Things to consider when choosing secondary schools
If you’re looking beyond your local public secondary school, it helps to think about what’s important to you and your child.
To do this you can look at which schools might best suit your child’s personality, strengths, needs and interests. You can also consider how different schools:
- match your personal values and preferences
- meet your family’s practical needs
- compare on factors like size, classes, facilities and so on
- support children’s academic development
- communicate and build relationships with families.
The questions below can help.
Most government (or public) schools have enrolment zones. This means that for your child to be able to enrol, your family must live within a certain area around the school. Out-of-zone enrolments are sometimes possible. If you’re interested in government schools outside your zone, contact them to find out whether they’re enrolling children from outside their zones.
Personal values and preferences
This is about looking at the fit between your family’s values and the school’s culture:
- Do you prefer public or private education? Are the facilities or subject choices a consideration?
- How does the culture of the school match your family’s values – for example, uniform policy, attendance, emphasis on academic achievement, compulsory weekend sport and so on?
- Do you want your child to attend the same school that you attended or have a different experience?
- Do you want your child to have a religious education?
- Do you need to send your child to boarding school, or are you interested in distance education or educating your child at home?
- Are you interested in a particular teaching philosophy – for example, Steiner or Montessori?
- What school does your child want to go to, based on primary school friends, opportunities provided by the school, career aspirations, motivations and so on?
What if your child wants to go to a school that doesn’t have a good reputation? You could look into what the school’s reputation is based on – fact, opinion, old or new developments, and so on. And most importantly, you could consider whether the school’s reputation will actually affect your child if they attend the school. In the end, your child’s school needs to match your family’s values and give your child plenty of opportunities to achieve in their areas of interest and strength.
Most families need to consider practical things like how children will get to and from school:
- Do you live in the same government zone as the school you’re interested in? If not, does the school take enrolments outside this zone?
- How do things like the location of the school, cost or difficulty of travelling to and from the school, and public transport options affect you?
- Are the school fees and other costs affordable?
- Are there any scholarship programs, and is your child eligible?
- Does the school require students to have devices like iPads or laptops?
- If you have other children, is it important that all your children go to the same school?
- Where are your child’s friends and classmates going to secondary school?
What if your child wants to go to the same school as their friends, but this isn’t your preferred school? It’s important to take your child’s views into account, but your child isn’t mature enough to make the decision themselves. If you decide to stick with your choice of school, you could ask around to see whether anyone your child knows is going there. A familiar face can ease the transition for your child. You can also help your child stay in touch with old friends.
School factors: size, classes, facilities
It can help to compare different schools’ sizes, class arrangements, facilities, extracurricular activities and so on:
- Is the school small or large? What size is likely to suit your child best?
- What facilities does the school have to support your child’s learning and development – for example, a library, outdoor spaces, music programs, clubs and sporting teams?
- What extracurricular activities – sport, art, music, drama and so on – does the school offer? What are the time and costs associated with these?
- Does the school offer extra support if it’s needed – for example, English as a second language (ESL) classes, literacy and numeracy support programs, and support for children with additional needs?
- How well does the school support children with additional needs, if your child has a disability, developmental delay, autism, chronic health condition or other need?
Academic results and requirements
A school’s academic record is one of the factors that can influence how well your child will do at secondary school. If you want to look into a school’s academic record, these questions can help:
- Has the school improved its academic results over the past few years? What about its results in other areas like the arts, sport or community engagement?
- What are the school’s admission procedures and entrance requirements?
- What study paths are available at different schools – Higher School Certificate, senior secondary or state-specific Certificate of Education?
- What languages and elective subjects does the school offer? How many subjects are available in the senior years?
- Does the school offer extension or accelerated learning programs? If so, what are the selection criteria?
- Is a selective entry school an option for your child?
You can use My School to find out about a school’s senior school outcomes and national assessment results. Some states and territories might have websites with information about the academic records of schools in that state. You can also meet with the school principal to talk about the school’s overall academic performance. Just remember that a school with lower academic performance can have other benefits that might make it a good choice for your child.
School communication and connections
Good parent-school relationships can help your child get the most out of their education:
- What opportunities are there for parent and family involvement with the school?
- How is communication between home and school managed?
- How is the school connected with the local community?
The questions above will help you identify what’s important to you and your child in a school. Once you’ve done this, you can find schools that meet your needs and enrol.