Choosing a good school is only the start!

Nurture or Nature –  Choosing a good school is only the start!

There are so many attributes that make for a good school, factors which go far beyond just the examination results. We must bear in mind that achieving a complete and well rounded education is very important, as well as the crucial exam results. However, exam results are usually a good indication of how much value a school adds to the lives of its students. It is the case that schools where students achieve high academically are also the ones in which young people thrive in extra-curricular activities as well. Irrespective of which school you send your children to, you always have to keep an eye on his or her progress and keep asking questions, both of the child and also of the school.

A BBC programme last week, Analysis‘ was based on a research conducted by academics. After an intensive and prolonged study, it concluded that the school a child attends contributes about 10% to his or her life prospects. In my own experience, I think it can be much more, as high as 40 to 60% in some cases. If we accept this figure of 10%, which I think is an average figure, and also if we could transfer this directly into examination marks, it can make a difference of one or two grade boundaries. If this difference is then carried over and transferred right across all subjects at GCSE and A level, it may be difference between a student gaining admission to Oxbridge or to other Russell Group / Redbrick universities, or perhaps the difference between red bricks and old polytechnics.

Sending your child to the correct school is just the start, you have to constantly monitor the progress of your child and the performance of the school. For many parents who will be reading this, their children are in school already. However there are those who are still considering what the next step is for their children. Below are the qualities parents ought to be looking for in a school, and also what parents with children already in school can do to get the most out of that school for their children.

It is good to look at exam results but also try to look at the results for specific subjects, especially if your child wants to study A-level at that particular school. Look for the A-level results in the subjects of his or her choosing

How many head teachers the school has had in the last 20 to 30 years, particularly in the last 10 years

Turnover of teaching staff, their qualifications and from which universities they gained both their degree and also their teaching qualifications

The number of computers and interactive white boards is not so important. It is the delivery of lessons and how engaged the students are that matter. Some of the worst schools in the country have many computers and interactive white boards, but sadly these do not mean good schools and good examination results. In fact, these modern tools are more of a distraction and in many cases – a way of containing the unruly teenagers!

Do many students take part in extra-curricular activities such as music, art and sports

For parents whose children are already at a school, they should consider the following to help increase their child’s chances of a good result:

In the vast majority of secondary schools, students are put into sets. Make sure your child is put in set that suits his or her ability. Ask questions about movement between sets and the criteria and the time of year that movements takes place

Keep an eye on the school’s timetable and calendar and be aware of the examination dates, especially modular examinations

Ask your son or daughter if there are any tests coming up and if they are clear about the exact module or topics being assessed

Attend parents’ evenings regularly. Have a list of questions with you and ask to speak to the head of year or a senior teacher if you think your issues are not being addressed to your satisfaction

Appear to be cooperative with the school and try not to be confrontational. However, be assertive about what you are asking for and do not give up on pursuing vital issues

Be clear about the volume of weekly homework and other assignment requirements in each subjects, as well as deadlines for handing in the work

Seek extra tuition for your child if you need to and do it early. Be sure that the private tutors or the teachers at the tuition centre you have sought are not only qualified but are also experienced in teaching your child’s age group and able to cover the specification for that subject

If you have the time, try and contribute to your child’s school by volunteering your services. Even if it is only occasionally, this often gives you an insight into life at the school

Remember that GCSE is a two year course and that Y10 is just as important as Y11

When trying to secure admission to the top universities, all is not lost because your son or daughter is not at a top state school. Universities often make allowances for this by offering places to students. They recognise that it is more difficult for students who are at a school near the bottom of the exam results league table to achieve the top grades, so they usually ask for slightly lower A-level grades from them

Please click here to receive our key facts, which provides more guidance about key periods of secondary education

The school management team is vital. However, the most important quality in a school is its teachers. The formal Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, suggested that there are up to 15, 000 bad teachers in our schools. I believe this is a very conservative figure and it could be much more. Considering there are about half a million teachers in Britain, this figure represents about 3% of the total. No profession likes it when these sorts of figures are put in the public domain, so while colleagues in the staffroom may criticise Dr Woodhead, each of them will certainly know one or two other teachers who are not quite up to the task. It is a shame that teachers have to be singled out all the time, but the harsh reality is that it must be done. A child’s education is too important to be left unexamined, with no attempt made to do something about it. This is not just an issue in Britain, but everywhere in the world.

In my remaining two articles, I will be looking at the effect of the school a child attends again as this is such a crucial issue. We appreciate your opinions, so please do make a comment on this blog.

In addition, please listen to the BBC podcast as it is short, sharp and very informative!

Speak to you next week.

You may find the links below useful:

Analysis’ – Do Schools make a difference ? a BBC podcast

Are private schools really 400 times more successful than comprehensives?