Choosing a secondary school: what are parents thinking?

In the week that secondary school offers go out to families, Joanna Moorhead talks to parents about their choices. This is from the Guardian…

This week there will be celebrations for some families – and disappointment for others – as thousands of children find out if they’ve got into the secondary school of their choice. But how do parents make decisions about where to send their children to school? What are they looking out for when they visit? And what kind of things put them off?

Here, parents of three year 6 children from Beaver Road primary in Didsbury, Manchester, talk about their choices for secondary education and headteachers respond to their opinions on the schools they have applied to.

Parrs Wood high school

• Mixed comprehensive; 1,900 pupils

• 2012 GCSE results: 69% five passes at A*-C including maths and English

• Places allocated based on proximity to school among applicants from within the area covered by Manchester city council

Jake Herring, 10, hopes to go to Parrs Wood high. His mother, Joanne McDonnell, explains the factors that influenced their choice

Jake sat the exams for the grammar schools, including Sale grammar, and he passed them so he’d probably get a place – but after a lot of deliberation we decided not to pursue it. It’s a very strong school academically, but what put me off is that the children come from a much wider geographical area, and there’s not such a sense of community as there is at our local comprehensive, Parrs Wood.

Some parents like the idea of the grammars having great results, but they would, wouldn’t they? If you select the most able pupils, you should get the best results.

I feel a mixed comprehensive represents society better than a selective school – it’s going to prepare Jake for any environment he ends up in, and that’s certainly a good thing.

We didn’t look at WHGS – it’s a good school, but it’s not close and is so over-subscribed we thought the chances of Jake getting in were very limited anyway.

William Hulme’s grammar school (WHGS)

• Former independent school, an academy since 2007

• 1,005 pupils aged from three to 18; both primary and secondary classes are on the same site

• 2012 GCSE results: 77% five passes at A*-C including maths and English

• Places allocated partly on distance, with provision for some to come from out of area

Tayyibah Ali-Ahmed, 10, hopes to go to WHGS. Her mother, Sumia, explains why

I liked the selective schools, but the logistics were difficult. I’ve got two younger children and I’d like them to go to the same school as Tayyibah – and with a selective school, you obviously couldn’t be sure that would be the case.

The main school I compared WHGS with was Parrs Wood. It’s much bigger and I felt my child would be lost in a school that size. At WHGS I felt each child was important – and though they said that was also the case at Parrs Wood, I didn’t really believe it was true. There’s no way the head there could know the name of all the pupils – but at WHGS he really does.

WHGS presented itself better than Parrs Wood – it had a more professional approach. At the Parrs Wood open day there seemed to be children just hanging around. The staff were also a lot more enthusiastic at WHGS.

Sale grammar school

• 11-18 co-educational academy trust grammar school

• 1,260 students

• 2012 GCSE results: 97% five or more passes at A*-C including maths and English

• Places allocated on strength of entrance-exam results

Alice Beverley, 10, hopes to go to Sale Grammar school. Her dad, Andrew Beverley, explains why

Alice is a very bright girl and she has passed the exam for Sale grammar, which is an amazing achievement. It doesn’t mean she’s definitely got a place, because there are other criteria, but we know she’ll do well at Sale if she gets in. It’s a very academically strong school and will give her a better chance of getting into a good university.

We looked at both Parrs Wood and WHGS. Parrs Wood was in special measures a few years ago, but it has got a lot better – it’s not in a bad area and it gets reasonable results at GCSE. But Sale gets much better results than that; it’s one of the best state schools in the country.

WHGS is also a high-performing school, but our worry is that because it’s now an academy and open to all, the results will go downhill.

See more, including what the headteachers have to say, at: Choosing a secondary school: the moment of truth

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Categories: Parenting and Secondary.

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