It's that time of year again...
As I look around the nursery school playground there are a lot of parents talking about which school they are hoping to send their little ones to. I was in the same boat only 12 months ago and remember endless strategic and tactical discussions with other mums in my position on how to secure the places we really wanted. But the reality is that you can only prepare so much, with schools and councils having a final say based on their own criteria.
Here are some of my top tips on navigating the process and establishing which school will fit your child best.
- Get a list of important dates. Every local authority has their own admissions procedure so it’s important to check application opening and deadline dates that are relevant to your area.
- Identify schools within a reasonable distance from your home and find out if they are holding any open days (check their website in the first instance). Some schools start this process early in the academic year, so it’s worth getting in touch with them as soon as you can and going along to see them. Remember, doing well in their latest Ofsted inspection is important but meeting the teachers, seeing the classrooms, taking the opportunity to speak to members of the school parent body and getting a feel for the learning environment are no less essential. Only that way will you get a feel for whether the school is likely to suit your child.
- If you like a school, find out what its selection criteria is based on. Some will accept children in care first, followed by those with siblings already at the school and then take those based on distance from home. But remember: the criteria will vary from school to school.
- Fill in all your choices in the application form. It’s always better to include the maximum number of choices, in order of preference, to minimise the risk of being allocated a school which is not even on your radar let alone within a reasonable distance from home. This doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get one of your choices, particularly in over-subscribed areas, but it does mean you’re doing all you can to limit the risk of being allocated a place in a school which you’d rather not have for whatever reason.
- Find out if breakfast and after-school clubs are available. If you’re a working parent, or have other commitments alongside the day-to-day family responsibilities, this could help you make your decision.
- Finally, don’t take the chatter in the playground or recent exam results as the be all and end all. There’s no substitute for visiting a school, seeing it for yourself and making an informed decision based on your research, knowledge of your child’s needs and your instincts. No one factor is more important than another. School admission procedures are straightforward, but you need to put the effort into assessing your options realistically and prioritising them in your application.
If you do end up with a school that isn’t one of your choices, firstly, don't be disheartened. Secondly, don't judge a school by its reputation. Schools can change over a relatively short period of time. A strong head teacher can turn a poorly performing school into a good or outstanding one. Equally, a supposedly good school may be performing well academically but may not share the same values as you hope for your child. If you really are unhappy with the result, however, you can start an appeal process.
This is an exciting time for you and your child, so make the most of the offers to visit local schools and talk to the school community, whether that is the teaching staff or members of the PTA. Gaining good insight will help you to make informed choices and hopefully secure your child a place at a school which will help them thrive as they begin their new adventure.
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Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.