I can’t believe this is N’s 6th year at school.  He’s in year 5 and that means next September we’ll be applying for secondary schools for him. Although we’ve got a year, I’d rather do some thinking now so we’re ready for applications next autumn. So we’ve been doing school open days online.

Obviously with Covid it means secondary school open days aren’t like normal. Instead some are offering virtual open evenings. Hopefully later in the school year they’ll be able to do some visits, because I really wouldn’t want N to make decisions on secondary schools without having ever visited.

The likelihood is that he’ll go to the catchment school. Most of the village children from this side of town go to it (it’s where the OH, myself, most of his cousins all went/are). But, it’s the biggest secondary school in the area, nearly double the size of the next biggest even in town. Going from a school of less than 100 means lots of the children from our school go off to either grammar, private or some of the smaller nearby secondaries. Some of his friends will likely end up at one of the town schools as it’s hard to get into the village ones, especially with their year having been a high birth year.

So we’ve also been looking at the other schools for options, in case we find that he’d be better off at a smaller secondary school.

Secondary school virtual open days

The catchment school does have a lot of benefits. He knows it a bit, and knows children from other village schools who’ll likely go there too. They do a lot of partnership school sports and events, although unlikely to be doing much this year. So it’ll probably feel a bit more familiar.

There’s a farm there, and he could choose to do animal husbandry qualifications giving him more options than many other schools. The music options are good, as are the swimming pool and sports hall. They don’t have any all weather surfaces like 2 of the other schools we looked at. He’ll be unlikely as a boy, to get tennis at any of the schools.

N enjoyed one of the other school’s virtual open days the most. It had more of the children and teachers taking part in individual subject lessons, where the other 2 schools have focused much more on the parents and have been more dry in delivery.  Not one has actually toured the school and shown the facilities. Surely that’s what most parents and children want to see. I don’t want to hear the same thing from all head teachers…they all say they do great transitions, are inclusive to all children and have great staff and children. It’s all about the feel and answering what parents and children want to know. Given we can’t tour the place, that’s what they should be showing.

The school N likes is probably because he knows a few from his year will be going there as siblings are already there. And he knows it’s a smaller school. They have nice outdoor all weather sports grounds, but didn’t show much more than that. It’s out of county, so he’d be lucky to get in there, although they have been known to increase the intake where lots of children put them down as first.  We would have to put it as first choice to even stand a chance. But then there’s the issue of how to get him there if he did get a space.

Our catchment school isn’t quite our nearest, so we have to pay for the school bus. That’s if we even get a space on it. Evidently, it goes on distance and route, and how many children already have seats. So as a year 7 you’re the bottom rung of getting a seat. You’re not even guaranteed for the full year. It’s done term by term. He wouldn’t be able to get a bus to the others, although possibly depending on time tables, he might be able to get one a normal bus from the village to one. Most parents drive their children there though. So realistically, the catchment school is the only option unless I either change my working hours, work from home more and can try and share lifts with another parent.

I quite liked a 3rd school option – in a 3rd county (the joys of living right at the tip of one county border. Their sporting facilities are increased because they’re next to the leisure centre. It’s where one of the nephews has ended up for 6th form. A snowy or icy winter would be a pain to get him there as the roads are hideous. It didn’t look like their curriculum was very wide though compared to other schools.

Another school isn’t doing a virtual open day, and while I’d like to think about the nearby private school as an option, they’ve put up their prices a lot. And if N ends up needing any extra booster support, that’s a lot of money on top of the normal fees. Even getting a sports scholarship isn’t really going to reduce the fees enough to justify such a large ongoing payment each year. So we’ve got probably our first 2 options, whichever order, and have an alternative 3rd.

I just hope that there are a few of N’s year group who do end up going to the catchment school, even though I know a couple of good friends probably won’t be.

Now the first virtual open days are over, I’m hoping for summer term to be able to let us visit.  Otherwise I’m going to be collating all my questions and will be hoping there’s another way I can get them answered. Once his cousin has been at the school longer, I’m sure we’ll be pumping him and my sister in law for information and their thoughts.

If you’re child’s starting primary school and you’re looking at those instead, try my questions to ask primary schools post.

Have you been to virtual secondary school open days?  Do you know where your child will go to secondary?

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