School Admissions from a Panicky Parent’s Point of View

A mum of two young boys, Stacey currently lives in Dorset and divides her free time (!) between looking after house and home, trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) new recipes, blog writing at It Takes A Woman, writing on theatre at BrewDrinkingThinkings and spending lovely evenings with friends and family. I’m very grateful she’s agreed to do us this cracking guest post!

My eldest son is nearly 3 and a half and is going great guns at Preschool, but pretty soon we will have to start the school admission process for him to start in Reception year in September 2012. School admissions are extremely competitive in my area and, since we are in the middle of two or three years in which there were bumper births in the area, competition for school places is quite fierce.

We live in Poole, which hit the news a couple of years ago for using anti-terrorism legislation when surveiled a family who had been reported as making a fraudulent application for a school place. They were not, as it turned out, doing anything wrong as they did indeed live in the catchment for the school they applied to – unfortunately it was (and is) a very popular and successful school. So why were they reported in the first place? Was competition so fierce that a green-eyed parent falsely reported them?

I find the whole arrangement troubling – parents at our Preschool who have gone through admissions this year seem to be mostly unhappy with their allocations. We previously lived in the catchment area of a fairly unsuccessful and quite run down school so when we had to move, although we liked the area, we specifically moved to the area we live in now because the First school is so good. It seems, though, that a lot of the children at our Preschool have been allocated places at the school in our old area, leaving us with the real possibility that our children will end up there anyway. We would have leave to appeal, but that may or may not be successful.

So what do we do now? At the moment, all of the above are unspecified worries as we can’t actually apply for places until the end of the year, but I’m trying to stay a step ahead in noting what the current policies are and what the deadlines will be. Our school of choice has 90 places available but, as I said, 2007 – 2009 were bumper birth years with an average of 1600 babies born in Poole in each of those years. Several schools have had to increase their numbers to accommodate this rate but it still means that not every child will get a place at their catchment area school. The Borough, however sees its job as done as long as all children in the Borough get a place somewhere – even though this could be a fair few miles away from their home.

Given this state of affairs, I know that I can’t change any initial outcome and I know the proper channels to take should we not get the allocation that we want, but I wonder what lengths some parents might go to, to get their children into a ‘good’ school? Obviously Poole Borough Council must have believed that the parents they surveiled had gone to fraudulent lengths to get their children into a good school and only last year the previous Government announced a range of measures, including a ‘whistleblower hotline’ and door step checks to uncover suspected fraud.

I’d like to think we’ve done everything right to ensure our children get the education we want for them, but we shall know whether we have done enough by this time next year. Unfortunately, I think it’s more a case of ‘fingers crossed’ than anything else!

Wow! Our area isn’t as competitive as this for school places and if Twitter and the like are anything to do by, there are even worse areas. Is the system broken? Are you in a similar situation? I’d love to hear your experiences.



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  1. I can’t get my kids into our nearest school at all! luckily all the local schools are decent but I drive my daughter 5 miles to another school as the next nearest has nowhere to park when you have to drive… In Hastings lots of poor schools to avoid so many people sent their kids like I did to a village school if failed to get into one of good ones…

    1. That’s a lot of mileage a month! I think, us having quite a few (all good) schools within a relatively small area works very well for us, but the day will come here too when things are just as stretched. being selfish, I hope my second son gets in and sorted before that happens!

  2. Our nearest school is oversubscribed and my son is about 35th on the waiting list. There were 90 available places, 55 went immediately to siblings. We got our third choice school, which is still ranked as ‘Outstanding’, but means I will have to drive, get all 3 kids out of the car, take Z to school then take the other 2 back to the car and home. We also face in 2 years not even getting my daughter into that school.

    I think it is shocking that the council has not had the foresight to increase school places before this situation arose. They have access to birth rates, it should be no surprise that there are not enough places in our area for the number of children.

    It makes me really cross, and we will have to move before secondary school as that situation is currently the same.

    1. You’d think that the amount of time and money that is spent on appeals and what not would be better spent going on an extra teacher here and there to increase the numbers the school can take. I don’t know the ins and outs, it really isn’t a problem *touch wood* so far for us locally, but clearly in some areas the system just isn’t working?

  3. When it was time for my daughter to go to school,(high school) the 3 choices I gave where all the same! I didnt put any other choice down except the school I wanted her to go to! I gave them no option, she got in, what where they going to do? Leave her with no school? allocate her a school without my prior knowledge or consent?
    I took a risk I know, but obviously, It paid off,
    p.s our ‘catchment’ school is not the one she got into,although they are of exact distance away, one is a little more to the ‘wrong’ side of town than the other.(high school)
    Infants was different, as we moved into this area in year one,
    we have an infant and primary school on our road, but it is of a certain religion, and, it was the feeder school for the Catholic High school, which has the best reputation, however, I did not want her in a specific denomination school! she got into the infant school down the road after much pleading, she is now just 13 and doing 4 GCSE’S!!!

    1. Actually, they can allocate you a different school. They can’t apply the criteria any differently, so you just got in. If you declared no other preference and weren’t allocated a place at that school, they would have just allocated you a place at the nearest suitable school (ie a secondary school) to your home. This is what happened in Lancashire because until this year, they only allowed one choice for primary school for several years.

      And there are plenty of people who don’t get any of their preferences and no school place at all in some areas.

    2. I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that. It certainly doesn’t here. I never considered putting other choices down for Kieran, but when the form came the advisory notes said please do because if he doesn’t get the place you want, he will be allocated a place by the authority, which may not be somewhere we would have considered “second choice”.
      I’m glad you got the allocation you wanted- it makes a huge difference, but I think everyone should read their school paperwork carefully because I really think leaving alternative choices blank could backfire.

  4. OK. So let’s rant! 2/3 of the local primary schools are either CofE or RC. The nearest school to our house (and the only in reasonable walking distance for a small child) is CofE. And so people who don’t live near go to church for a year to get higher priority.

    3 years ago, my neighbour applied and didn’t get her son in. We live 0.25 miles as the crow flies from school. Initially, she was allocated a school 4 miles away but luckily got a place at one of the RC schools only 2 miles away. On that basis, I decided not to apply to the local school as we only had one choice that year. I took a bit of a gamble as we don’t have catchments here largely – they just allocate places on the basis of distance from school. Thankfully, the school we chose for our kids has not been oversubscribed – although 30 children did apply last year. (Don’t know how many did this year).

    I have a very good friend who has got her children into an excellent local community school. However, she has already told me that she has now decided to have her children baptised as Catholics (she was a Catholic herself but is not practising) purely so that they get priority for the Catholic high school when that rolls around in around 5 years.

    In my eyes, people going to church or having their children baptised are no better than the ones that lie on forms or bend the rules by renting a house in catchment just to get a place etc. The year we applied for our son, a friend of mine failed to get a place immediately for her daughter.She applied to a local CofE school, she is a lifelong churchgoer and is very active in her church, attending weekly and running groups during the week. It just wasn’t the church to which the school was attached. The ones that got priority could have gone to church a minimum of SIX times. As it turned out, she was lucky – they were top of the waiting list and a place became available before the settling in sessions started. Otherwise she was going to keep her daughter out of school until year 1 (she’s one of the youngest in the year) and find a place then.

    Things have got a bit better here recently as they have built a school on the big new estate being built since 2001. Yes, ten years to build a school. In the meantime, they all found all the church schools, played the system and got their kids in there, whilst people much much closer to the schools failed to get in. I did actually visit the nearby school and decided I didn’t like it as much as the one my kids now go to but how would I have felt had I wanted them to go there?

    I know VA schools get funding from dioceses but they are still state schools and largely state funded. I don’t see that church attendance should be that high on the priority list if it means local children are missing out.

    1. Rant away, it sounds bloody awful. Very complicated and dare I say it, perhaps not entirely fair. I really do count myself lucky that there isn’t currently the huge competition for places here that there are in other areas but I don’t kid myself, a couple of bumper baby years and it could all go to pot!

  5. Some great comments – and just the level of frustration that there seems to be in my area! A friend of mine living further north also only put down one choice for her son’s school. Luckily he got in but it’s not worth the risk in this area as if you didn’t get your first choice you would be allocated to any old school, which could be on the other side of the borough.

    Church schools are a real bugbear for me – getting preference based on religion just seems wrong to me and wouldn’t be accepted for other things – all-White schools for instance??

    The whole thing is just badly planned and with the coalition cancelling the school rebuilding programme it looks like it won’t be getting any better any time soon.

    Thanks Nicki for letting me air my concerns!!

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