Competitiveness in the educational marketplace often tempts secondary schools to give slick presentations and glossy publications to prospective parents. However, there may be a large gap between a school's frontline rhetoric and the reality of your child's experience as a pupil. So, here's a checklist to help parents on the look-out for a secondary school: Don't dismiss the rumours you hear about a school. Listen carefully and look into them. They may well be true.
Look closely at the children already in the school. Watch them arrive and leave. Their manner will tell you a lot about what is happening inside the classrooms. Do they arrive on time? Do they seem a little worried if they are late?
If the school claims to have a uniform, check who is wearing it. How many children are disregarding the dress code?
Beware of smooth-talking headteachers. Don't believe everything they tell you.
Beware of getting caught up in the headteacher's plans and dreams. They may not be just around the corner.
Read the prospectus carefully and question the headteacher about the content. Does he or she actually know what it says about the school?
Don't be put off by the distance of the school. After three months, distance may becomes the least of your worries.
Make informal enquiries before you go to a prospective parents' meeting. Be prepared to question the headteacher if you feel what is said does not correspond with what you have seen.
Ask to visit the school at a time other than that organised for parents. Ask to be shown around by some children.
Finally, boost your confidence by going on an assertiveness training course.
Roger Hancock and Jill McGinley are two London parents