/ Parenting

Catchment-22 – the challenge of choosing a school!

I’m about to make one of the biggest consumer decisions of my life! It completely overshadows any other “purchase”, including which mortgage to buy. This is the big one. Choosing a secondary school for my eldest.

And the form needs to be sent this week.

I really wasn’t looking forward to making any decisions regarding the secondary school for my daughter. For us, primary school was easy as we live opposite one – very handy when the bell has gone and kids can cross the road followed by mother carrying numerous forgotten items.

However, there’s one facet of the secondary school dilemma that’s a massive barrier for me. It’s something that we campaign on constantly here at Which?, but something that I didn’t want on this particular occasion. That something is choice.

My ideal scenario for secondary schools would be that all our kids go to the local school that’s best for them. But the reality for a lot of parents is that deciding on a school for your child includes the most complex decision-making.

The deadline’s approaching

Like millions of parents, we have to send off our form by next Monday. We’re advised to list the six schools we’d want our daughter to go, including the very important decision of which school is our first choice.

In our case, we’ve been given a large book detailing the schools in our borough. There are a lot. I’ve been left totally confused by all the various options, including ‘free’ and ‘selective’ schools, and some that offer music and sports scholarships. Thank goodness lack of money means going private isn’t on the cards, as I really don’t feel I could take any more choice.

So while I cursed having choice, I did follow the Which? rules for making good “purchasing” decisions. I shopped around, found out about other people’s experiences, didn’t rush, ignored pressure selling tactics and based the decision on what’s best for our daughter.

I’ve asked lots of parents about their experiences of these schools, and I’ve visited six of them with my daughter in the past month. One was even described as the ‘best school in the world’ (some of those head teachers were the best sales people!).

Our final pick

The result of all this “shopping around”? It’s unanimous. All of us agree on which of these schools will go top of our list. And we’re lucky, as we’d be happy with several of the others. In fact, I was genuinely surprised at how impressive I found the schools, particularly the kids who were great ambassadors for them.

I haven’t quite hit the send button yet, but I’m nearly there. Then fingers crossed until March.

Good luck to anyone else out there facing this dilemma. Let me know about how you’re coping. I’m sure that for some parents, this is an easy decision. But I know that for millions, it’s a tough choice to make by next Monday.

Have you found it hard to compare what different schools have to offer? Or maybe you have the opposite problem and have been frustrated by a lack of choice in your local area?