Tuesday, 24 April 2012

So what can you do if you don't get the primary school you wanted?

Photo credit - msegura
All throughout April, parents of children who are due to start school in the next academic year have been nervously waiting to find out which school has a place for their child. By the end of this week, I think pretty much everyone in England should know their fate.

Whatever you read, the majority of parents do get a place for their child at their first choice school. It varies a lot according to the local situation but most areas have sufficient places.

But what if you don't? Although it didn't happen to me, I can imagine it's pretty gut-wrenching and upsetting to find that you haven't got the school you wanted. It can feel like the end of the world, probably made even worse by others getting what they want.

It isn't the end of the world. There are various things you can do. Please remember I write this as a parent and it is stuff I learned from the experiences of others I know who went through similar. It's just suggestions and tips. Always check local arrangements with your local authority.

Do you appeal?

Most people's reaction  is to consider an appeal. Others are likely to recommend it, and it seems like your opportunity to put your case. However, you do need to think carefully before you appeal as it is not straightforward at all. What complicates it is the law says that infant class sizes (basically, the first 3 years in school) cannot be greater than 30. If a school is already full and classes are already 30, an appeal is likely to fail although there are a few exceptions that will override the law. These require you to prove that you would have got a place if the admissions process was properly implemented - in other words, they made a mistake at some point, or that you would have got a place if the admissions process had followed the School Admissions Code. The other exception is that refusing you a place was not a decision that a "reasonable authority" would have made. All of these require some effort and can be quite hard to prove unless you are sure a mistake has been made. It is possible to do, but the hearing might not be until the summer, and the result not known for a few days after that. If you can prove your case, they will have to award you a place, even if the infant class size is exceeded.

The decision whether to appeal is very personal. Many decide to appeal, then find out what's involved and withdraw. What does happen is that the admissions body will send you all the information relating to your appeal before the hearing which gives you time to prepare your case or decide whether to take it further. At a hearing, the admissions body will be given chance to state why they didn't give you a place, then it will be your turn to do the same. Your case will need to concentrate on the decision to refuse you a place. Personal circumstances (unless this is something you were relying on in your original application) will not be taken into account. I can ramble on about this for hours so if you want to know more, please do get in touch with me.

Is there anything else you can do if you decide not to appeal?

The first thing to remember is that you do not have to accept the place you've been offered if you really don't want it. The local authority will provide you with a list of schools who do have places available. It's also worth contacting the school(s) that didn't offer you a place and ask for your child to be placed on their waiting list - there will be a lot of movement as people decide they don't need the place,  move areas or even emigrate. The school will place you in the list according to the same admissions criteria, but they will also be able to tell you what position in the list you hold. Most schools will operate waiting lists until the start of the school year but some keep them for longer.

Even if you are putting in an appeal, it is worth putting in some effort to go and see other schools, whether that is the school you've been offered or others that you've been told have places available. Because there may be a number of parents in the same position, you'll probably be given a deadline to express a preference for another school and then you will be told if you have a place. Having a place sorted out is a good insurance policy if your appeal is not successful, and it's worth noting that doing so will not affect your appeal. It may mean that your child starts settling in sessions at a school they ultimately don't attend but it is probably better than not doing so.

If none of these avenues provide any joy, you may take the ultimate sanction of not accepting a place anywhere. Remember that, in England at least, no child has to attend school until the term after they turn 5. Even with the oldest children in the year born between September and December, that means they don't have to go to school until January. A January to April child wouldn't have to start school until after the Easter holidays and any child younger than that wouldn't have to start school until the start of Year 1 (although they will miss Reception altogether if this is the case). In that time, it is very likely that a place will become available at a school that suits you. Alternatively, you may decide to home educate which is another topic in itself. I know little about it but people like Jax who home educates her children know a lot more than me.

If your child does start at a school that you're not totally happy with, remember that nothing is forever.You may begin to feel very differently about a school once your child is a pupil there, especially if they settle in well, are happy and seem to be doing well. Places at other schools can become available at any time so even after a school stops operating a waiting list, they may still contact you to ask if you want a place or you can keep in touch with them. The decision to move a child is another personal choice and will very much depend on the child. Generally speaking, younger children seem to adapt better than older ones, but if your child took a while to settle at school and is now happy, you may feel that it's not worth the upheaval of moving them again.

What if you're applying next year and this post terrifies you?

For a start, don't panic. As I said at the start, the majority of parents get their first choice; many more get one of their top choices and are happy with what they are offered. There are a few things you can do to improve your chances of getting a fair outcome. Take care because you will hear a lot of anecdotes from parents of older children of what worked for them but things are very different now (and anyway, they may have worked for them than for the reason they suggest).

First, use all your preferences when applying. Some people still believe that only applying for one school will guarantee them a place. Some thinks it underlines how much they want that school and that the local council will HAVE to give them that school. This is not the case. If you only apply for one school, you'll be treated the same as other parents. If there is no place available for you, the council will find you a place at the nearest available school, which could be a long way from home if places are at a premium, or it might not be a school you're happy with. The way to have some control over your destiny is to apply for as many as you're allowed - the minimum is usually 3 but some areas allow more choices to be made.

Secondly, talk to the schools and understand their admissions policies. Most voluntary aided faith schools (and academies) will have their own admissions criteria which are different to community and voluntary controlled schools. Faith schools usually give top priority to those who attend a local church regularly or those who have their children baptised. If you haven't looked already, it may already be too late to start attending church as the qualification period usually ends in the September before you apply. It may not be a problem but a school will be able to give you an idea how likely it is you could get a place without it. Personally I wouldn't attend church for this reason, and if you're the same, this may affect your decision whether to apply to such a school if it is usually oversubscribed. Also, if your local authority operates catchment areas, understand how they affect you and your choices - applying to an oversubscribed school from out of catchment may be risky and may become even harder when it comes to applying for younger siblings, especially if they are not given priority over children in catchment area.

Next, don't discount any school until you have seen it for yourself. I can't stress this enough - only you know what suits your child and no-one else can judge if a school is right for them. Keep an open mind throughout.

Finally, don't panic. If it doesn't work out for you, then come back to this post next year.


My final thought is this - everything will turn out alright in the end. If it's not alright, it's not the end. Not getting the place you'd hoped for is not the end. It's just the start.

Good luck!


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