Start researching local state schools two or three years before your child is due to apply. Check inspection reports and exam results in Parent Power.
Visit schools you are interested in more than once. Meet the headteacher and ask about their ambitions for your child and whether you can observe one or two lessons. Ask about the quality and age of the teachers.
Ask parents whose children have been accepted at the schools you are keen on for honest feedback about them.
Ask teachers at your child's primary school for recommendations. If your child is sporty, make sure the school caters for the sport(s) your child likes. Ask about extracurricular activities such as drama and music clubs.
If the state school you are applying for is a grammar school, consider whether your child will need tutoring for the entrance tests. Good private tutors get snapped up quickly, so enrol your child early. A year's worth of extra private lessons may be needed.
If the school you want is an academy or comprehensive, check the entrance requirements early. Secondary schools can have feeder primaries, religious criteria, catchment areas and entrance tests. Don't get caught out.
If one of your choices is a grammar school, ensure you have a safe back-up on your form to avoid being left with just a sink school place offer.
Check whether the school has a sixth form or only caters for children aged 11-16. Having to change school at 16 can be disruptive.
Ask how much homework is set in the first year and what percentage of last year's sixth-formers were aceepted at Russell Group universities.
If all else fails, consider opening a free school with like-minded parents in time for your younger children.
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