Attend Open Evenings and arrange a visit to the schools you are considering: try to visit during a normal school day. These visits are usually held in the summer or autumn terms just before applications are completed. You can find out about them by contacting the school directly or you may see an insert in the local press.
You may wish to consider taking your child on a school visit or to an Open Evening, this is a decision that only you can make as children will vary in their reaction to this. A child who stammers who may worry about changes may benefit from being involved, particularly if he has never been in a secondary school before.
Some ideas to explore with staff on your visit to the school
Many things go together to make a good school with happy pupils. High staff turnover may mean the school is unsettled. Very low turnover may mean the staff are happy but the school could be set in its ways. Small things such as friends being put in the same class can make a big difference to children. Good leadership generally means a good school.
Are the new intake given the opportunity to take part in an induction programme before the school term starts in September? Does the school organisation offer support to the individual pupil? Is there a pastoral system whereby a tutor has responsibility for a form group, with support from a Head of House or Year, so that even when the school is very large your child is known well by a number of colleagues? Can parents meet with the staff likely to be most involved with their child, such as the form tutor and the Head of Year before their child starts?
Does the curriculum appear to be well supported by the school provision - Science laboratories, specialist subject rooms, and Sports and Performing Arts facilities? Are these well maintained even if the building is old? Exercise is important for all children but are less 'sporty' children encouraged? Is there opportunity for pupils to take part in performances and would your child be encouraged to do this if he wished, even when stammering?
Some parents and education experts have different views about education. Teaching children in mixed ability classes is common in state secondary schools in Year 7 with setting by ability introduced at some point for academic subjects. Independent schools often set by ability from the start. Academic selection and the value of homework are all issues that people feel strongly about. Most schools will have a clear homework timetable appropriate for each year group.
Is the school inclusive - is there evidence as you go round of an appreciation of diversity with books and work sheets that are non-sexist and non-racist? Would the school be prepared to include a reading book for pupils that had a character who stammered if you recommended it for the library? Is this important to you?
Are social times/breaks seen positively? Is there a range of activities going on or does one activity dominate? Have supervisors had training, particularly in managing episodes of teasing and bullying? Is there an opportunity for lower school pupils to stay in their own social areas as many of them may find the older pupils' presence intimidating? Does the school offer an extended day e.g. an after-school club? How are children's views taken into account? Is there a school council?
Schools can have healthy eating policies - has this school one? Does the food in the dining room look fresh and appetising? Do many pupils leave the premises at lunchtime, if so are there any concerns locally about their behaviour?
Do parents have any say in how the school is run? What does the school do to involve and inform parents? How does the school report to parents?
Use your eyes and ears. Is the school inclusive, welcoming and well cared for? Do staff and pupils seem happy? Evidence of an exciting approach to learning should be clear as you go into classrooms, look for effective displays of pupils' work and that indefinable sense of quiet purpose and co-operation that will provide an environment which is encouraging and yet offers challenge. Notice how staff speak to pupils during lessons, do the pupils seem attentive and responsive; do staff listen with interest to their answers? Are senior pupils encouraged to give support to the younger ones, through a buddy system for instance, particularly when they first start?
Are you encouraged to see the whole school? Check the library. Is it well used and has a wide range of books? Are the cloakrooms and toilets clean and well maintained? Check the walls and notice boards, particularly those in corridors. Try to see the movement of pupils down corridors at the end of a lesson, is it orderly? Is pupils' work on display? Are there notices for parents? Check the school gate and the playground. Don't be put off by large groups of older pupils as long as they are behaving - remember your child will be one soon!
Is there a cloakroom or lockers available so that heavy bags do not need to be carried around all day by pupils? Note how secure the building is as you arrive and leave, you should be reassured by the entry procedures.
Support for your child's stammer
You need to discover when visiting the school exactly how staff will offer support for your child's speech. The best teacher to meet with about this is the teacher responsible for special educational needs (SENCO). Discuss the support for your child's speech. Ask about the staff's experience/knowledge/training in stammering, links with therapists and whether there will be a key staff member, such as the form tutor, to whom you can communicate your worries and who will contact you. If the school has a child who stammers on the roll you could ask if those parents could be contacted to give permission for you to talk with them about the support their child has received. Check if your child will be able to go to a particular adult if there is a problem: in secondary schools this is likely to be the form tutor or the Head of Year or possibly a classroom assistant. Many schools have home-partnership agreements and you should enquire about this.
You should be given the opportunity to meet with the staff that will have the pastoral responsibility for your child before he starts at the school. Most schools provide this by arranging a special evening for new parents and you can take this opportunity to emphasise again the speech needs of your child and make sure that the form tutor or an appropriate colleague is able to offer support to your child when he needs it.
Children who stammer need to feel safe from bullying, and to be supported by staff and pupils so that their achievements are appreciated. Enquire about the policy on bullying and how it is dealt with. Make sure you are happy with the approach adopted. Look for evidence of the recognition of achievement in wall displays and for a sense of inclusion.
If staff have no knowledge of stammering there is no need to be alarmed. You should discuss with them how they could access this information from the therapist, and the BSA. Simple strategies to meet your child's needs in the classroom are available at BSA:Education
Add any points you think important to your list. Then draw up your final list of schools for your application form(s).
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Text for this page: Step 4: Visit the schools you are considering and get the whole picture
Text for this whole section: Choosing a secondary school