Applying for state primary schools- the agony and the ecstasy..

By 4th October 2018Blog

It is that time of year- primary school applications begin now and end on the 15th January 2019. The tension has slowly been mounting since the start of the school year and will only break on the 15th April 2019 when parents will find out how successful they have been in the postcode lottery that is school applications. I am currently doing the rounds, visiting all the state primary schools in our area for my eldest son who is due to start reception next September. During these tours, parents eye up the competition for these sought after schools and the headteacher patiently run through the application process for the umpteenth time.

  • The reality of applying for places in oversubscribed schools.

Although I have taught in state schools and have many years experience advising parents on the process in my role as a school and nursery consultant, there is nothing like experiencing the process first-hand to make you appreciate the frustrations and inequalities in the system. Some of the most popular and high-attaining primary schools in my borough have catchment areas of under 200m; In one case of an outstanding local school, this roughly translates to the two (very expensive) streets either side of the school. The truth is many of the properties on these two streets are owned by big banks and are rented out to their employees for the school application period. Things aren’t getting easier either with new data from Findaschool, by online directory reporting that some of the smallest London catchment areas diminished by close to 3% between 2016 and 2017.

  • How to beat the system.

My London borough (Hammersmith and Fulham) has one of the lowest success rates for parents applying to primary school. Last year 32% of parents did not get their first choice of school and many people I know locally did not get any of their 6 preferred choices. With this level of competition, it is all about strategy and carefully evaluating what you put as your first choice.  The most in-demand schools will encourage you to put them as your first choice so that when the waiting lists are put together you will be top of the pile.  Putting a popular school as your third or even second choice will work against you so better to keep that number 1 school in the number 1 place on your list even if you feel gaining a place is a distant dream. Since waiting lists seem to be the most likely way of entering the most over-subscribed schools, it at least means you will be placed higher then those with the school further down their preferred choices.

It is always crucial to put a primary school on your list you know you are in the catchment area for. Failing to do this may well result in you getting none of your choices and being assigned a undersubscribed school miles away from where you live. Try not to put that primary school too low either- number 4 on your list is probably as low as you should go. Putting 6 of the most oversubscribed and popular schools in your borough will inevitably lead to disappointment. If your heart is set on a particular school and you fail to gain a place there is always the opportunity to appeal- however during that appeal you will have to prove  your child has needs that can only be fulfilled by that particular school. The next best thing will be to accept the school you are given but make sure you are wait-listed for your first choice. Preparing yourself to be wait-listed means being prepared to move your child to your preferred school whenever a place becomes available- be that half way through the Autumn term of Reception or at the beginning of Year 2.

  • Admission rules

Admission rules vary between each school, though all schools will have a policy of prioritising the applications of vulnerable looked-after children in the borough and siblings of those children currently attending the school. After that, admissions get more complicated and it is helpful to know that primary schools in the UK are generally split into community and church schools and this distinction will shape their admissions criteria.

As a rule of thumb, community schools admissions will be governed by distance from the school gate, as measured by a computerised geographical information system (often resulting in minuscule catchment areas). Church schools will also take children for open places measured purely on distance however they reserve well over half of their places for Foundation applications. Foundation applications cover those parents who worship regularly (at least twice a month) at the church linked to that primary school, and have a letter from the vicar or priest to prove it! Foundation places tend to have a bigger catchment area but demand committed parents who start worshipping 2 years prior to applying for a reception place.

I am certainly sympathetic to all those going through the agony of waiting for results day and can only hope to be one of the few parents in this borough who experience the unadulterated joy of getting a place in their first choice of primary school- fingers crossed!