When National Offers Day Yields Head and Heartache
22 February 2018

When National Offers Day Yields Head and Heartache

There is so much pressure on parents to make the 'right' choice of school, but the truth is there is no such thing as a perfect school. There will be things you like and things you dislike about it - and they most likely won't be the things that struck you on the school visits.  That said, when parents face the disappointment of not getting their 1stchoice school, panic and stress can quickly ensue.  The truth is that parents do have a number of paths they can take in the aftermath, to restore hope and sanity!

No doubt parents will have checked the admissions criteria for the schools before they applied.  It is useful to find out the reason/s your child was allocated their new school. This can help determine whether you have a case to make an appeal.  Although, your reasons for your 1st choice of school – if personally strong enough, make an appeal worthwhile. Not least for the satisfaction of knowing you did everything that you could!

Admission Criteria

All schools have an admission criteria to decide which children get places.The admission criteria is different for each school. For example, schools may give priority to children:

  • who have a brother or sister at the school already
  • who live close to the school
  • from a particular religion (for faith schools)
  • who do well in an entrance exam (for selective schools, eg grammar schools or stage schools)
  • who went to a particular nursery school (a ‘feeder school’)
  • in care or being looked after (all schools must have this as a top priority)
  • whether the school has classes of 30, (meant to be statutory maximum)

Appeal Procedure

If parents resolve to make an appeal, should they accept their allocated offer? It is worth stressing that if parents reject the school allocated for their child, the council have no further obligation of finding a school place for that child: they go to the bottom of the list and have to take whatever school places are left, or join the waiting lists. They certainly don't get given their second choice and could end up without a school place in September.  Parents that are appealing will still need to make alternative arrangements in time for the new school term, (remember that it is a legal requirement for all children of 5 years' and over to be in full time education).

Parents do have a legal right to appeal against a school place decision. When written notification of the allocation decision is received; the letter will give full details of how to embark on the appeal process and by when this needs to be done. If parents are still unsure what to do, it’s important to speak to the school, or contact the local council’s education department. When parents strongly feel that they should challenge the decision, it's a matter of having the courage of their convictions. Also bearing in mind that there are a number of practical steps to take:

  • Research the school’s admissions policy, School Admissions Code and council’s Appeals Procedure
  • Take lots of advice, there are many local community and voluntary groups that can help.
  • Be clear about what questions you need answering whilst at the appeal  
  • Be prepared to answer why the particular school is important to you/your child

Complain about Unfair Criteria

School admissions in England are regulated by the Schools Admissions Code, and schools must ensure that their admissions policy is not only fair but also transparent. If you think a school has unlawful admission criteria - contact the Schools Adjudicator, details are available on-line.

According to the government website you must do this by 30th June, before places are allocated.

 Accept the Offer

It is imperative to accept the offer, and then put your child’s name on the waiting list for your school of choice (places do become available during the year, as families move home and due to other change of circumstances. In addition, many parents don’t want or haven’t the time to transfer their child once they’ve started their new school), so the chances of getting your child into the school of choice, can increase later on. 

Accepting the offer and giving the allocated new school a chance can be given some consideration: you may find that the school has strengths in areas that were not highlighted in their Ofsted report, (or that you were unaware of if you visited the school). If you/your child are still unhappy with the allocated school, apply for a transfer. 

Other Options

Okay, so you may not have got your 1st choice school but now your child is there, do you have any options at this stage?  Yes. There are several choices including you getting involved in school life, in positive ways to improve things. 

  • Identify the areas of school life that you feel are letting your child or the school down and raise these matters with the parent governing body, (as constructive feedback to them and not a list of complaints).
  • become a parent-governor, (when a role becomes available), lots of training and support is provided to help new parents with this role 
  • join a ‘friends of the school’, if they have one
  • identify like-minded parents to establish a network of support for your children from within your group
  • If the problem your child has is due to a particular academic weakness in the school, e.g. reading, sports, maths syllabus, there are supplementary schools that your child can join for additional support. Likewise Saturday schools offer programmes to further stimulate a child that is ‘Gifted and Talented’.
  • Tutors can provide extra-curricular support
  • Homework clubs in local libraries and at community centres may provide help

Giving your child the best start in life with good study habits and the best education are the reasons parents feel so pressured to find the ‘right school’ for their children. The stakes are high. For those lucky enough to afford, this also accounts for families moving to desirable areas where good primary and grammar schools are located.  It's worth noting that a good school includes many factors such as good leadership; a strong governing body; a strong school community with lots of parent engagement; good resources; staff continuity; positive teacher-pupil relationships; tried and trusted systems and embedded school procedures.

Parents have direct and indirect opportunities to make a difference to their child’s schooling. There are many ways parents can help address a school’s shortcomings: getting involved is vital. By creating good learning environments at home and modelling good life-long learning habits, parents can mitigate school weaknesses. There are also many outside agencies such as Saturday schools to help.  The key is to clarify your educational goals for your child and identify if and how these goals are being met – or not, by the school s/he attends.  This will help determine your further course of action.

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