School Open Days allow parents and children you visit secondary and grammar schools while they decide which school they would like to go to after Primary School. In Northern Ireland some schools have tests which P7 pupils have to attend. These assessments can be different for each school – some are multiple choice, some are straight question and answer papers and most are held on Saturdays in the winter.


Before you, as a family, start to decide which tests to work towards you will get the chance to look around the school and read our tips for making the most of a school open day.

What to expect at a school open day?

Normally the day will kick off with a talk from the Headteacher. Listen closely to what they value in the school. Is their speech all about academic achievement or do they consider sports and other achievements equally? Also remember that the Headteacher, or indeed any teacher, may move on in a few years so things might change. Don’t pick a school based on one individual as they may move on.

After the Headmaster’s speech you will normally be split into groups and be taken around the school to view different departments and meet teachers. Look out for anything that captures your child’s interest and try to make a point of visiting departments which will be important to your child. For example if your child loves sports then check out their Physical education facilities, if they are artistic let them take a look at the Art department.

Talk to the teachers. Ask about practical things like class sizes, methods of discipline and pastoral care. The switch from Primary to secondary school is a big step and most school have designated people who are there to help new pupils settle in.

Look at the work that is on display – does it show a wide range of ability? Does it encourage all the pupils to show individuality or is it set piece they have all copied out. Compare the work to the sort of work you child is producing at primary school, would this school encourage their abilities?

Talk to the pupils that you meet. Ask them what their favourite subjects are and why and encourage your child to talk to them too. Pupils will be on their best behaviour and will be able to tell you how they enjoy day to day life at school. Are they positive or do they have a negative view of classes.

Get a list of after schools activities and think carefully any of them cater for your child. Also look into the prices of extra lessons such as musical lessons or sports as additional costs can turn up later on.

Don’t forget that you child will have the opportunity to leave school for college or transfer to another school after they do the GCSE’s. This may be an option if your child struggles with the transfer test and they flourishes when they get to school. Lots of secondary schools now have a college. Find out if they offer tradition AS levels or NVQ style courses in more vocational subjects.

Try to have fun. It is a big decision and with the additional stress of attending transfer tests it is important to include some fun when your child visits the school. Get involved with the activities which have been arranged and  try not to be negative about anything until your child has been able to think about it for themselves.

Also when you are at the school check out all the little things. Find out where the pupil pick up points are, or where the bus drops them off. Look out for the school uniform and suggested shops to buy from and ask a pupil what items are actually essential – often things such as jumpers, scarves, kitbags are all optional which may save you money when you are getting organised.

When visiting a school it can be easy to get overwhelmed or even bored as you visit classroom after classroom but let your child enjoy the day and help them decide which school is an option for them. In Ballymena we have lots of great grammar school and wonderful secondary school which will cater to your children’s needs. Each school will have their own focus and unique selling point so take the opportunity to go along and see which is best for your child.