Fighting For A School Place

Fighting For A School Place

Fighting For A School Place

Jenny Booth discusses what to do if your child has not got into your secondary school of choice

On National Offer Day, 2 March, parents will be nervously scouring their inboxes for the vital email from their local authority, with the news that will shape their child’s future. But when the result finally drops, what if the child hasn’t got into the school they wanted?

It’s a situation that is becoming common, thanks to the “baby bulge” passing through London’s schools putting pressure on school places. Last year a third of London families did not get their first choice school, compared to 20% nationwide, and 8% failed to get any of their top three. More than 1% – 7,000 London families, including some in Merton – faced the worst case scenario and were awarded no school place at all.

But you have choices. Assuming you’ve been offered a school, the easiest is to accept what you’ve been given – often a place that you haven’t even visited. “Go and look at the school and talk to the pupils. You might be pleasantly surprised,” said one former appeals panel clerk who now advises parents, via the Society of Education Consultants.

Second is to fight an appeal. Start by poring over the school’s admissions policy. If you are lucky, the council has made a mistake – eg, miscalculating the distance from your house – and your grounds for appeal are simple. If not, you must build a case showing why this school is more suitable for your child’s needs than their offer school. Maybe your child is sensitive and loves art, but has been offered a hearty sports academy with no art block. Ask doctors, social workers, tutors and psychologists to write letters backing you up. Gathering evidence is laborious, but there are education consultants and lawyers who will be able to advise you. Fewer than half of appeals succeed, but you have shown commitment and can stay on the waiting list.

Third, if funds allow, is to consider private school. When time is short, education consultants can help you to choose and apply. Many private day schools are oversubscribed, but waiting lists are often shorter than at popular state schools. Your child will most likely need to sit the entrance exam and attend an interview but the process can be more flexibly accommodated. If you can afford boarding you may find there is no waiting list, as schools can struggle to fill places at £11,500 a term. Once you’re in, you can snap up a day place when one becomes available.

Fourth, you could home school your child while you wait for a place. Home schooling is a huge commitment in time and energy, requiring a special parent: child relationship and a lot of organisation. If it works, it can enhance your bond with your child, and there are a growing number of organisations to help you. Or you could hire a tutor to cover the months until your child is offered a place at the right school.

For a few parents, failing to get into the school they want is the trigger to give up on school-based education altogether. Appointing a permanent tutor who travels with the family means that they are free to spend the winter skiing in the Alps, and the summer sailing on the Med. “We’ve had several children who have got into Cambridge after being tutored,” said Adam Caller, the founder of private tutoring firm Tutors Internationl.

Four Things to Do at Once

When the news is bad, you need to give yourself options.

1. It goes against the grain but you should accept the school you have been offered, even if you don’t mean to send your child there. This is your backstop, and will not affect your chances of getting into your favourite school.

2. Call the admissions officer at the schools you really want, to ask where you are on their waiting list – you should be listed automatically – and how far up the list the school has taken children in previous years. This will give you a realistic idea of your chances. If you are 2nd or 3rd you need probably do little but wait for a call to say a place has opened up, but if you are at number 72, you will need a plan B.

3. Be nice to the admissions officers, as you will be calling them repeatedly asking for information.

4. Register your intention to appeal at all the schools you’re interested in – the deadline to register closes quickly. You may not follow through with the appeals, but you will have the option.