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Choosing a secondary school for your child in West Essex

The deadline for applying for a secondary school place falls on October 31 this year, which might feel like a bad omen to some parents what with it being Halloween and all that. But thankfully for parents living in the West Essex area getting your child into a good school needn't be a nightmare. Indeed, Essex in general and West Essex in particular ranks among the country's best areas for secondary schools, both state and independent, so providing you do your homework, finding the best school for your child should be relatively straight forward.

It's widely agreed that the six top state schools in West Essex (based on a combination of Ofsted reports, league tables and parental word of mouth) are as follows:

Davenant Foundation School, Loughton
Debden Park High School, Loughton
West Hatch High School, Chigwell
Epping St Johns School, Epping
King Harold Academy, Waltham Abbey
Roding Valley High School, Loughton

Similarly, the six best-rated independent schools are considered to be:

Chigwell School, Chigwell
Bancroft's School, Woodford Green
Forest School, Snaresbrook
Braeside School, Buckhurst Hill
Normanhurst School, Chingford
Park School for Girls, llford

Whatever route you choose to go down for your child, state or independent, there's several things it would be wise to do before making a decision. Firstly, make a list of the schools you are interested in and visit their websites to find out more about the school both pastorially as well as academically and when they will be holding open days. These tend to kick off in the next couple of weeks and run throughout October with some schools only having one open day, with others offering additional ones.

In the meantime, check out the school admissions criteria and look at the catchment area. Just because you may be out of catchment for a particular school does not necessarily preclude you from getting in.

By all means check the school's Ofsted report, but treat it with a healthy dose of caution. These reports don't reflect everything that a school is currently doing and achieving. Indeed, be very mindful of the date when the report was written as in some cases it might be several years old and no longer reflective of the school's strengths and weaknesses.

It's a similar story with the school league tables where it's tempting to focus on the year-on-year change. Instead look at the value-added and expected progress figures. These measures are based upon how well the school has improved children's learning as schools will have children with different start points and therefore this is far more indicative of what a school is doing to support learning and development.

Much more useful is the parental grapevine as school-gate opinion tends to be a lot more accurate, as well as up-to-the-minute, unlike Ofsted. Ask around fellow primary school parents for those with older children in the schools you have your eye on. Also take a look at which shows what parents actually think about the school their child attends, including whether their child is happy there and if they would recommend it to others.

Now back to those open days, because the most important thing you can do is to go visit some schools (it's worth visiting a few so you can compare and contrast). For all the reports and glossy brochures, a simple visit to find out how you actually 'feel' about a school is invaluable. It's been said that choosing a school is a bit like choosing a house - you often "just know" which is right. And of course, Butler & Stag we know all about that!


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