Choosing a secondary or post-primary school

Just like when you were choosing a primary school, there are lots of things to think about when deciding which school to apply to next.

While some considerations are similar, others will be given extra weight in the context of secondary and post-primary school and there will be some completely new factors to take into account. Plus, this time round, your child is likely to be more involved and have a much stronger opinion!

Starting the process 

You can apply for a secondary place when your child is in Year 6 in England or Wales, or Year 7 in Northern Ireland, but parents are welcome to attend open days, (usually in the autumn) the year before. 

In fact, if there are grammar schools in your area, it’s definitely worth looking at schools the previous year, as then you can decide whether you want your child to sit the 11+ exam in England or transfer test in Northern Ireland and allow plenty of time for preparation if so. You can find out more about this in our About Schools section here.

Attending open days the year before also means you can make a comparison when you visit again. This is particularly helpful if you’re in England and considering a school with an Ofsted rating of 3 requires improvement’: you can judge for yourself if the leadership team have been able to turn the school around.

What to consider 

Depending on where you live, when you take into account distance and transport routes, the reality is there may not be very many schools to look at. You’ll have a catchment school and your child’s primary school will be a feeder’ for one or more secondary or post-primary schools, which means pupils are more likely to move up to those schools. These are both good places to start your research.

Type of school 

Don’t consider the reputation at this stage, just think about whether you’re going to consider grammar, comprehensive, independent or faith schools in England, and grammar, non-selective, all-ability or independent schools in Northern Ireland. You can find more information on the different types of schools here.

Admissions policy 

You’ll find an admission policy and prospectus on most school websites. Nearly all schools base their admission criteria on catchment area and the distance as the crow flies’ between your home and the school, with priority usually given to siblings. 

In England, your local authority’s website will allow you to search and compare local schools and it might also provide details of how school places were allocated in previous years. This lets you see how oversubscribed a school is and how far away anyone who has been allocated a place out of the catchment area lives.

Subjects and teaching 

The school’s prospectus will give you an idea of which subjects the school specialises in so you can consider whether these match your child’s interests and talents. Which languages do they offer? Think also about what sort of teaching style and atmosphere will suit your child. Does your child need to be pushed in a high-achieving school? Or could a school that’s on the up, with a motivated team of teachers, be just what your teenager needs?

Results and ratings 

Look up your shortlist of schools on your local authority website or on if you’re in Northern Ireland and compare their exam results and inspection reports. In England, you can also read Ofsted’s Parent View survey, which can be found here and compare Progress 8 scores. These measure how much progress pupils make between the end of KS2 and the end of KS4. 

Additional opportunities 

Secondary and post-primary school offers your child the opportunity to learn about more than just academic subjects. There are often clubs and societies on all kinds of topics and the school may also arrange trips and residential visits such as skiing or foreign exchanges. Find out what’s on offer that might interest your child.