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How To Apply For A School Place In England

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Your involvement in the school placement lottery in England begins in earnest in the year before your child is due to start in primary or secondary education. Many parents will have begun their investigations long before this, sounding out schools and other parents about catchment areas, child preferences, reputations, and the general desirability of each educational establishment in question. Before you get bogged down in leagues tables and OfSted reports there are a few things you should know about how the application system works.

Understand Local Authority Autonomy

While central government do publish certain guidelines that schools have to follow in their selection processes for each new intake, each Local Authority has a fairly high degree of autonomy in how it interprets those constraints. Get hold of a copy of your Local Authority booklet that explains how the application process works in your area. The booklet is available via your child’s primary school, the local town hall or library, or your Local Authority website. You can also contact your Local Authority Education Department direct for advice and guidance.

Launch an Information Gathering Exercise

Make it your mission to discover as much as you can about the schools you are interested in and details of their individual admissions processes. Just as the Local Authority can interpret government guidelines, so each individual school can, to varying degrees interpret those of the Local Authority. Make no assumptions and base any decisions you make on a clear understanding of the facts. Many schools hold open days for prospective parents and students. You can also ask around you friends and neighbours for their personal experience and insight.

Adopt a Realistic Approach

Most decent schools will receive more applications for places than can be satisfied. Each school will, therefore, operate its own over-subscription procedure to choose which children will be awarded places. One key aspect of the central government School Admissions Code is its insistence on priority being given to children in public care. Other over-subscription rules vary by school, but may typically include:

  • A designated address -catchment area in which all children are automatically granted a place
  • The Sibling effect – where a child who already has a brother or sister attending the school may be given a degree of priority
  • Faith criteria – this applies only to Faith Schools, who operate a curriculum with a focus on a specific set of religious beliefs, such as Catholicism. Children who can prove they are practising the specified faith may be given priority over those who are not
  • Disability considerations – if a parent or child has physical or mental issues that demand a close proximity to school
  • A straightforward lottery draw once key admissions criteria places have been filled
  • An entrance exam – this applies to selective schools. Grammar schools are the obvious example here. Entrance criteria in selective schools tends to favour those children who can demonstrate exceptional academic abilities

Although the old ‘catchment’ area rule is no longer infallible, there is a general understanding that closer proximity to a school improves your chances of securing a place for your child. Beware however, as the rules can change annually in some local authorities. In short, few children are ever really guaranteed a place at a given school.

Complete your Application in Good Time

How To Apply For A School Place In EnglandYour Local Authority publishes an annual application form for all the schools in your area. This can be completed online or in hard copy. The forms tend to be simply laid out and you are required to list out your schools in order of preference. Selective schools, faith schools, and those with other very specific criteria may require additional forms to be completed. When completing any application keep in mind the entrance criteria and over-subscription rules of your selected schools.

Deadlines for completed applications can vary by Local Authority, but you will normally have to apply for a place in the Autumn before the September in which you would like your child to start at the school. It is important not to miss the deadline. Places are generally confirmed in the following March. Nursery and primary schools may provide forms for you. If you have not been offered documents directly you are expected to obtain them yourself.

Keep it Honest

In recent times some parents have been tempted to lie about their living arrangements in order to stand a better chance of securing a place for their child in their chosen school. Spot-checks are often carried out and any child whose place has been offered based on deliberately incorrect information may have their right to that place removed.

The Results Are In

If your child is eligible for a place a several of the schools you selected you will be offered a place at the one your ranked most highly in your application. If there is no place available at any of your chosen schools the Local Authority must offer you a place elsewhere. If you are unhappy with the school place your child has been offered you have the right to appeal.

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About Cally Worden

About Cally Worden

Seasoned freelance writer Cally Worden lives with her family and dog in a quiet corner of rural France. A love of the outdoors, and a fascination with her children's ability to view life with fresh eyes provide the inspiration for much of her work. Cally writes regularly for various websites and UK print publications on subjects as diverse as parenting, travel, lifestyle, and business, and anything that makes her smile.

Website: Cally Worden

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