THE BLOG

Choosing a Secondary School: Do You Have a Choice?

19/10/2015 16:11 BST | Updated 16/10/2016 10:12 BST

October: Autumn leaves, pumpkins, and applying for secondary school places. Which school will you choose for your year 6 son or daughter? Do you really have much choice at all? And will it really matter anyway in the long-run?

The deadline for applying for a secondary school place is fast approaching. Parents of children aged 10 and 11 have to submit their application by 31 October for most of England and Wales for their child to be allocated a place. The process is simple and can be completed online; busy parents enter their three school options. But how much choice is really involved - do parents just plump for the secondary school nearest to them, and will it really make any difference to their future which secondary school your child goes to?

Although not everyone believes in a private education, I wonder how many parents have a look online to see what the fees are, consider their bank balance wistfully, do a (probably quite quick) calculation......and conclude there is no way they can afford it. We know that a private education will offer smaller class sizes, networking and connections, and a better standard of teaching - and the reputation associated with a private school is sure to stand them in good stead when they are pitted against someone else for future employment opportunities. But the cost of a private education is roughly £14,000 per year in the UK and it is simply not an option for many. We may feel a twinge of guilt because it could be seen as an investment in their future: but many more will see it as something that is way out of reach. So, what can we do?

It has been said that a faith school is a free alternative to private education, hence the expression 'on your knees to avoid the fees,' which refers to parents that feign or exaggerate their faith to achieve a place for their child in a faith school. And once a child is in the school, it is far easier to gain a place for siblings, meaning the whole family receives what some regard as a superior education. Research shows that about one-third of the places allocated to children at religiously selective faith schools are given to children whose families have feigned religious practice in some way.....so, would you do it? Of course it is hypocritical and unfair, especially for any good British citizen who would have liked to have sent their child to a faith school because of its standards, but are refused a place based on their religious practices (or lack of them), and instead have to send their child to the local comprehensive.

In any case, what is wrong with an education at the local comprehensive or high-school? The chances are, the school will be easy to get to - making life easier for the whole family-, they will be in familiar surroundings with long-standing friends, and they will be comfortable and confident: a fantastic groundwork on which to build success and learning!

There are more than 3,000 state-funded mainstream secondary schools in the UK. Around one-third are Academies, which means they have opted out of local authority control and they run themselves in the same way as independent schools. Academies are able to set their own curriculum, hire non-qualified teachers and decide the general running of their own affairs. Another option may be for one of David Cameron's 252 free schools (he has pledged 500 more over the next five years), which are state-funded and set up by academy trusts, community groups, parents and teachers.

So, what will you choose, and do you really have much choice at all? Can you afford a private education for your child? Are you lucky enough to have a grammar school near to you (there are 164 in England), and is your child clever enough to pass the 11-plus examination? Or do you believe that if a child attends their lessons, is committed to their education, and receives the right support, they can achieve what they are capable of at almost any school, and go on to do well post-16?