From settling on a school that's the best fit to getting your head around the application process, scoring your little one a spot at school can feel pretty overwhelming - but it doesn't have to be super-stressful. From where to start to making an appeal, we’ve got it covered. You’ll be taking that ‘first day at school’ snap before you know it *sob*
Do your research
Have an idea of where you would like your child to go to school well in advance of the date the forms need to be in. This way, you can get to grips with each school’s admission process and criteria in plenty of time and scout out the pros and cons of each.
If you want to know all the details about each school, have a read of their Ofsted reports to find out how it’s judged by inspectors.
Get to grips with each school’s admission process and criteria in plenty of time and scout out the pros and cons of each
But while Ofsted is a great guide, it's not the only thing to consider. Check out websites ask other mums with older kids if they have recommendations. At the end of the day though, it's up to you to decide which school will suit your child the best – and it may not necessarily be the one with the best academic results.
‘Ask yourself: Would my child suit an academic or more nurturing school? Does the school have a clear school philosophy? Is it what you think of as most important? It's also worth reading through school newsletters – just from the tone you can get a feel for the place,’ says Elena Dalrymple, editor of primary-school education website TheSchoolRun.com.
Plan a visit
Visit as many of the schools you're considering as you can - just call and ask about open days to make appointments the September before your child is due to start school.
‘To get a feel for the school, visit in person, chat to the teachers and watch the children learning and playing,’ says Elena. ‘You might have heard gossip about what a school is like or read its Ofsted report, but nothing is as important as looking around yourself.’
‘In the classroom, look at the displays,’ says Elena. ‘Are they showcasing recent work? Are they interactive and inviting the children to have a go at doing something? It's also worth asking about after-school clubs – extra-curricular activities can make an enormous difference to what your child will learn and experience at school and also can indicate the teachers' enthusiasm and commitment.’
If you aren’t able to visit your shortlisted schools, arrange to meet up with some parents of pupils already at the schools to pick their brains.
Know how and when to apply
Start looking into primary schools for your child before his fourth birthday, as most schools have reception classes for four year olds.
You’ll need to apply for three schools during the autumn for a place the following September – the deadline is January 15. Missing your preferred school’s deadline can mean your little one is less likely to get offered a place, so make sure you submit your application in plenty of time. Most councils now ask you to submit your application online, but each individual one decides how they would like this done so do check with your local authority.
It’s up to you to apply for your little one's place, by contacting your local council’s education department for the forms to fill in.
Understand the allocation process
Primary school classes can only accept a maximum of 30 pupils, so prepare yourself for the possibility of not getting accepted to the school you love.
Children in public care are given priority and there are other criteria that apply, including:
- Whether you live in the catchment area will make a difference. This isn’t always how close you live to the school (it can be a designated area), so check with the school before applying to see if you apply. Remember, catchments for some areas, especially London or other cities, can be as small as 0.1 miles if you live near a popular school.
- If you or your child have a disability or special needs that makes travelling difficult you will be given priority.
- If you already have a child at the school, then your pre-schooler will have more of a chance than other children.
- Your child’s faith will be a factor if you’re applying to faith schools. Priority is given to kids who have the same faith as the school.
Don’t leave it until the last minute to apply as you may need additional forms and birth certificates – and you don’t want to scramble around for them on the last day.
Don’t leave it until the last minute to apply as you may need additional forms and birth certificates
Faith schools often have their own forms to fill in and may also ask you for a reference from your priest or other religious minister to conform that you regularly attend a relevant place of worship. Some faith schools have a certain number of places allocated to non faith students, so check each one individually.
Play the waiting game
It takes a few months to hear whether your application was successful, so in the mean time, try not to worry and be patient. You’ll hear from your local council on April 16th to see if your child has got a place. If you don’t get your first choice school, you can stay on the waiting list. Call the school to ask them to keep you on it as well as the council and keep in touch with them to see where you are on the list as people do drop out.
Don’t be afraid to appeal
If your child doesn’t get a place at any of the schools you applied for, don't panic: contact the council to ask which schools still have places.
You can appeal the council’s decision if you think reason for refusal wasn’t fair. You can take a look at the school admissions appeals code here. If your appeal goes ahead, you’ll be asked to attend a hearing either at the school or at the council’s offices and will be given at least 10 school days’ notice.
How did you find the school application process? Let us know in the comments box below.