How to choose a High School

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With a 10year old starting Year 5 I’m apparently a little late to the party when it comes to choosing a High School. Some parents have had the little ones on waiting lists since 2/3 years old.

In my day, there was one option, the school you were zoned for. End of story. Today, in Australia we have a smorgasbord of choices from State Schools to independent or private schools. Choosing a High School turns out to be quite complex + brain taxing. So I asked for help from my sons’ friends Mum who also happens to be looking at High Schools + she is also a High School Teacher – bonus!

Here is a list of some of the things we brainstormed to check when sussing whether a High School is right for your precious little learner. It is by no means exhaustive. Assessing school options can be quite a rabbit hole, but hopefully, this will give you a place to start. You can make it as simple or complex as you like, so pick and choose the parts that suit you.

Note: Every child is different. You know your child and their learning + social needs better than anyone. You will need to tailor your questions to suit your family.

How many children will be attending?

In our case, we have two children, two years apart. Each is quite different with different strengths academically + very different interests outside of school. When we are considering High Schools we are mindful that we would prefer both kids to go to the same High School for various reasons, so when I am looking at schools I’m reviewing them not only for my eldest but also for my youngest at the same time.


What time does school start + finish? What are the school terms?

Is there a split campus? For example, Noosa State School has one campus for years 7-9 and another for years 10-12. You may need to factor that into your logistics for the next 6-8 years.

How will your child get to and fro school? For us, we will have one in Primary School heading in one direction with no bus service, therefore I need to drive them to and from school. Therefore it is imperative to have a bus service for the child attending High School. Be warned, the prices vary considerably + some are quite expensive, especially if you need your child to commute twice daily. If you need to utilise a bus service, you should ask other parents for their thoughts on the bus culture and ask the service provider what their behaviour management policy is, should any untoward situations occur.

What outside school hours activities or services are available on-site at the school? And again, how will your child get to and fro if attending a before or after school activity?

Ethos, Values + Policies

All schools in QLD at least, must publish their annual report and make it public and accessible. The reports are easily comparable as they include mostly the same information (although it seems some aspects are excluded in some reports such as School disciplinary absences). You can usually find the Annual Report on the school website quite easily.

The Annual Report gives you some good starting information including a general overview of the school, student and teacher numbers, extracurricular activities, summaries of the Parent/Caregiver, Student and Staff BCE Listens Surveys, attendance rates of staff + students, Year 12 outcomes and access to the Next Step – Student Destination Report.

These are some of the things to look for on the school website + ask during a school tour.

  1. What is the Vision statement – this can usually be found on the website or in the Annual Report. The Vision statement will give you an idea of the focus of the school, for example, are they focused on high academic achievement or individual pathways for learners? Some of the vision statements are very ambiguous or lofty, so ask the Principal what the key focus of the school is if it is not clear.
  2. Behaviour management policy – how is behaviour managed, and what is the process for children affected, those involved, parents + staff? You can ask the Principal for data relating to School disciplinary absences and see if these paint the same picture as the Parent/Caregiver, Student and Staff School Opinion Surveys. Note a high number of disciplinary absences doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad school, it may in fact show that the school is taking action to prevent negative behaviour. Either way, it’s worth looking into the schools’ history of disciplinary action and asking questions about general behaviour and behaviour management.
  3. Connected Devices + Phone Policies. Each school has their own way of handling mobile phones. This can be a contentious issue for some families, so ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable with how the school handles access to devices such as mobile phones during school hours. Also asked about the Device policies. How are devices managed, access to the internet, behaviour management relating to devices and online/digital communications both inside and outside school hours.

School Data + Rankings

Reviewing school data can take a bit of time. Because we have so many schools to choose from in our area, I decided to create a spreadsheet with the most important factors when choosing a school. You can find some good school-level information about schools on the My School website.

I found this useful for Class numbers, student numbers, other schools nearby, accessible links to school websites and a historical view of the school. If there are significant changes in results historically it may indicate a change in leadership. Ask how long the Principal has been at the school, as they play such a big role in the culture + performance of the school overall.

It is easy to search, simply choose the geographic area, sector, school type or state. In this example, I simply typed Noos into the search box, with nothing else selected.

From there scroll to find the school you would like to know more about and click the ‘View School Profile’ button to get data covering the last 5-6 years. Just to add another indicator, this view shows the ISCEA value, which is “A value on the index corresponds to the average level of educational advantage of
the school’s student population relative to those of other schools.” If you’re confused by all the ranking + rating mechanisms I highly recommend asking a school Principal to explain them to you.

Subjects + Learning Pathways

You may have an aeronautical genius on your hands, a bustling business mind or a budding sports star. These days schools offer an incredible range of subjects.

The range of subjects and how many subjects are offered as electives in junior high school were interesting to me. A school may dictate the subjects for the first 2 years, while others will allow several electives. Some schools offer electives for half a year giving students the opportunity to sample a larger range of subjects over the whole year, while others only offer electives for an entire year.

Learning Pathways such as VET, how high achievers’ are supported to progress at their pace or students requiring extra support in learning are all handled differently at different schools, so ask appropriate questions to understand how a school will suit your little learner.

If your child/ren is showing an affinity towards a VET career, perhaps a school with diverse options in these areas is worth considering. Alternatively, if your child/ren is a sporting or artistic star, look into schools that promote extra resources to excel in those areas. If your child is academically inclined, look for schools with vision statements and missions that focus on academic achievements and high ATAR scores and pathways to University.

Note the smaller the school, generally, the less variety of subjects are available due to staffing and class sizes.

Religious Studies may be compulsory at some schools. Asking questions about the frequency, content, religions covered and whether religious studies are compulsory will give you some insight into whether the school is a good fit for your family. Note in some schools religious studies is a full-year subject similar to maths or English and therefore replaces the opportunity for an elective.

Looking ahead

The whole point of doing this exercise is to ensure you choose a school that will work well for your child and set them up for a good future. When it comes to how well a High School prepares their students for the next step ie Tertiary study, VET courses or employment, a good place to find standardised information is by looking at the ATAR score of the school.


There is no such thing as a free education these days, so fees are also an element to add to your consideration mix. Schools have a myriad of fees that you need to be aware of because it’s not just the term fee + school books + uniforms. All the other fees add up and can be quite significant.

Some fees to factor into your school budget include:

  • Application fees
  • Enrolment fees
  • School fees (note some schools state the fee as a full year, others state these as per term fees)
  • Excursions
  • Camps
  • Transport
  • Sports days + competitions
  • Donation days + Fundraising
  • Books + stationery
  • Uniforms (including sporting uniforms)
  • Device fees or BYOD costs
  • Voluntary levies
  • Miscellaneous fees (yep… some websites state that as a fee type)

Parting note

Firstly thanks so much to Lisa who shared her time and insights with me to brainstorm this list of things to consider. I’m sure I haven’t captured everything we spoke about. I hope this has shed some light on some tricky little aspects of choosing a school. It is a big decision, but at the end of the day, the work we have done up to now preparing our little ones for life is what will make the most difference when they reach high school.

The topics I’ve covered above are only part of it – there are so many other subjects around friends + puberty + being a good citizen + all the changes that happen during 10-18 years of age for all children.

I’ve decided to interview a range of subject matter experts who know way more about this stuff than I do. Check out our Events Page for upcoming events that may help you navigate this wonderful parenting experience.

Post Header Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

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