Selecting a school

The Good Schools Guide has been helping parents choose the right school for their children for more than 30 years. Here are our top tips and pitfalls to avoid on your secondary school application, which is due to land with your local authority by 31 October.

Secondary school applications: research your options

You can find all secondary schools in your area by using our school search You can also view Ofsted reports. exam results, performance data, catchment map information, independent reviews and much more for these schools. To get a better feel for a particular school, visit its website. Here, you will be able to read about subjects, facilities and extracurricular opportunities, download a prospectus and maybe have a virtual tour. Of course, nothing beats actually visiting a school, so look out for the dates of open days.

Trust your instinct. Parents know best what their child is like. Do you like and trust the head, and the feel of the school? Finding a school which appeals to your child’s skills, interests and personality can encourage them to work harder.

Check the admissions criteria. This should be on both the school website and the local authority’s website. If your child doesn’t fit the admissions criteria and the school is oversubscribed year on year, then look elsewhere. Siblings generally – but not always – take priority. Faith schools are often popular with parents but many prioritise children who have been baptised and are from church-going families. Many schools do not have a catchment but use distance as a criteria, which varies each year depending on local demographics and numbers applying.

Some parts of the country have grammar schools which require applicants to sit the 11+ entry exam (and often require you to register in the summer term of year 5, so check dates carefully). But state-funded academies, free schools and comprehensive schools are usually non-selective. And although some have places reserved for children with specific aptitudes, such as music or languages, all provide the standard secondary education.