Bronte families are fortunate in the excellent choices available to them of senior schools. In or close to Gravesend, there is a range of first class schools, including Mayfield Grammar School, our nextdoor neighbours, Northfleet School for Girls, Gravesend Grammar School, St John’s Catholic School and St George’s Church of England School. Close by are the Dartford and Medway schools, and, slightly more distant, the Wilmington, Bexley, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge schools. In the independent sector, Cobham Hall, King’s School, Rochester and Gad’s Hill School are the nearest, with schools in places like Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Maidstone and south east London slightly further afield.
Choosing a school can sometimes be relatively obvious, depending on where one lives, but is rarely completely straightforward. Staff at Bronte are available to assist with advice and guidance, to assist families in a process that can often start early in Year 4 and which usually – and hopefully! – comes to a conclusion during Year 5.
There are few hard and fast rules for this process, but one reliable recommendation is to ensure that you pay one or more visits to whichever schools you are considering, at least one of the visits being with your son or daughter. Open days are a good opportunity for visiting, and it is often possible, especially in the independent sector, to arrange a private visit, additionally or as an alternative. When you walk around, you and your children will gain a “feel” for the place. Actually, this is quite a reliable indicator – not 100% of course, but pretty good! It is extremely helpful to meet the head or deputy: just by virtue of the office, a head inevitably has considerable influence on the school’s values and approach. If there is ever a serious matter to resolve, you need to know you can do business, as it were, with the head and senior staff.
Entry to academically selective schools (Grammar Schools, some independent schools) has the obvious hurdle of some form of assessment exam, and you will need to get a feel for the level of this. There is little point in your child being somewhere where they feel they are struggling all the time to keep up. That said, sometimes it can be worth aiming for a level that is quite a challenge for child. It very much depends on him or her.
Reports of inspections from OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) and ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) can provide useful information about what inspectors saw as the strengths of a school and about any areas they felt needed improving.
Finally, and probably most importantly of all, your children are likely to have their own views about their senior school. Occasionally these may be based on factors which perhaps reflect lack of maturity or experience. Usually, though, a young person’s views about his or her own senior school are very well thought through. It is, after all, they who have to go to the school!