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Will they enthuse, inspire, encourage?

Don't rely on league tables  - look beyond the headlines. Check-out our detailed analysis of results for English state schools to uncover how well a school does for a child like yours. Whether the most able, least able or Annie Average, what matters is how enthusiastic the school is about teaching and developing a child.

Academic performance and results

Top of the class or could do better? There are no right or wrong answers - but award 10/10 and you may well have found your ideal school.

"Enlightened approach re setting - 'We don't have an ideology' we look each year at what will work best' - and parents praise the flexibility of pupils moving up and down as appropriate. "

Extracted from The Good Schools Guide review of Drayton Manor High School

  • How good is ‘value added’? Value-added measures the improvement in pupils’ performance over the years. If a child enters school with an expectation they will attain all C grades at GCSE (based on their Sats performance) and then does, no value has been added (clearly, the lower the expectation, the greater the scope to add value). 
  • How does overall value added compare with the national average? Is this consistent over all subjects or is the good news all in one or two areas? (We carry this information for state schools, and much more, on school's data pages, available to subscribers). 
  • How does the school monitor progress? The best will use regular tracking integrated with the value added system, which allows the school to pick up under-performance quickly (within a term). If this is working well, it will result in lots of happy stories about pupils rescued and enthused teachers. 
  • What about pressure? Are they loaded down with homework from the off? Or do some spend the first few years coasting whilst others catch up? In some selective schools, in particular, pupils put immense pressure on themselves. How does the school deal with this?
  • Is it all work and no enrichment? Do they get out to visit galleries and museums, on geography field trips and language exchanges?
  • What subjects are popular at A level? Is there a strong gender divide, with boys doing maths/science whilst girls do arts and languages?
  • What languages are genuinely on offer - and how many take them – at GCSE and A level? One or two exotic foreign languages are more likely to imply a cohort of overseas students than a diverse offering for your offspring.
  • How are pupils grouped? Setting? Streaming? Mixed ability? Vertically? Horizontally? Or a mix of methods? There is no one right answer – but the school should be able to explain its policies.
  • Homework - how much, how often? Is there a homework club pupils can attend? Is homework supervised - where, how? Is additional help available from tutors or subject teachers via email? How is homework monitored, recorded and reported? Is there a holiday reading list or holiday homework? Ever? Never?

Providing extra help - talented children may require curriculum flex; the gifted and those with special educational needs may need curriculum enhancement. Mainstream schools that do well by children with SENs are often excellent places for all sorts too – the systems of individual attention and understanding that support SEN pupils mean that any child in any trouble is picked up quickly and dealt with sympathetically.

If your child has particular needs, discuss them with a cross-section of staff, ask how they can help and monitor reactions.  A good school will educate your child holistically, not just patch up the bits they view as in need.

  • Expert help? Does the school have special help on tap for learning difficulties? If so, how much help, in what form, and (at an independent school) at what cost? Will an independent school fire misfits/slow learners if they don’t shape up quickly? Do they eject those who don’t achieve specific grades at GCSE?
  • Asked to leave? What happens next? If pupils are encouraged/forced to leave, how well are they supported? Are they given lots of notice, and experienced help in finding somewhere else?
  • Does the school expand horizons? Is there a programme of activities or special classes for gifted, talented or able children?
  • Flexibility or rigidity? Will the school adapt its timetable or arrangements for an especially talented child?
  • Are they alert to different teaching and learning styles? Are they willing to try different methods to meet your child’s needs?
  • Do they view children with SEN as invariably less able? Beware of those who talk down children with SEN, and be wary of any school that proclaims it doesn't have any children with special needs.
  • How do they manage children whose first language is not English? What proportion of children receive EAL support? How are they helped to integrate? Does an independent school charge extra for EAL lessons? 

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • What are school league tables and do they matter?

    League tables have caused a lot of agony and misunderstanding. As raw statistics, they are more or less meaningless. You will observe, for a start, that results swing wildly according to which newspaper you happen to look at. Among other things they don’t tell you: the pupils’ IQs, school policy, examinations taken or quality of education overall.

  • When to put your child’s name down for a school

    A handful of schools literally demand that you apply for a place as soon as your child is born, which means it’s never too early to start planning your child’s education. In fact, it’s a process that can start even before you’ve conceived – and that goes for all parents, wherever they want their offspring to go to school. From embryo to 18, read on to find out how to survive the education highway. Our lively look at education planning for children of all ages and their parents aims to guide you through the schooling stages in both the independent…

  • National Curriculum for 14 to 16 year olds

    It's not only the type of qualification you need to think about; the subjects you opt to study at 14+ can have far reaching consequences on A level and beyond. Careers and university options may seem like distant dreams, but it's important you check out advanced course requirements now to ensure that your options will enable to you take the courses you want at A level and university.

  • Flexible working - what rights do parents have?

    Parents of children with special needs may need to take more time off work than others. What are your rights to flexible working? What kind of working hours are you entitled to request? How can you challenge an employer's refusal to allow flexible working?

  • Sixth form: EPQ (Extended Project Qualification)

    An EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) is a sixth-form qualification that involves students choosing a topic, carrying out research, creating a report (or ‘product’ and report) and delivering a presentation.

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