“Where is she going to secondary school?”

If you’re a parent of a daughter aged somewhere between 8 and 12, this question might be all-too familiar during the school pick up. Places in girls’ schools are competitively sought out and it can seem overwhelming, but there are ways you can work through the decision-making process.

Where to start?

“We encourage you to do your research to make an informed decision,” says Cathie Ireland, the Head of Junior Secondary School of Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew. “Go to open mornings, go on tours, and speak to students on these days if you can to gauge whether a school’s culture is the right fit for your daughter.”

Some of the factors when considering a school are more apparent: independent or government, single-sex or co-ed. But there are some aspects that may get overshadowed.

Look at the future

“You have to remember that secondary school is a journey,” Cathie says. “It might be hard to imagine your child as a student in Year 11 or 12, but what are the pathways, subjects and opportunities that will be available to them in the later years? Parents should always look at the long term, not just thinking that they will figure out more later once their child is in Year 9.”

Particularly for independent schools, Cathie recommends applying for a place by those middle primary years if you can, as secondary school offers are usually sent out during Year 4. “It’s reassuring to have a known pathway ahead,” she says. However, if you have not yet organised applications to enrol your child, it is still worth investigating your options, or joining a waitlist.

It’s easy to be dazzled by flashy new buildings or impressive academic scores, but don’t lose sight of how the school will help your daughter to grow as a person, as well as co-curricular opportunities, programs and outdoor education.

It is also important to remember that a shorter geographical distance doesn’t always mean ease of access – for instance, a school further away may be easier to travel to on a direct train line. “Consider public transport routes, as your daughter will want to be independent!”

Book a tour

Bring your daughter along to a school tour so she can familiarise herself with the surroundings, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whilst it is important that your daughter is involved in the decision making process, especially in later secondary years, Cathie believes it ultimately needs to be the parents’ decision.

“At this young age, you know your daughter best. You know her strengths and interests and you know where she will thrive,” she says. “Don’t be swayed by what your daughter’s friends are doing or pressure from the schoolyard chatter. Make a decision based on what you know about your daughter and where she will flourish, and don’t be afraid to be different!

“You’ve done the research, so you have to back yourself as a parent.”

MLC Head of Junior Secondary School Cathie Ireland with Year 7 students