PARENTS

Secondary School Applications

02/03/2014 20:31 | Updated 22 May 2015

SchoolGetty

"Get on your knees to avoid the fees" – I nearly choked when I heard this saying, but a good friend heard it when she rediscovered God as her children approached school age.

Yes, in these days of ever-tightening purse strings, when the private option is slipping from more people's reach, it seems there's nothing parents won't do to help give their child a leg up in the schools admission process. And nowhere is this more evident than as you enter the secondary school arena. As my friend Hannah casually remarked "primary school is just playing and making friends – but when it comes to secondary school, there's nothing I wouldn't have done to get my lot into decent ones."

Scary.

Anyway, parents with children in year six will know this is the term you need to get your act together in order to secure your child a place at a decent secondary school.. And it's a whole new minefield from the days when you just trotted along to your local secondary.

These days children are coached to the eyeballs to get into the local grammar, moved in with grandparents who live nearer the preferred school and who will enable them to qualify on distance, or dragged to church and made to shake hands with the priest every week so that he can vouch they are God-fearing regular attendees.

But actually schools are also much more canny to helicopter parents bending the rules in order to engineer their offspring into high achieving secondaries, and it's not so easy. For example church schools often demand verified evidence of long-term attendance at church, or proof of baptism at an early age. Indeed if my son had been baptised after he was three months I would have been required to explain why on the application form for one school we applied to.

And government figures reveal one in six children were denied their first-choice secondary school this year, rising to half in some areas.

So what can you do to help ensure your child gets into the school of your choice? Well the two best things you can do are surprisingly simple : vow not to discuss your thoughts with other parents in the same situation as you, and look at what will be right for your child – not anyone else's.

Instead make an appointment to speak to your child's current teacher, or one who knows them well, or even the head, and spend a little time chatting to them about what might be the way forward.

Primary school head teacher Catherine Moss always has an open door for parents who have questions about the most sensible secondary school option.

'The playground is a warm, welcoming place where lifetime friendships are made,' she says. 'But I have learned over the years that it is not the forum to talk about secondary school options. What is right for one child will not be for another, but in the heat of the moment some parents can understandably be swept along on a tide of "everybody's choosing that school so we should". This is no more evident than in parents who are choosing a secondary school for their eldest child. '

And think about the logistics and practicalities of the schools you wish to apply for. Get your child to do the journey with you to their preferred school a few times - in time to get there for the start of the school day, not on a Saturday morning.

When we were applying for my middle child's secondary school last year I made her do the journey to her preferred school three times – she had to get a real feel for the commute she was putting herself up for. It's all very well driving them to look around a school – but unless they are very lucky indeed, they will be making their own way there and back daily, lugging goodness knows how many books and PE kits. And coming home in that first winter term as the nights draw in is a very different experience to being driven there in the middle of the day.

If your child is hoping to get into a selective school, and will be sitting the 11+ this term, try not to pile the pressure on. Children who pass the test can still feel they have failed, if they got the 139th highest mark in the test but the school can only take 130. Kingston-upon Thames in Surrey is famous for becoming a snarled-up traffic jam every December on two days when thousands of children descend on the royal borough to sit entrance exams for the two Tiffin schools. For every child who secures a place, there are many more who start their secondary school life thinking they are already failures because they didn't get in to the grammar school.

At the other end of the spectrum don't automatically disregard schools generally viewed as awful, and which may be on your door step. Improving schools may turn into schools with waiting lists before you know it. Often staff at such schools are quick to spot children with ability and academic potential. It could be just the golden opportunity your child will benefit from.

What should you be doing now?

Very early this term all parents/guardians of children in year six should receive an information pack from their local authority detailing how to go about applying for secondary school. This usually comes via the school. The closing date for applications is this term, so don't delay - call your local authority if you don't receive one. In the meantime check out two extremely helpful Government pages: www.direct.gov.uk and www.dcsf.gov.uk

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