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What should you do if your child doesn’t get their first choice school?


Spring means daffodils, longer days and chocolate eggs, but for parents of four and eleven year olds, it also brings with it the stress of National Offer Days.

In 2016, the National Offer Day for all secondary school places was 1st March. For prospective primary school students, it is 18th April. This is where you find out which school place your child has been offered. I will be one of those parents anxiously logging on to my LEA’s website just after midnight on 18th April. What are your chances of success and what should you do if your child does / did not get your first choice school?

Local authorities arrange the applications and normally offer parents between 3 – 5 choices. Statistics actually look quite promising; last year over 80% of secondary school students were allocated their first choice of school and 95% of children were offered one of their top three. About 500,000 children will be receiving offers, so that’s about 25,000 (5%) who did not get a single choice. That’s a lot of disappointed families. Additionally, there are wide regional variations. In some areas, the vast majority of children will merrily move up to the local neighbourhood school, but in other parts of the UK, it is much more fraught. Population increases mean that there is a real fight for places. Only about 2/3 of children in London were offered their first choice of school and in Hammersmith and Fulham this figure was just 48%.

So what should you do if your child does not receive an offer of a place at a school of your choosing? The first thing to do is not to panic. Get out into some of that spring sunshine, admire the daffodils and walk off some of the anxiety. Then ask to go on the waiting list for your preferred school. Find out what your chances of success are; you are entitled to know whereabouts on the waiting list you sit.

If you applied to your LEA on time, then you are guaranteed a place at a school, even if it is not a school of your choosing. Arrange a visit to the school that you have been allocated. Try to keep an open mind. What is it you are worried about? Is is the distance? The area? Can any of these things be overcome?

If you really feel that this school is not suitable for your child, then you do have the option to appeal. This is a long and gruelling process. Primary school places are limited to 30 children per class and your only chance of a place is if you can prove that the admissions process was incorrectly followed or if you have an exceptional need. Secondary schools are able to offer slightly more flexibility, but most will understandably fight hard not to accept more children then they have space for. You will need to prepare a detailed case outlining why you believe this school is the most suitable for your child. Are there additional medical or social reasons why this is the case? Last year about 1/5 of appeals were successful.

Try to remain positive about all the options now and do not let your children know about your anxieties or concerns. Remember that whatever happens, as the leaves turn brown and summer fades away, our children will be starting at one school or another.

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I am currently working for a Pupil Referral Unit in the south, having previously taught in comprehensives in Oxford and London. My particular interests are History and (English) Literature, but as a mum of two small boys I am also increasingly interested in debates surrounding primary education in general and parenting in particular.

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