Immediately Year 6 starts, parents and children are thrown into a manic timetable (particularly if you live in a city with over-subscribed schools) of open days, open evenings. decision making and form filling - with masses of are-we-doing-the-right-thing anxiety thrown in.
It's exhausting visiting a school with a child in tow at the end of the day, especially if it's the third that week. If you can, it's always worth visiting when your child is in Year 5 so you can whittle down to a lot less by the time you're visiting with your child.
Whether your child is in Year 5 or 6 this is what you should you should be looking out for when you visit a school (The same questions also apply for choosing a primary school.):
1. The results achieved by the school – but don't forget these can depend on a range of factors, such as the attainment of pupils on entry to the school, the numbers who have English as an additional language or who have special educational needs. You can read Ofsted reports online.
2. Think about the journey you child will have to undertake (for at least five years) if they get into the school you want. Can they cope with leaving home at 6.45, arriving home after 5 and then doing homework?
3. Look at the staff turnover – is it a stable workforce or is there a high turnover? If there is high movement of staff, ask why.
4. How long has the head been in charge – too long, not long enough? Try and get a chance to hear him talk at the open days, get an understanding of his expectations and ethos and how hands on he/she is.
5. Look at the extra-curricular activities the school offers – are there thriving after-school clubs and weekend events or does it look like an enquiry about whether they run the Duke Of Edinburgh Award will be met with blank expressions?
6. Does the school have a well-supported, active and successful Parent Teacher Association? You may be hoping to wave goodbye to the PTA at the end of primary school, but think again – successful schools depend on parents just as much as ever to help them go the extra mile.
7. Look at the wider curriculum – will there be good opportunities for your child to develop or foster other skills in areas such as sport, the arts and work-related learning?
8. Don't be put off by shabby premises, look beyond the paintwork. Is there a "can do" ethos in evidence? Equally don't be blinded by state-of-the-art premises. A school may have fabulous grounds and you may be blown away by the space – but by the time your daughter's 13 she won't be running around in them, she'll be huddled on a bench chatting.
9. Do you choose a mixed or single sex school? The debate rages on – only you and your child know which environment they will feel confident and happy in.
10.Can you visualise your child in the school environment you are looking around? Will it suit their personality – what may be perfect for your son's best friend may not be perfect for him. Each child is different, and you as the parent know him or her best. It's also worth remembering that your child may be enthralled by the science explosions and sports facilities, but it's up to you to make the right decision for your child - and gently persuade them.
11. Remember your 11-year-old child is going to change - and quickly. He's going to be quickly looking like the looming teens at the open days.
12. Most importantly, what is the behaviour of the current children like? Are they polite, happy, proud of their school? Without good behaviour, your child will not be able to learn.
More information on the secondary school transfer process.
And look out for more advice next week.