As promised, part 2 of my sweep of secondary schools.
Firstly, headteachers. You’re proud of your school, we know that. We don’t, however, need a 45 minute presentation telling us the same information that is in your prospectus. We can read the results, we can see that your 5 A*-C is a certain percentage. Better would be to tell us about the entry standards of that cohort from last year. Did they make 4 levels of progress or were they more gifted and only need to make 3 to make your figures look good? Rather than add to the growing line of speakers, have a room aside for parents of children at the school, the PTA, governors, etc so prospective parents can go and chat with them. Parents (and Year 6 students) will want to know things like:
- Is the lunch good?
- Does the uniform last?
- Do you have a strong communication channel with the school?
- What is the level of discipline like from a parental perspective?
I’m lucky to have a talented child at sport. It didn’t help today when his team were kicked off the park (anyone ever seen an 11 year old sent off before? Me neither). He’s been playing competitive football for a number of years with local clubs and has developed confidence and fabulous social skills as a result. Last year he played a year above at football and cricket, and can turn his hand to virtually any game you throw at him. As a result, he’s interested in a career in sport – playing, coaching, management, sports development, etc. To people who think that 11 is too young for that kind of aspiration, I’d like to stress, this is his choice. I have spoken to him on numerous occasions over the last 3 or 4 years and he’s committed to it. I want to make sure his options are open but want to know that whatever school he goes to could accommodate this interest. So, to the PE teacher at one school I saw this week, his study of PE at GCSE won’t help him as much as it would help your 5 A*-C measure. If he’s interested in the extended BTEC, at least suggest that you’d offer it.
On my blog last week I mentioned that I’d been asking teachers about their use of social learning. I continued with the same question this week to see how it would pan out.
I saw an interesting ICT presentation and asked the teacher about their use of Fronter (the VLE I mentioned previously). Remember, this is an ICT teacher. The conversation went like this:
Me: Do you use Fronter ?
ICT Teacher: (brightly) Oh yes. We’ve had it for over 2 years now.
Me: Excellent – how do you use it?
ICTT: It saves a ton of time checking homework has been completed.
There then follows a long winded and dull explanation of how activities are set, tracked, marked, and returned to students.
Me: And the other functions of Fronter? How do you use them?
ICTT: What other functions?
Now, I use a DLE on a daily basis in my job so maybe I’m coming at this from a more opinionated and informed angle, but
SHOULDN’T AN ICT TEACHER KNOW HOW TO USE THE TOOLS ON THEIR VLE?
It’s possible that there isn’t budget to use more, that they have software issues, access to the system is restricted, etc. However, to openly infer that you don’t have knowledge of what should be a core tool in your teaching armoury doesn’t make you look good.
Fabulous to report some good news. At one school, small groups of 6-8 parents and prospective pupils were ushered into a maths room, the children were given a handset and a teacher used the ICT to demonstrate how they used it to test and generate discussion with problems that the pupils solved and entered their answers on their keypad. They talked through what they did to the parents, and also pointed out how parents could get involved with other games of this type. The learning was fun, the pupils loved it, the parents were informed, the teachers more thoughtful in how they planned and executed their lessons. A simple presentation but strikingly effective.
So, what did I learn from 15+ hours wandering around secondary schools? If you’re considering a school choice here’s some key pointers:
Schools are not all the same
Each is idiosyncratic, and is the same only insofar they aim to do the same thing – educate.
Research each school before you go
Trust nothing they tell you – it will be the edited version. You have to look up their latest OfSted report, their exam results, their new stories (good and bad) before you go in. Chinese whispers around parents are powerful things; you have to make your own mind up.
Ask difficult questions
Every school is on best behaviour so ask the school uncomfortable questions that will test them, the more difficult the better. Have a common set/theme of questions – you need to be able to compare like-for like.
Speak to a governor
Firstly, do you know what a governor does? How do they lead the school? How accountable are they for the school performance. Ask them. If you can’t ask them face to face, ask the chair of governors by letter or email.
If you have any advice to parents selecting a school, add it in the comments below.