Parents of children in year six are about to embark on a rollercoaster ride of discovery as they search out the right school for their child. It's a thankless, frankly terrifying task which they need to give their absolute attention to over the coming weeks.
In brief, there are certain things you should do to enable your child to get the best chance of attending the school you want for them. You need to:
Understand the process.
Collect information about schools you wish to consider.
Consider certain facts when selecting which schools you will choose.
Learn how to apply for a place (you list between three and six preferences depending on where you live). Most parents will be sent an information booklet via their child's primary school very early in this new term
Return your Common Application Form (CAF) on which you list all your choices to your local authority and return it by a certain date (sometime this first half-term, ie, before the end of October 2010);
Wait in turmoil until 1st March 2011 when offers will be sent out by post. (You may also apply on-line now through most local authorities, which means you will be able to see on-line either late on 1st March or very early on 2nd March what your offer is.)
Luckily there is a government website where you will be able to find practically everything you need to know.
What's more you can access your own local authority from this website and apply on-line, so it really is quite a simple process. However the main thing is not to be caught out with the deadline – they vary between local authorities but in general it will be the end of this October for paper applications and slightly earlier for those applying on-line.
Other important things to consider include the following: the fact that faith schools usually ask for a written reference from your priest or other religious minister, that schools which use a banding system to make sure they admit pupils with a range of abilities may ask for your child to sit a test, and that grammar and selective schools will require your child to take a entrance test. The recession has increased the number of children applying for these places - 1,314 boys sat the 11+ to get one of just 140 places at the hugely over-subscribed Tiffin School in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey this September. So think very carefully about building up your child's hopes for such a school place.
Once you've decided which schools you wish to apply for – and if you are sure you fulfil each school's admissions criteria - you list your preferences in order. If your child qualifies for more than one school on your CAF, you will be offered your highest preference – so think very carefully about how you rank your choices.
In the event of there being more applications than places the school will apply its published admissions criteria. These will be found in the school's own prospectus and possibly in your local authority's handbook which will be sent to you this term.
Sadly it's not a dead cert that your child will be awarded a place at one of your preferred schools. Indeed government figures reveal one in six children were denied their first-choice secondary school this year, rising to half in some areas.
If you don't get a place you want, you can appeal to an independent panel against the decision. Details of how to appeal will automatically be found in the letter you receive outlining which school your child has been offered. The letter will also give you a deadline for when you must appeal.
The Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) is a national charity that provides advice and information to parents and carers on a wide range of school-based issues including admissions and appeals. Hopefully you won't need to contact them, but they are a good starting point if you do need help.
So there you have it – a gallop through the admissions procedure. But don't despair – as with so many things in life, it will probably all work out in the end. You just need to keep your nerve.
More Parentdish articles: How to choose the right secondary school for your child
Top tips for what to look for when visiting prospective secondary schools