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Your Free Expert Guide To Choosing The Right Secondary School

Welcome to Big School 2021-2022

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Hello, and welcome to Big School, your essential guide to the secondary school options
available in your area. 


When it comes to making one of the most important decisions in your child’s life, it is vital you consider all your options.  


It needs to be a decision both you and your child are happy with, after all, they will be spending at least the next five years there! 


Moving from primary to secondary education is a huge milestone – a step towards independence, growing up and leaving childhood behind. 


Starting ‘Big School’ can be overwhelming for some children and parents alike and the transition to the right school is key. 


Your child will flourish in an environment where they feel safe and supported allowing them to explore, develop and grow into strong, confident individuals. 


Inside this edition of Big School you will find a wealth of advice and the chance to discover what some of the region’s schools have to offer.

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  • 06/10/2021 0 Comments
    A healthy meal can help them to stay focused

    The choice between school meals or packed lunches can be on a lot of parents’ minds as the new school term rolls around.


    With so much focus on what children eat at school in recent years, it can be difficult to know what to do for the best. 


    Do you trust your child to choose a nutritional meal? Or do you send them to school each day with a lunch from home?


    For some of you the decision may be influenced by whether your child is entitled to free school meals. This is normally the case if you are in receipt of benefits such as Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit. The local council can tell you if your child is able to get free school meals.


    In recent years, schools have put a lot of effort into revamping their dinners, especially after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver highlighted the issue in 2005. He started his Feed Me Better campaign because he was appalled by the junk food being served at many schools in England. It led to new guidelines for school dinners and the Government investing £280 million on improving menus for youngsters. Now all schools have healthy eating policies, which are reflected in the menus on offer for pupils. They also cater for different diets and  allergies as well as for different religious faiths and beliefs. 


    At some institutions, improving the range of healthier options has led to increased take-up of school meals. It has also been argued that school meals provide an opportunity to encourage pupils to eat more fruit and vegetables, and to develop a taste for food that is low in salt, sugar and fat. 


    Some have cashless systems where children use a card or even their fingerprint to buy their food each day after parents have paid money into their account at the start of term. The benefits of this are that it means children do not have to carry cash on them each day. It also allows parents to monitor what their child is eating at school because they will know what  has been purchased on their account.


    Some schools have set prices for meals, while others will charge for items individually, allowing pupils to build their own meal. Many parents still choose to send their children to school with a packed lunch, especially if they prefer to eat a hot meal together as a family in the evening. Those who prefer their children to have a hot lunch and a cold meal at tea-time may prefer them to buy food while they are at school. 


    Some opt for packed lunches because it means they know exactly what their child is eating each day and they don’t have to leave it up to them to make healthy choices. 


    There are plenty of ideas online if you’re not sure what to give your child for lunch and suggestions to shake things up if they get tired of sandwiches each day.


    Some schools also offer breakfast clubs to ensure pupils start the day well and have the energy they need for their lessons.

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  • 06/10/2021 0 Comments
    Consider your travel options

    Once you know where your child will be studying next September, you will need to consider how they are going to get to school.


    Will they walk, catch a bus or travel by car? If their new secondary is just around the corner then it should be within easy walking distance of your home. But if its further away it may mean your child will be catching the bus for the first time by themselves. Or, you might find it’s easier for you to drop them off in the car on the way to work.


    If your child will be walking to their new school, you will need to think about whether they will go alone, with friends, or whether someone will walk them. 


    As the nights start drawing in, make sure they can be clearly seen when they’re walking to and from school. It’s worth buying reflective high-visibility stickers to put on their school bags. It may be that you want to accompany your child at the start until they are used to the route and you are happy to let them go by themselves, or with their friends. 


    If the school is further away, your child may be automatically entitled to free transport up to the age of 16.


    To qualify they need to attend the nearest suitable school, which must be further away than statutory walking distance of three miles for pupils aged eight or more. Statutory walking distance is measured by the shortest route a child, accompanied if necessary, can walk with reasonable safety. 


    If there is no such route, the local authority must provide free transport no matter what distance you live from the school. The local education authority or governing body will either provide its own transport, hire coaches, or provide free bus or train passes for use on public transport. 


    In some cases, a travelling allowance may be paid to pupils who provide their own transport, for example, a cycle allowance. 


    Pupils who do not qualify for free transport may be allowed to travel on spare seats on school buses for a fee.


    Your local council will be able to tell you about what transport options are available in your area and what support is on offer. 


    If your child will be taking public transport, it may help to calm any nerves by practising their route before the start of term. This will help them to get used to getting out of the door and to the bus stop on time. Whether it’s public transport or a bus provided by the council or school, its worth having a Plan B in case your child misses their lift. 


    Make sure they know what they need to do if this happens, whether they should call you or another relative, or get a taxi. 


    If it’s the latter, make sure that they have ‘emergency money’ to pay for it and that they know what it’s for and that it should be kept it in a secure place in their bag.


    GET ON YOUR BIKE AND KEEP FIT AND HEALTHY


    Another option worth exploring when considering transport to school is cycling. According to Cycling UK, cycling to school helps pupils keep healthy and fit. It also has the capacity to boost their confidence, independence and sense of self-worth, plus their navigational and   road-craft skills.


    The charity also believes cycling is a skill for life and that by encouraging as many children as possible to see it as viable transport it will help to ward off car dependency in adulthood,  and contributes to reducing the volume of motor traffic in the future. 


    If your child would like to cycle to school, it’s a good idea to consider a course like Bikeability, which teaches valuable skills, such as good road positioning, signalling and visibility and can help parents and children feel at ease on busy streets.


    See www.cyclinguk.org for more information

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  • 06/10/2021 0 Comments
    Kitting out your child for their big adventure

    From uniforms to PE kits, the cost of preparing a child for their first year of secondary school can be more than a little daunting for parents. 


    But from swapping with other parents to buying second hand, there are ways to keep the bill down. It’s been estimated that parents spend upwards of £200 ahead of the new academic year on everything from trousers, skirts and shirts to PE kits.


    Supermarkets have become a lifesaver for parents seeking to save on school uniforms with Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Marks & Spencer all offering a range of deals on basics.


    While primary schools tend to be more flexible, secondary schools will sometimes require more items such as blazers and jumpers to be purchased from specified suppliers.


    To make sure you are not caught off-guard, it’s always best to check what the school’s uniform policy requires beforehand. It can normally be found on their website along with  details of where you can buy items from. Many will have embroidered logos on the items making it hard for them to be purchased elsewhere. Also pay attention to the fine details such as the minimum length and permitted types of skirts and the styles of trousers that are allowed.


    Shoes are a regular issue for parents as schools are very specific on what is required and students will be sent home for wearing the wrong footwear. It’s better to be absolutely sure that the shoes you are looking at will be allowed before you spend the money.


    Spreading the cost throughout the year can help reduce the bill – just buy the essentials now and then top it up with other items as they are needed later in the year. Make the most of the end of season sales, consider buying your child a winter coat as the weather becomes milder so they have it ready for the autumn. You can buy it in a bigger size which gives them room to grow.


    If your child has friends attending the same school consider buying some items in bulk to bring the cost down. Take advantage of three for two offers which you can share the cost of between you to make it cheaper.


    Check Facebook to see if parents are selling any nearly new items as often children will outgrow clothing that still has plenty of wear left in it. 


    If you are still struggling to cover the cost then some councils run grant schemes with cash available as long as certain conditions are met.


    Bear in mind that your child may get involved in extra-curricular activities and there could be additional fees involved such as equipment, musical instruments and art supplies. 


    Some schools or councils will subsidise activities like music lessons to help bring down the cost for parents as they want to make them accessible to all. It helps to find out early what these may be so you can budget for them.


    School trips, while certainly educational and fun for your child, can be another strain on your finances and something worth planning ahead for. Although trips are optional, peer pressure can mean you feel you are left with little choice but to find the money. And the older your child gets, the more opportunities there will be for foreign trips which can be more costly. 


    TOP TIPS TO KEEP COSTS DOWN


    Shop during the summer: take advantage of ‘back to school’ offers during the six-week holiday as costs often rise when pupils are back at school 


    Don’t leave it to the last minute: Shopping too close to the start of term could mean you miss out as some shops will have run out of stock or have less options in popular sizes


    Cut the cost by swapping: Take to social media sites such as Facebook to see if parents are selling secondhand uniform or if you’re lucky they might even be giving away clothing that hasn’t been worn very often for free.

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