This post is a bit of a warning blog to all those mums that have 3 or 4 year olds who are due to start primary school September 2016. You might be casually looking at primary schools before you have to submit your application in January. You might not be giving it much thought at all. I’m here to say “WAKE UP!”
The warning is this: You cannot make assumptions about receiving a place at primary schools anymore. Gone are the days when in the 80s as a child like me, you just “went to your local school.” Primary schools now have a legal limit on the amount of children they can take in Reception classes. As most parents investigating school applications know, “the rules” of who is given priority varies ever so slightly according to different county councils. Most non-church schools follow the similar process of our council (Essex) –
1) “Looked after children” are given top priority – this covers all adopted as well as fostered and children with special needs.
2) Siblings of children who are already at the school are prioritised next.
3) Finally you and your eldest child are considered, and all on the basis of who lives nearest to the school.
The reason for the warning is that there are now a higher rate of competition for school places. Higher rates of immigration, higher birth rates and the on-going housing crisis, means that there are now more families and children than there are places in schools.
This time last year, I was excitedly considering the school application for my eldest daughter. We live 0.3 miles and less than a 10 minute walk from our local school. All of our friends and neighbours go to this school and to be honest I was very complacent about the entire process. I naively assumed that we would get into our local school. I visited just one other school as a possible back up but didn’t give it much thought at all.
That’s why it was such a complete and utter shock when on the 16th April, the results were announced we discovered that not only had we not got into the local school but we hadn’t secured a place at any of the other 3 choices either.
I can look back now and realise that I spent the following weeks in utter shock and disbelief. I’d been severely ill just weeks before that fateful April date and to receive this news on the back of it really did hit me hard. I spent the entire summer planning the appeal and worrying about what to do but in the end nothing could be done. We’d been out-foxed by the huge number of siblings that were applying to the school that year as well as a few “looked after” children. What really affected us though was the number of new housing that had been built in our village which immediately took priority in those families gaining places to the school, as they were deemed nearer as the crow flies. The small local Victorian school was just overwhelmed by the number of people who had applied and we had to accept our unlucky fate that for the first time ever despite living so close to the school we would be allocated to a different school 2 miles away. I am now one of those mums on a school run, driving 4 times a day which I never wanted to be.
What Can You Do
- As I’ve mentioned, a lot of this entire process is already pre-determined by factors outside of your control. I guess my warning to you is to be prepared. Go out there and look at as many schools as you can even if you THINK you have a good chance of being accepted into a certain school. Ask lots of questions including what the sibling rate of the new intake should be. Schools have a good idea about who at their school has siblings and should be able to give you a fair percentage rate. I realise now that I was never given a proper answer to this question from my preferred school. Check out this comprehensive list of other questions you can ask primary schools by Sian at The Mama Story.
- Get a good feel for back up schools even if you do have your heart set on one particular favourite. Religious schools often have an extra set of criteria in their admission procedure. Some of them frequently take church-goers from their nearby area over siblings or distance of house to school. Is this something you would consider?
- Find out from your local council which school is accepting the “bulge” for your intake year. We were not accepted by any of our 4 choices of school and was allocated to the school assigned for the “bulge” of which I was barely aware. Be prepared to find out what your bulge school is and investigate them as a possibility.
- Keep your ears and eyes open. Listen to what other local people are doing and where they are going. You never know when you might rely on this information. I spent months preparing my appeal case and counted on local information to determine whether the local school had made any mistakes. (They had. Unfortunately, whilst it helped one of my neighbours in a similar position, it didn’t help me to win a place).
I hope this post hasn’t scared you off to much! As the statistics mention, over 90% of parents do gain a place at one of their 4 choice of primary schools so I think we were definitely in the minority. 7 months on from that fateful April day, I am gradually coming to terms with what has happened despite still feeling a bit rejected by our community. Whilst our eldest has had some issues with settling into “big” school, this is nothing to do with which the actual school, it’s more about her anxiety about the transition. If nothing else, I’ve been really impressed with the level of teaching and the way that the staff have eased and continue to help my daughter settle in. Good luck!