Choosing a high school

Moving onto the next stage of their education can be a daunting process for both children and their parents.

This can also be a really exciting time however, and with some careful planning and organisation, lots of talking to your children and more importantly lots of listening on your part, the process doesn’t have to be stressful or upsetting.

You might find it helpful to attend an open day at a local school, or even several open days at schools in your area. It might be helpful to think of an open day or open evening as an interview. You and your child are essentially interviewing the school to see if it will be a good fit with their needs and personality. Not all schools will suit all children and that’s OK. That’s why open days exist, for you to get a flavour of what life might be like for your child.

So how can you make the most of an open day?

educate the heart

Find out all the details

First things first, find out all the details of the open days for the schools on your short list, a list that you and your child have made together. Most schools will have the dates and times on their website but if you are unsure, a quick email or phone call to the school can confirm everything for you. You can often request a prospectus to be posted to you at the same time, it will make a nice bit of bed time browsing as they are essentially magazines ‘advertising’ the school. Some schools have the prospectus’ available for download from their website but bear in mind that no doubt you will be given a copy at the open day as well.

Do your homework

Have an idea in your head what the key points about each school are. Talk to other parents and children you might know who attend the school, have a browse around the website, and flick through the inspection report BUT, go with an open mind and be prepared to change your view. It’s possible that you and your child could feel completely different about a school having visited. Just because a school has an all singing and all dancing website and a good inspection report does not automatically mean your child will be happy there. It is important to make sure you know the selling points of each school, for example, you may like a school because they use companies like GK & Partners to revolutionise the use of technology in schools.

Banish any hang ups

Are you against a particular school because of the neighbourhood it is in? Do you dislike a particular family whose children attend the school? Do you dislike the uniform? Have you ‘heard stories’ about a particular school? Put those thoughts to bed, they aren’t helpful when you are choosing a school. Your child is likely to be aware of these and might end up choosing the school they think YOU want them to go to not the one where THEY feel they will be happiest – of course we know that a child’s happiness is far more important than any inspection report! Just because the most recent inspection report was glowing doesn’t mean the next will be. Equally, if a school has a ‘good’ inspection report that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. Good is good!


Let your child take the lead

Try to avoid dragging your children around the various open days. It should be an exciting and interesting process NOT a tedious one. Let your child lead in terms of where you visit first, give them the map to see how well they can navigate their way around and don’t leave until they have seen everything they want to. If your child is rather resistant to the whole process, put the groundwork in at home beforehand to avoid wasting time on the day. Pick two or three things that they are really interested in and start with those.

If they really don’t want to visit a school you need to listen to why that is and talk things through with them.

childrens choice

Be present

We are all busy parents but walking around an open day on the phone or responding to emails is not cool! You’ve made the time to attend the open day so embrace it and switch the phone off.

do what you say

Ask questions

If you have questions then ask. Don’t leave wishing you had found something out as you are just making more work for yourself later on. The staff and pupils who take part in open days are waiting for your questions and are normally thrilled to answer anything you want to know. They are enthusiastic and ready to tell you everything you need to know.

Observe and feel

Sometimes so much can be gained by just watching , listening and feeling. How do you feel as you walk around the school? How do you think your child feels? What is the expression on their face like? Do the staff and pupils look happy? How are they interacting with each other? These are all really important things to consider when choosing a school.

Pros and cons

When you have visited all the schools your child wishes to consider, sit down and make a list of pros and cons. Are there any schools you can rule out straight away? Reconsider the list and compare and contrast until you have reduced your list to three schools. You will then normally need to pick a first, second and third choice (possibly more) to enter onto your application form, but this is something that needs the involvement of your child all the way.


Making a decision

As parents we can present the options, we can support the process, we can give our views, providing we are reasoned and thoughtful about it, but ultimately, if a child is capable of making a case for a particular school and exercising a preference we should support that.

Children do their best where they are their happiest and whilst many children can leave friendship groups and make new friends successfully, why should they have to if it isn’t necessary? You might think that school A is a ‘better’ school than school B, but ask yourself what you are basing that on. If you are just looking at results you may be missing the bigger picture and providing school B isn’t a failing school, chances are your offspring will do just fine.

Don’t over think it and don’t pile on the pressure without being able to give a good justification. School can be a difficult place for some children, but with added parental pressure your intended concern could actually make things worse.

Growing up and the early tween and teenage years in particular can be difficult. One wrong decision could make everything much harder. Chances are that unless you are moving areas then there is a natural flow of where your child can go to high school. In larger towns and cities that might be shared across two or three or more schools. If your child has clubs and activities that they attend, it’s likely that they will want to remain close to them too, so choose wisely to avoid lots of unnecessary change all at once.

Keep it exciting and keep it child centred and child focused.

moving mountains

*Originally featured on Help to Buy Cheshire*


  1. It’s so important to get the correct high school -definately has to be a join decision between children and guardians

  2. We have just put an application in for our daughter, we all had very different ideas about where we should apply. It’s so difficult.

  3. Try and go to open events a year early, when the year above are making their decisions. Then go again with your child about the time when you have to make the decision because you’ll be surprised about how things can change or how it being a nice, sunny day can make the school look great! If you like a school, then be really enthusiastic about it when walking around with your child as it can be catching!

  4. A well detailed post but I am a year later reading it as my daughter starting her high school journey in few days.

  5. This is a great post. I found with both of mine that it was like buying a house…you know that feeling you get when you walk through the door and everything just feels right. It is so important to listen to them too. They are the ones that are going to be there every day so if there is something they are not happy with, listen to them and don’t dismiss their viewpoint. #sharewithme

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