I know that my thoughts about not taking DCs on school tours probably won't work, particularly when friends are going on tours. So I'm sure we'll end up going on the tours, but it won't be for the child to make a choice, it will be to pick up a prospectus, hear the head speak, see what colour the carpets are, find out what subjects are on offer etc. I absolutely agree with you when you say the child has got to like it and you'd hate sending a child to a school that they hated for 7 years because you hadn't listened to them.
But the point is this, are they really going to see things on one of these organised open evenings that will really help them make an informed decision as to whether they would want to go to lessons in that school or not? I really think not; OK so you hear the head talk - how many times a week in a large secondary does a child hear that? It's not like a small primary school where the head knows each child well and sees them quite often. OK, so they get to look round all the buildings - and so? How often when you are in school as a child do you see an empty classroom with no lesson going on - rarely - so what's the point of that for the child? Do you really want them making decisions based on the physical look of the building - you're choosing a school, not your next house. You meet some teachers - OK they brought out the really nice willing ones who were happy to give up an evening or Saturday morning for the Open Day - so what? You haven't seen them teach, you haven't see the other teachers who didn't show up. Secondary schoools have a massive workforce.
You see some other children looking round - might include some of their friends - so what - they might not get a place, they might go elsewhere. You hear the head boy / girl speak - so what - your child won't be in the sixth form for another five years and the school could have massively improved or declined by then, and it certainly won't be the same head boy or head girl!
I really don't see that a child can see anything at any of these open sessions that will help them decide on the school . OK the school has a great soccer team, but DS plays rugby and is rubbish at soccer -------- is this a basis on which you or child should base 7 years of schooling? Probably not.
Sherry is in the ideal position (probably) of having missed all the open days / evenings for the schools she is putting on her CAF. This places her in a great position for going to see round the schools on a normal day. Things to really look out for is what the school likes like when it is in session - peep through the little windows in doors as you walk down the corridor to see if kids look engaged, purposeful, happy or if they are bored, in uproar, or chucking things at the teachers. Walk round the corridors between lessons when all the kids are moving from place to place - listen and watch, do you like the atmosphere? Can you imagine your child in it? See if you can observe a lesson (drama teachers tend to be happiest being watched), stroll around outside during breaktime, walk through the canteen at lunchtime, stand near the bustop at the end of the day, look in the nearest shops the park and the pub at lunchtime. Talk to some staff and pupils if you can, but not the handpicked ones!
This will tell you much more. Don't let 10 year olds make decisions based on a trip round an empty school. Yes, when they tell you they don't like it because ............... take in on board of it's a valid reason and a real deal breaker, but otherwise help them reach a better informed decision. Involve them in the decision, yes, but don't let them in any way make it - certainly don't let them say no to decent schools on some whim.
Even at 16 careers advisers say that the biggest influence on children's choices is parents. These children are 10 or 11. They can see you go through a good decision making process and feel confident with your decision (though of course it's not your decision either as you may get none of the choices on your CAF). At 16 and 18 they will be making important decisions for themselves, but even then you have significant influence. Don't give up yet!