6 Key Decisions You Need To Make About Secondary School
6 Key Decisions You Need To Make About Secondary School

6 Key Decisions You Need To Make About Secondary School

No sooner have children settled into junior school and you’re suddenly thinking about the next step. But a move to senior school involves several important decisions – like do you choose a local day school or go further afield? Is co-ed the right choice or is single sex better? With so many factors at play, we thought it worth asking two education experts to weigh in.

Private Vs. State

In 2023, there are 1,754 private schools serving 562,166 students in England – 431 of which are boarding schools. According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) Census, all private school fees vary by region, however, most pupils attend day schools with an average fee of £5,218 per term which equates to £15,655 per year. By comparison, boarding school fees average £12,344 per term. So, what do you get for such a hefty bill?

“Small classes, longer school days, space for extra-curricular options and time to take part in them,” says Melanie Sanderson, managing editor of The Good School Guide. “Finding equivalent provision in the state sector is hard, if not impossible, and if something comparable exists, chances are it comes with huge demand, tricky admissions criteria and a pricey catchment area.”

There are various forms of assistance that can help with fees, namely scholarships and bursaries, and according to the ISC, a total of 180,524 pupils currently receive help – which represents 34% of all private school pupils. The value of this help also totals nearly £1.2bn, an increase of 4.8% since 2021, but it’s worth questioning whether any sacrifices will guarantee the best outcome for your child.

“Opting for the fee-paying school which specialises in sport, arts, academics, or all three is attractive for those who can afford it,” adds Melanie. “But in recent years, families are starting to question whether shelling out for private school might actually count against them in the future. For example, there’s been a reported reduction in the number of privately educated pupils going on to leading UK universities – something attributed to improving standards at state schools as well as university admissions focusing more on undergraduates coming from less privileged backgrounds. It might not be the guarantee parents believe it is – so it’s worth weighing up whether your child’s future lies at university or not.”


Day Vs. Boarding

Not many people know there are roughly 40 state boarding schools in England. “Compared to fees at independent schools which can be upwards of £40,000 per year, state boarding schools are comparatively good value – mostly somewhere between £10,000-£18,000 a year. Parents are charged for accommodation costs only because tuition is government funded – as it is for all pupils at state schools,” says Melanie.

That said, there’s more that goes into this decision than just money. “Who is driving the day versus boarding conversations?” asks Jo Heywood, director at education consultancy Heywood de Ferrer. “If your child is pushing for boarding and you have reservations, try to listen and remember it is their education. Think about the distance from home, whether boarding suits your family’s working week and the opportunities outside of the classroom – plus, is your child emotionally resilient enough to board? Have conversations with them about the implications, both personally and for the family, as well as the advantages and disadvantages, and explore all options together before making a decision.”

While day school ensures the family are together every day, the disadvantage is that everyone’s time has to be very well planned. “Travel to and from school, as well as to and from extra-curricular activities, can take out so much of a day, even though the advantage is your family unit stays together. Boarding schools take advantage of that extra time to provide on-site opportunities for students, such as evening lectures, orchestras, drama productions, sports matches and of course, extra time to study. It’s not on the parents to ferry children between all of these activities.” 


Single Sex Vs. Co-Ed

Some children thrive in co-ed environments, and some don’t – and the same can be said of single sex schools. “The arguments for and against are out there and I would advise you research them well,” says Jo. “Start by creating a separate list of what you and your child would like to see in their ‘perfect’ school. Combine the lists and go from there. You never know, single sex versus co-ed may never even make it onto their list.” Beyond academic performance, it’s worth considering how each school approaches health and well-being, too. “With an increasing number of young people suffering from poor mental health, I ask questions about how these schools plan to support students.” To work this out, visit the school and see how they react to this question. Also, ask current pupils questions at an open day about how much the boys and girls socialise, how the houses are linked and what interactions are like. 


Local Vs. Long Distance

A long commute is likely to affect your child and may contribute to tiredness – but if it’s a good school, it could be worth it say the experts. “Long commutes can work if you and your child are organised,” says Jo. “Effective time management is essential, though, and it can be a wonderful time to learn vocabulary, listen to audio books, read around different subjects and watch TED talks.” Also, look into the transport options that are made available by the school. “Both day and boarding schools usually offer this service – some pick up on a Monday morning and drop back on a Friday afternoon.” 

Alternatively, if you choose a local school, your child may be able to enjoy a more manageable walk to school, they’ll have friends who live close up,and a local community to feel part of. You may also find you’re more likely to attend school events and get to meet other parents in the area.


IB Vs. A Levels

This is where understanding your child’s strengths is key. “If they are a bright all-rounder then consider the IB Diploma (IBDP). However, if areas of strength are starting to show, A Levels may be a better choice,” says Jo. “IB allows for breadth in the curriculum while A Levels allow for specialisation a little earlier.”

IB students need to successfully complete six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level, which include two modern languages, a humanities or social science subject, an experimental science, mathematics or computer science, and another subject including the arts. In addition, they complete a two-year course called Theory of Knowledge (TOK), write an Extended Essay, and take part in Creativity, Action, Service (CAS).

By comparison, A Level pupils study three or four academic subjects in depth. There are no compulsory subjects and you can study any combination. They are studied across two years, but you can study a subject for only one year to achieve an AS Level. According to the University Admissions Officers Report in 2017, 94% of admissions officers believe A Levels prepare students for degree level study while only 56% believed the IBwas able to develop pupils accordingly. However, 94% of admissions officers say the IB develops good independent inquiry skills, compared to 49% who believe the same of A Level students.


Specialist Vs. All-Rounder

If you’re child shows special talent or ability, you might want to consider a school that can support them properly. “Specialists schools have strengths in certain areas – for example, drama, music, art, fashion design and sport,” explains Jo. “Students will study the full quota of GCSEs and A Levels, but with opportunities to expand and explore these areas of strength through extra-curricular activities. Some have links with establishments like RADA and Parsons, so it’s worth finding out what relationships exist to help your child progress.”  

These schools like to attract students who will thrive – but they can be highly competitive when it comes to admissions. “Often there will be scholarships on offer and to access these, students will need to attend days that assess their abilities,” Jo says. “The more a student can prove their abilities through musical grades, competition results, art portfolios, the higher their chances of being invited to a scholarship day.” 

If your child is set on following a certain career, a specialist school might be the right choice. But what happens if they go to a specialist school but don’t develop as predicted? “Schools are good at communicating with parents,” Jo explains. “Students will be assessed regularly and parents will know if their child is not meeting expectations. At this point, interventions should be put in place by the school to support the student and discussed with parents. Things should not come as a surprise to the student or the parents. If things do not improve, questions may then be raised about if the school is the right place for the student – however, this would be after every other avenue has been explored.”

For more information visit GoodSchoolsGuide.co.uk & HeywooddeFerrer.com

DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at info@sheerluxe.com.

The Parenting Edition from SheerLuxe
Delivered to your inbox, quarterly