esteem – whilst elite performers should be recognised and offered suitably specialised support.
A well thought through and robust approach to pastoral care is essential in a secondary school, where students are navigating the exciting, but at times very challenging, teenage years. I would always be interested in how the school structures this, how it ensures children feel valued and supported, and how strong relationships with parents and carers are maintained. I would also want to know in some detail how the school places both physical and mental wellbeing at the centre of its educational approach.
I would always visit schools and talk in detail to senior staff. A school which encourages this is likely to be a school which values dialogue, communication and partnership. I would also listen very carefully to the views of the junior school head, who will have unique insight into both the child and the nature of the prospective senior schools.
And having considered all these things, I would absolutely ask the question, “Where is my child going to be happy?” Happy children really do thrive; they are likely to be more resilient, cope more readily with the inevitable ups and downs and have an optimistic outlook.
One final thought – the real nature of a school can often be seen in those students who are completing their education. If as a parent you meet those in their final year and feel they have the values, approach and ambition which you would wish for your own child, then it is highly likely that the school will be a strong fit.