National offer day. How do I make the final decision?

National offer day for secondary school places, 1st March 2022, has been and gone. The competition for places at good state or grammar schools has only been multiplied in the past decade which means that for many parents, it is often a day of disappointment or increased stress. Furthermore, the choice of secondary schools can be daunting for parents due to the myriad of options, the complexity of the application process, deadlines and different entrance demands; it can be tough and overwhelming for children and parents alike. 

Everything we do at Meta Prep is about preparing children for the future. Thus, the focus is on developing their mastery as expert learners and not worrying about the narrow gate-posts of the 11+ exam. However, that does not remove the challenges of taking exams or deciding which school is going to be the best environment for your child. I have been having similar conversations with our parents, this week, as they juggle the options and desperately try to make the ‘correct’ choice for their child’s future.

Remember the best school for your child might not be the most prestigious or ‘top’ school, rather it is the school that will develop and encourage them.

Here are four of my top tips to help with the decision-making process:

  1. The Head: will be speaking words of wisdom and encouragement over your child for the next five to seven years. Do they inspire you? Are they going to be developing your child? Will they arm them with tools and strategies and the character to go out into the world and thrive? If you can answer yes to these questions, that is going to be a better deciding factor than an Ofsted report.
  2. Know your child: selection should be a two-way process and choosing the right school for your child is crucial to their future success. Don’t be seduced by a top name – it may not be right for your child. You know your child: are they intrinsically motivated and going to be thriving amidst a raft of challenges? Are they middle of the road and quite happy to do the bare minimum? Are they lacking confidence or struggling to perform at school? The school you pick should support them in the specific way that they need in order to thrive. 
  3. Homework: at secondary school, this is one of the areas that positively impacts progress. Yet, it can also become a battleground. Most teenagers need encouragement to set aside time to focus on consolidating learning. It does not come naturally to many of them. A school that has considered how this can be built into the school day or has structured the school day to suit children that have other commitments gets my vote. Likewise, a school that develops this learning behaviour is going to reduce tension at home and ensure that your child is able to balance and manage their wide portfolio of clubs and sports.
  4. Student leadership: all schools have students as prefects or leading the school council, but how effective are they at developing leaders? Giving young people a chance to make decisions that clearly have an outcome and impact on their life increases learning in other areas of the curriculum and makes them feel that they matter. Look out for a wide range of roles that are set aside for students: school council; peer mediators and mentors; eco-committee; anti-bullying ambassadors; regular joint student and staff meetings. Then look more closely: are the roles on the periphery to the curriculum or is everyday dialogue between students and teachers encouraged? If the school actively engages in regular evaluative discussions then the roles will have a positive impact on all involved. 

Teaching pupils the key thinking processes and strategies involved in metacognition sets them up for a life of successful learning. Worry less about the type of school – there are good and bad within all – but look instead at the individual school and how well it will suit your child.