Selecting the Right Schools for Your Children
Selecting your children's schools is one of the most important things you will do as a parent. It came as a shock to me to find that ideally I should have been thinking of the secondary schools they would attend when my eldest was about two years old!
Trusting to Luck
Based on my own experiences it is important to plan ahead. My son went to a very good infant school. I must admit this was more by luck than judgment though as we happened to live in the catchment area of a good school.
For junior school luck once more played a part. After visiting local junior schools we felt one school we visited suited my son more than any other in the area. Again more by luck than judgment we were granted a place at our chosen school. Luck came into this because his year had a fairly low birth rate and in another year we wouldn't have managed to get anywhere near the school of our choice.
And Then the Luck Ran Out
At that point our luck ran out! Fair enough I hear you say. It sounds like we had already had more than our fair share. The majority of his friends were due to go to a different senior school than the one our son was destined for. The school where his friends were going was also a more suitable school in our opinion. Therefore we made the same decision that thousands of other parents make. We decided to move into the catchment area of the school.
By leaving it more or less until the last minute we found little choice in the housing market. There was also added pressure to complete the move as well. Therefore planning ahead should make the process easier in the long term.
The mistakes I had made were to consider that all schools would offer roughly the same standard of education and to underestimate the importance of moving up through the schooling system with a settled group of friends.
Many of you may be reading this and wondering what on earth I had been thinking!
Finding the Right School
So when considering you own children's education I would recommend mapping out the schools that you would like to attend long before they spend their first day at school. In my opinion the easiest way to find out about the quality of your local schools is to ask other parents. Be careful how you interpret other people's opinions though because a school that is suitable for their children may not be right for yours.
The next step is to get some more detailed information on the schools in your area and see how their performance measures up. There are three ways you can do this online. The first is to check out the websites of individual schools. You will find these vary in quality. Some have very few details while others tell you everything you need to know. The second method is to visit the Ofsted website. You can read reports on all the schools in your area Ofsted Reports. The third resource are the performance tables for schools in your area. These give you detailed information about the levels of attainment each school has achieved. These can be found at: Performance Tables.
Finally and most importantly visit the individual schools. This should give you a chance to meet key personal and often you will find yourself touring a school during the school day. This gives you a true insight to how the school operates. Visiting the school will give you the best opportunity to understand if it is likely to be suitable for your own child.
How Are Places Allocated?
Once you have put together a shortlist of schools the next step is to find out how to get a place. Schools have a fairly standard set of criteria for allocating places. At the time of writing the majority of places are given out to those living closest to a school. In many parts of the country priority is given if a brother or sister already attends.
Some schools, especially secondary schools may have there own additional rules as well. For example this could be granting a place to a child who performs well in an academic, sporting or musical challenge.
Each school should be able to provide you with a list of criteria used to decide whether or not a place is granted.
One problem parents face is that rules can change. What's more they can change suddenly. At the end of February 2007 it was announced that schools in Brighton were to offer places through a lottery system. This raised the possibility of children living near to one school being refused admittance and having to attend a school much further away from their home.
How Do I Apply?
Applications can be made online or via a paper form. The paper based forms are available from local authorities. Follow these links to: apply for a primary school place or apply for a secondary school place . Deadlines are usually in October. Makes sure you check the deadline for schools in your area and apply on time.
What Happens If You Don't Get a Place?
There are two actions you can take. The first is to join the waiting list for the school. The second is to appeal. Be aware that the appeals process can be very competitive. There are companies and individuals with experience of the appeals system who offer help and guidance for a fee. Even if you decide this is not for you, you may find yourself up against other parents who have taken this course of action. Therefore it pays to think your appeal through thoroughly and to be as well prepared as possible.