Big School Shropshire's articles offer timeless advice for parents and students who are about to start secondary school.

  • 27/10/2017 0 Comments
    Set them up for life by getting this step right

    Choosing a secondary school is a big milestone for both parents and youngsters. As your child starts their last year at primary school, now is the time to start considering the final stage of their compulsory education.

    It is important to thoroughly research all of the options available to you so you find the best place for your son or daughter.You will want a school where they are encouraged to achieve and reach their full potential.
    Councils allow parents to make up to six preferences of schools, depending on where you live, with the final decision made according to the criteria set by the local authority, or individual schools.Although this can feel like a lot of pressure, how you end up choosing your secondary school preferences will probably be very similar to how you found your child’s first school – with some of the same factors influencing your decision. 

    And remember – getting this next step right can help them on the way later in life and in their future careers. 

    You might be wondering whether you want a community school or an academy? Do you want to pay for a private education or send your child to a grammar school?

    During this important decision process you will be looking at schools to see what teaching and sports facilities they offer pupils.

    You will no doubt also be examining the results they go on to achieve, as well as the support offered inside and outside of the classroom.

    Schools will soon begin holding open days giving you the chance to have a proper look around and allow your child to get a feel for the place.

    Now they are older, they will probably have views on where they want to go, which you will no doubt want to take into consideration. 

    More than likely they will want to go where their friends are going. While this probably shouldn’t be the sole reason for choosing a school, if your child struggles to make friends and you think they will find it difficult going alone then it can be a worthy consideration.

    Proximity will always come in to play as nearly all schools will use this as one of the main criteria when considering applications.

    So you might have a certain school as number one on your preference list but it will depend on how many other parents have applied and how close they are to its gates. 

    Having siblings at the school already will also give applications extra weight.

    This means it’s essential to research your options well – so if you miss out on your preferred choice you will be well-informed on the others. 

    This guide will give you information on the different types of schools as well as the application and appeals processes. 

    It will explain Ofsted reports and league tables to help you make an informed decision and provide answers to some of your questions to help you through the whole process.

    There is also advice on how to help your child settle in after they make the move to big school – as well as looking ahead to later stages in their education.

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  • 27/10/2017 0 Comments
    So many types of school for you to look at

    Gone are the days of it being a simple choice between a grammar school and a comprehensive. Now there are many types of school run and funded in different ways.

    State schools, also known as community schools, are managed and funded by the council. The local authority employs all of the staff, owns the land and buildings, and sets entrance criteria.

    Pupils follow the National Curriculum and the council provides support services that may be required for students, such as psychological and special educational needs. Students tend to be from a range of different backgrounds and have a mixture of abilities.

    Almost two thirds of the country’s secondary schools are Academies.

    They are run by a governing body and are independent from the local council, with funding coming from central government. 

    Academies control their own admissions process and have more freedom in the classroom as they can opt out of the National Curriculum. 

    They also have more power over pay, length of the school day and term times.

    But this freedom means there is normally no support, management or oversight from the local authority.

    Free schools are funded by central government but can be set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, and religious or voluntary groups.

    They were introduced as a way to drive up standards through increased competition and hand power to parents and teachers to be able to create a new school if they were unhappy with the state ones in their area. They are exempt from teaching the National Curriculum.

    To receive funding they must teach English, mathematics and science and ‘make provision for the teaching of religious education’.

    They are still subject to inspections by Ofsted. If you’re involved with founding a free school, your children are guaranteed places.

    More than 300 free schools have opened since 2010 teaching more than 150,000 pupils across the country.

    Private schools, also known as independent schools, charge annual fees instead of being funded by the Government. 

    Many offer scholarships or bursaries based on assessment tests so it’s worth looking into whether this is an option. 

    They can be offered to academically bright children or youngsters with a special talent, such as music or art. 

    These schools are free to set their own curriculum but must be registered with the Government and are inspected regularly. 

    They tend to offer high-quality facilities and class sizes are likely to be smaller. Grammar schools have been around since the 16th century but the modern model was created as a result of the Education Act 1944.

    It was all decided by an entrance exam – the 11-plus – which is still around today. Pupils who passed went to grammar school, those who didn’t went to secondary modern.

    Today, there are still around 160 grammar schools across England. A ban preventing new grammars from opening has been in place since 1998.

    These schools tend to have a strong focus on academic achievement and select pupils on the basis of ability through an entrance exam taken at the start of year 6.

    Faith schools can be different kinds of schools, such as community, free schools or academies, but are associated with a particular religion.

    They have to follow the National Curriculum except for religious studies, where they are free to only teach about their own religion.

    Anyone can apply for a place. At Foundation schools, the land and buildings are owned by a governing body, who are also responsible for running the school, employing staff and providing support services.
    Pupils have to follow the National Curriculum.

    Voluntary-aided schools tend be mostly religious or faith schools. Just like foundation schools, the governing body employs staff and sets entrance criteria. 

    This means it has a substantial influence on how the school is run.

    School buildings and land are usually owned by a charity, often a church. They follow the National Curriculum but may teach religious education according to their own faith.

    Voluntary-controlled schools are a cross between community and voluntary-aided schools. The council employs staff and sets entrance criteria.

    The difference is that school land and buildings are owned by a charity, often a church, which also appoints some members of the governing body. Voluntary-controlled schools are also required to follow the National Curriculum.

    Co-operative trust schools are becoming more popular.

    Although funded by the council, they are supported by a charitable foundation, which means they can set their own admission arrangements.

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  • 27/10/2017 0 Comments
    How much will it all cost me?

    A new school means a new uniform and – sadly – kitting out your child for the start of term doesn’t always come cheap.

    It’s been estimated that parents spend upwards of £200 ahead of the new academic year on everything from trousers, skirts and shirts to PE kits. On top of this will be cash paid out for stationery, backpacks, books and technology, and this adds up to £2.9 billion across the country. 

    While primary schools tend to be more flexible, secondary schools often require more items such as blazers to be purchased from specified suppliers.

    To make sure you are not caught off guard, it’s always best to check what the school’s uniform policy requires beforehand. It can normally be found on their website. 

    Most will allow some basics to be bought from any shop as long as they are the correct colour. 

    But pay attention to the fine details such as the minimum length and permitted types of skirts and the styles of trousers that are allowed.

    Shoes are a regular issue for parents as schools are very specific on what is required. It’s better to be absolutely sure that the shoes you are looking at will be allowed before you spend the money. 

    Also be wary of being talked into buying items by your child just because they are more fashionable – unless you know for certain they will not be infringing the uniform policy on the first day.

    For many the cost of buying school uniform can seem overwhelming but there are ways to make it more manageable. 

    Make a list so that you know exactly what you need to buy – this will stop you from buying items that are not needed and reduce the risk of you getting side-tracked in the shops. 

    Bulk buying can also bring the price down – most retailers offer multi-packs that are better value. If you end up with too much then you could split the cost with another parent who has a child of the same age.

    Spreading the cost throughout the year can also reduce the bill – just buy the essentials now and then top it up with other items when needed later in the year. 

    If you are still struggling to cover the cost then some councils, such as Sandwell, run grant schemes with cash available as long as conditions are met. 

    Bear in mind that your child may get involved in extra-curricular activities and there could be additional costs involved such as equipment, musical instrument and art supplies. 

    Find out early what these may be so you can budget for them.

    School trips, while certainly educational and fun for your child, can be another strain on your finances and something worth planning ahead for. 

    Although trips are optional, peer pressure can mean you feel you are left with little choice but to find the money. 

    And the older your child gets, the more opportunities there will be for foreign trips that are likely to be more costly. 

    Schools are able to charge parents a fee for board and lodging for school residential trips.

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  • 27/10/2017 0 Comments
    What is Ofsted and what do reports show?

    Most parents will already be aware of Ofsted. 

    All schools are required by law to be inspected but how it is visited will depend on how it has previously been judged. For example – after a school is rated as outstanding it will then be exempt from routine inspections. 

    But a school placed in special measures due to concerns about standards, will be monitored and inspected more frequently.

    A full inspection normally takes two days. When they arrive the inspectors will look at the school’s self-evaluation and analyse the pupils’ progress and attainment. 

    They talk to the headteacher, governors, staff, and pupils, and consider your views as a parent. 

    Inspectors spend most of their time observing lessons and looking at the quality of teaching in the school, and its impact on learning and progress. 

    They also look at the personal development, behaviour and welfare of pupils, the promotion of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development; and how well the school is led and managed. 

    Parents are given the option of providing their views. After the visit, the lead inspector reports her or his judgement to the headteacher and governors. 

    The inspectors’ findings are published in a report for the school, parents and wider community.

    This provides information about the effectiveness of the school’s work and contains recommendations about what it should do to improve. 

    If Ofsted judges a school to be ‘inadequate’, it will be placed in one of the following two categories – special measures or serious weaknesses.

    The former means the school is failing to provide pupils with an acceptable standard of education, and is not showing the capacity to make the improvements needed.

    Inspectors will visit the school regularly to check progress, until it can be removed from the category. It will then be inspected after about two years.

    The latter category means one or more of the key areas of the school’s performance require significant improvement, but managers have demonstrated the capacity to improve.

    Inspectors will visit the school regularly until it can be removed from the category. It will be inspected again within 18 months of its last inspection. If a good rating is given, the school will receive a one-day inspection around every three years.

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  • 27/10/2017 0 Comments
    A big milestone for both you and your child

    It may only seem like five minutes since your baby started primary school but now they are getting ready for their next big step.

    Day one at secondary school is a huge milestone for both you and your child. It’s their first small step towards independence as they begin to make more of their own decisions. 

    But it’s only natural that it can also leave you feeling slightly sad as they start relying on you a little less.

    Moving to secondary school will often mean them making their own way there and back by bus. 

    This can feel very strange at first, especially if you’ve always walked with them or dropped them off in the car, and can leave you with a gap in your day. 

    Also, it’s likely that your child will get a new circle of friends who you have never met. You will no doubt hear names without being able to put a face to them at first. 

    This means you probably won’t know where they live or what their families are like.

    But you can encourage your child to talk about their friends so you learn more about them and invite them over. 

    It can also be helpful to get their parents’ phone numbers to put your mind at ease, especially if your child goes back to their friend’s house after school.

    It’s an important part of growing up so branching out and making new friends should be encouraged – but knowing where they are and being able to contact someone in the case of an emergency is important.

    The social side to dropping off and picking up your child may be lost when they move to secondary school as you will no longer be chatting to other mothers and fathers at the gates. 

    Also, because their primary school was smaller, you were probably invited to attend activities regularly such as assemblies and sports day and spoke to teachers frequently without having to make an appointment.
    Now the only time you will probably see your child’s teachers is at parents’ evenings, which can leave you feeling less connected to the school world.

    But most schools will want to keep parents updated so they will have a section on their website aimed at keeping you informed, as well as regular newsletters. 

    Now your child is moving slowly towards independence you will be left with more time on your hands as you are no longer at their beck and call, although you may be called upon to be a ‘taxi’ driver so they can visit their friends.

    This may open up opportunities for you to find work or enjoy a hobby.

    It will be exciting to watch them take this huge and important step and will be a very proud moment for you as a parent.

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