Like choosing what to wear or what to have for breakfast, some decisions aren’t exactly life-changing. Like buying a home, some may be high stakes but you can always change your mind later. BUT, if you are thinking about finding good schools for your kids, those thoughts about schools near me, and whether they are good enough for your kids can be difficult to keep at bay. As a parent, how do you find out whether the schools nearby are right for you?
Choosing a secondary school for your child tends to be an irreversible decision that may play a huge role in your child’s path in life. So it’s right that parents want to get it right. Yet more than half a million families face this moment in the UK each year, armed with little to go on beyond league tables.
Depending on your league table of choice these are either a rather subjective analysis of schools based on a review process or a snapshot highly dependent on exam results. Since the lockdown, it’s been made worse by the fact there aren’t even any exam results to base those on.
Whatever the method, these suffer a more fundamental issue, that they provide a perspective on a school based on other people’s opinions or other people’s children. In no cases do they provide a view of any school that is tailored to the particular aspirations and strengths or needs of your own child.
The reason they exist at all is they tap into a basic motivation of all parents – and not only the human variety – that you will do whatever it takes to help your children flourish. Yet if all parents are led by these competitive tables to attempt to fit their children into the same shaped gap in the market, maths alone tells you as many will fail as succeed. When you look at how different all children are and how varied the schools around the country, you get the strong sensation that on some level this is tragic. Surely there could be a better system for matching children with schools?
The good school race
WhatsApp groups buzz around National Offer Day each March, when all state secondary schools in England offer their places to children. But the real decisions are made in the autumn, when families submit secondary school applications, and the long wait begins.
So what should parents think about when making what may be one of the most consequential decisions of their children’s lives? The Guardian Schools Guide is a new format for parents wishing to dig a little deeper into what makes one school different from another. It helps parents get a sense of how a school is set up and run.
We think it’s important parents can discover that schools have many ways to shine – that some deliver stellar academic results and pride themselves for sending children to Oxbridge each year, while others are more representative of their local community and do a fantastic job of bringing to life the opportunities afforded by education to children from a whole range of backgrounds, helping them make enormous academic and other learning progress along the way.
From location, to attendance, academic outcomes to the ratio of staff to pupils, schools are as rich and complex as people. To put it another way, the truth about a secondary school can’t easily be captured in the narrow measures that go into traditional league tables. A school has a rich heritage, a unique backstory and how your child will respond to the values, community and environment of a school depends as much on them as it does on the school.
Here are the ten ways parents can think differently about secondary schools. These are the ten indicators used uniquely by the Guardian Schools Guide, and each one is given a flexible weighting, allowing families to decide how much value to place on each indicator.
The result is a good schools for your kids guide that does away with one-upmanship between schools and instead helps parents and children see their local secondary schools in an entirely new light:
Using data from the Department for Education, the Guardian Schools Guide places extra value in how easy it is to obtain a place in a school, a key consideration when making a final selection. Some think that the harder a school is to get into, the better it must be, but there is little evidence to support that view.
This is one of the Government’s core focus areas and asks: how well do pupils perform in GCSEs and (where applicable) A-levels? This is based on data from the Department of Education, and does not take into account pupils’ academic performance before they arrived at the school.
For some, a confusingly similar guide to attainment, this is indicative of academic outcomes but also takes into account the level pupils have reached before they join a school, rating how much pupils have improved academically during their time.
A measure of how reliably pupils attend school and the proportion of pupils who are persistently absent.
What happens to pupils after they leave school can be an important indicator of how effectively a school prepares pupils for life outside of education.
How does the school support pupils from poorer families to achieve their potential? This includes Department for Education academic progress and post-school destinations data.
Drawing on official data from the Office of National Statistics, this assesses how healthy and safe the neighbourhood is immediately around the school.
Does the school seem financially stable? Does Department for Education data show budgets that have been in balance or surplus in recent years?
This indicates how closely the socio-economic and ethnic balance of the school matches that of the local pupil population and tends to reveal contrasts between schools that share catchment areas.
How good is the sixth form (where one exists), including A-level attainment, progress between GCSE and A-level, and post-school destinations. Academic and destinations data both come from the DfE.
Finding good schools for your kids and making the right choice
We aspire to add new data and indicators to the School Guide, giving parents an even greater understanding of the schools on offer to their children. We also want parents to give us their feedback, warts and all, to help us keep on developing this good schools for kids Guide in such a way that it helps make those life-changing decisions just a little bit easier.
If you need more advice on education check out these posts from the site that we hope will help.
These additional resources are also sure to help, do have a look.
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