Secondary schools open day review: Bishop Justus

Disclaimer: These are the opinions of an opinionated person

This particular review missed an important feature of the open day. I missed the headteacher talk. So we’ll have to do that again. However there’s still a lot to glean.

We got there a bit early and the signage was unclear and we found a door and just walked inside. There were students scurrying here and there preparing for the open evening. There didn’t seem to be anyone to ask and finally saw someone who looked like staff and asked him where we should go to wait before it started. He looked entirely puzzled and unsure about the whole thing. Then a staff in the know came up to us and said, ‘You’re not supposed to be in here, it’s only for children.’ I pointed out the fact that there wasn’t clear signage and no one had given us a clear indication. She said, ‘You’re too early, that’s why.’ And with that pat down answer we were shown out to a door where we queued. Not the best start.

Now the British are known for their queues but the open day organisers made a small hash of it. The headteacher talk was going to start in half an hour and they went down the queue announcing that if people wanted to hear the headteacher talk then they had to straight to the hall before the tours. Again no signage and so what we had was people wanting to go for the talk coming and forming another queue, where the tours were supposed to start.

When that got sorted, we were asked to get in and two young people said we could go on tour and they asked where we would like to go. What? We needed to guided through the place not come on a shopping trip! Then a member of staff spotted us and assigned two other guides to us. And we were handed an application form. No prospectus and no other information.

A reader might wonder why I’ve gone on these small details. I think they count. A shambolic open day or evening could point towards a general organisational culture within the institution. Also how good the channels of communication are. However it could be a one off, which is why we’ll probably visit again.

The tour itself was good. Our guides were excellent. There was a lot on show and the departments seemed evenly matched. The buildings are relatively new, so the facilities are quite good. The music section was excellent, with a real breadth of styles and instruments.

So all that was left was the headteacher’s talk but it was after 8 pm on a weekday and it took as an hour to get to, so we spotted someone who could give us a lift and we left.

In a nutshell, the school had a lot of good energy but seemed to lack a strong structure. We’ll see what the next visit brings up.

Secondary schools open day review. Grey Coat Hospital

Disclaimer: These are the opinions of an opinionated person

Grey Coat Hospital isn’t strictly in South East London. However it has a fairly large catchment area, the Dioceses of London and Southwark. We fall just within this area so we paid a visit. And even if there is a small chance of getting in, I think it is important to have a look at all the possible schools. Its important to see what the so called good schools have what the others don’t.

Grey Coat is a 5 min walk from Victoria station. Again a fairly long queue greeted us. However they do have more than one open evening and a couple of open afternoons as well. The building that we entered was beautiful. We were ushered straight to their main hall for the headteacher’s talk.

It was a great presentation and the daughter enjoyed it as well. There was a sense of presenting not just the achievements of the school but also its soul. It is a Church of England school so possibly that is a necessity for them. We weren’t dumped with a ton of statistics though they were definitely mentioned. We got a sense of what the school was like for the girls in terms of their welcome, their day in school and all the activities that they could be part of. An interesting note that stuck with me was: “none of our girls were make up in school.” Now depending on your take that could be a good or a bad thing. From my stance I consider it a good thing and the daughter quite liked the idea as well. 🙂 Yes maybe, the brainwashing works.

A few of the students spoke. They spoke with humour and good intent and I felt I was hearing students speak rather than a pre-made speech. (It probably did go through channels to be approved but my impression was that it was genuine.)

At the end of talk in a matter of minutes they had assigned guides to a hall full of about 500 parents. The guides were good, they made sure no one was left behind and explained clearly each part of the tour. All the departments we got to visit gave me a good impression. Even though it’s a language specialist school and there is a strong emphasis on the arts the sciences looked pretty strong as well.

The students seemed to know each other and there was a sense of team in what they were doing. However we couldn’t see all the school as time ran out. We will definitely go again for another look.

I came away with the impression that my daughter could really thrive here. I felt it could give a structure for her to grow. However the journey times are an issue for us. It will take about 50 mins one way to get there. But as I said before we’ll go again to see whether it’s worth the trip.

Secondary schools open day review. Harris Crystal Palace

Disclaimer : These are the opinions of an opinionated person.

Harris Crystal Palace was the first school we went to. We got there to a rather long queue but it moved along quickly enough. We were given a fairly comprehensive pack including the prospectus and various other bits of paper. We got in and a group of us were assigned a guide to show us around the school. We very quickly lost her. She sped along without waiting for us and after the first couple of rooms we didn’t see her again. The open day was designed in a way that you followed a prescribed path and so we still saw all that there was to see.

It was fantastically crowded and the welcome pack stated that last year 3500 people had come for the open evening. So we went along this conveyor belt and saw all the bits.

The humanities section wasn’t presented that well. The science sections were well presented and looked quite popular and that seems to be one of the school’s strengths. There were student musicians at various points in the ‘tour’ and that was quite a good to way to convey the atmosphere. There were no classical instruments though, it was all guitar, bass drums, keys kind of stuff. Overall I came away with the impression of a strong science department and a good music department. The humanities didn’t seem to offer that much though.

The student population seemed to be a good mix of cultures and backgrounds. Some of the guides seemed really enthusiastic about their job while others looked bored. So a mix overall.

The headteachers talk came at the end of the tour. She spoke a lot and spoke very fast. The one sentence I do remember her saying was: ‘Do you want to take the baby out? Give it a cuddle or something.’ It was said in a nice enough way but it did sum up for me a lot of what school was about.

I felt that it was a bit of an efficient factory. That fact that they have only one open evening, that the route is entirely prescribed, that the headteacher gave us a rather large amount of information in a short time all pointed towards this efficient model of school. So though it’s the flagship Harris academy and has the best results in our immediate area, I didn’t come away with feeling that I wanted my daughter to study here.


Secondary schools in South East London

I have daughter in year 5 and a few folk said that it’s good to have a look around the schools this year as various open days clash and also if you visit over a couple of years you can see whether it is consistent.

Having now visited 8 schools I thought it would be probably be good to write down a few of my impressions. So the next few posts will be on that. I shall link them as I post.

So what’s an open day about? For most visitors it is about getting a ‘feel’ for the place. It’s a visit that tries to glean what’s behind all the results and ofsted reports. It’s that minuscule chance to try and get a sense of the space and whether your child is going to grow in this space and have some good times here. It’s also a good chance to see what the head teacher is like because that is key in how a school functions on a day to day basis.

Obviously what I write is biased from what I’ve seen in that short time but that’s what you get and decisions are made based on the bits we get to see.

The reviews

Harris Crystal Palace

Greycoat Hospital