COLUMN: How parents choose the right school

Head of Anthony Gell School Wirksworth Malcolm Kelly
Head of Anthony Gell School Wirksworth Malcolm Kelly
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Choosing the right secondary school for your child is one of those times when, as a parent, you can put yourself under an inordinate amount of pressure. You know that the decision is going to affect the next few years of their life and quite possibly have much longer lasting repercussions.

I have spoken with many parents recently about the upcoming move from primary to secondary for their child. The common link in all of these conversations has been the parent simply wanting the best for their child. Many parents have told me that they find the myriad of information linked to a school’s results confusing. As someone who works with this data every day, I can empathise with that point of view. The DfE has, during the last two years, instigated large scale changes which are impacting on every child currently in school. Keeping up to speed with this change has been difficult for everyone concerned and has, I fear, added to the pressure parents already feel at the time when they have to make a decision regarding which school their child should attend.

I don’t agree with all of the changes, but I do support the move away from an attainment measure at the end of a child’s year 11, which focussed almost exclusively on the D/C grade boundary at GCSE. The new headline measure, called ‘Progress 8’, is I feel a much better way of judging how successful a school has been in developing the learning for each and every child in that year group. The progress made by a student who improves their grade from an E to a D is valued equally to that made by a student who achieves a C instead of a D, or who walks away with an A* rather than the A which was expected. In the old measure (five A*-C grades including English and maths), some schools would have been so determined to post an improved headline figure that attention may only have been focused on the student who could potentially improve from a D to a C.

The old measure also failed to take into account the starting points of the students in that school. An intake of more able students often led to a school publishing a high A*-C figure without ever adding much value to the individual students in that year group. The five A*-C measure was therefore fundamentally flawed.

So how does ‘Progress 8’ work? Well, as the name suggests, it is a figure which shows the progress that children have made across a range of eight different subjects. The importance of English and maths is retained, as both of these subjects are double weighted in the calculations. ‘Progress 8’ is shown as a decimalised figure. If that figure is 0.00 the students in that school have, on average, achieved the expected amount of progress from year six to year 11. If the figure is a positive figure it shows that the students who attended that school have made better progress than their counterparts in most other schools across the country. The higher the number, the more progress has been made.

It would be impossible to use a column of this size to help explain all of the factors that parents will wish to consider when choosing the right school for their child. I have only been able to touch on one. In order to discover more I would always urge parents to visit a school and seek answers to the questions they have about the other factors which are just as important as the exam results achieved. At least parents in this part of the country can be confident in the knowledge that they are in the fortunate position of having several good schools to choose from.