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What to Do When You Don't Get Your Choice of Primary School

My husband had checked the email very early in the morning. I had laughed when he read out the name of a school that I'd never even considered, assuming that he was joking. This soon turned to total shock. Not only had we not gained a place at our first choice of school, but we hadn't gained a place at the other three choices either.

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On Monday 18 April, thousands of parents all over the UK will be waking up to discover if they have secured their choice of primary school for their child. A bit like getting exam results, some will be relieved and delighted. Others will be slightly disappointed and perhaps a small minority will be in shock, howling with complete disbelief.

This was me a year ago. My husband had checked the email very early in the morning. I had laughed when he read out the name of a school that I'd never even considered, assuming that he was joking. This soon turned to total shock. Not only had we not gained a place at our first choice of school, but we hadn't gained a place at the other three choices either.

Shock, Upset and Fury

I spent the day in tears and utter shock. We live just 0.3 miles away from our first choice of primary school. It is less than a 10 minute walk away, all of our friends and neighbours who live in our nearby roads send their children to this school and I'd naively assumed that we would be joining them in sending our eldest daughter to this school too. I'd even been TELLING her about going to this school when we'd walked past it!

We bought our house expecting to walk both our children to the local school, sent both girls to the local pre-school, forged links with the local community and then we were being told that it was all for nothing and that I'd have to drive my kids two miles away to another school where she would know no one.


So why had this happened? What had gone so disastrously wrong that for the first time ever we had been the first family that lived so close to the school but who had not obtained a place?

Siblings. Children with older siblings already at the school understandably take priority. We had been completely unlucky in that a huge proportion of last year's intake had older siblings.

Adopted Children. Whilst I agree that fostered children and children in care should definitely take priority, I don't agree that adopted children who have permanent parents should also take priority over other children. Last year adopted twins who live 2 miles away in another village secured a place before us.

Housing. The biggest problem that is affecting the competitiveness for primary school places up and down the country is the development of new housing. I understand that new housing is vital, but it is being built at such speed with no real thought to the supporting infrastructure including doctors, transport and schools. I truly believe that this problem will be exacerbated every year unless something drastic is done to address the problem. Despite living in the centre of our village for 2 years, children living in houses built last year on an estate outside of the village were giving precedence for places at the school because they were classed as being nearer "as the crow flies."

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What to do Next

If you find yourself in a similar position to me, there are two courses of action that you can take to try and obtain a place at your preferred school.

1. Waiting List

2. Appeal

1. Waiting List

• This is your strongest case for getting into your choice of school. When the waiting list opens, (the admissions department at your county council will tell you when this will be, you may have to wait an agonising couple of days), be sure to phone and request to be put on the waiting list for ALL of the schools that you want to be considered for.

• You can ask to be put on the waiting list for other schools outside of your four options and bizarrely, you will be judged on the original criteria (i.e. using siblings and distance rather than putting you automatically to the bottom of the waiting list).

• Be prepared for the long haul. Phone the admissions department to find out where you stand regularly but understand that you can move DOWN as well as up the waiting list. I was near to the top of the list, but to my disbelief and outrage went down two places on the list when two other families moved into the area. This is because they either moved nearer to the school than me or had older siblings that were already at our preferred school.

• You tend to remain on the waiting list until Christmas and then you have to request to stay on it. We are still on the waiting list for our preferred school.

2. Appeal

• Let me be honest with you, very few appeals are granted. This is because councils are bound by the law to not exceed the legal class size limit which in most primary schools is 30. Some primary schools which are very old and small may have an even lower restriction. You will need to build independent appeals for each school that you want to be considered for.

• If like me, you want to go ahead with the appeal and give your best shot at getting your preferred choice then you will need to do research. You will need to read up on all the primary school admission documents and school admissions policy legal documents in order to quote it back in your appeal. I practically turned into a solicitor last summer, spending hours reading and researching documents. You will have to submit a written document and later on, in the summer, you'll be invited to present your case before a panel of judges as well as the school. This is scary stuff, but the judges are independent and will be looking to back the parents up.

• There are three main areas in which you can appeal:

1) Legal class size limit. As mentioned above, most appeals are bound by this. But if you can show that the school hasn't exceeded their legal class size limit or if they are capable of taking more pupils, then this is your strongest argument.

2) A mistake has been made in the application of the criteria. For this you need to know firstly what your school bases their acceptance criteria on. For example, our preferred primary school based their criteria on a) "Looked After Children" (fostered, adopted etc.) b) Children with older siblings already at the school. c) Distance to school. Has a mistake been made? Consider how the school and council classifies distance. Our school chose as the crow flies from the school front door to the nearest point of your property. You will need to check the admissions policy as some schools use "safest walking distance". Use online distance calculators to determine if other people that have been allocated a space actually live further away. Keep your ears open! I discovered that my preferred primary school had made a mistake by accepting a family who lived further away than us because they thought they had a sibling, so the school had to admit another family from the waiting list to compensate.

3) A case for Unreasonableness or is Unfair. You can't just say it's not fair that you didn't get your local school. You need to use strong arguments for why you think it is unreasonable. A medical reason or a disability will be the strongest case. Consider also your journey to your allocated school.

Ultimately, you can do your best with the appeal but the rest of it is a waiting game.

Whilst it's very hard to do, I would say be very careful what you say and how you act in front of your child. Children do pick up on your behaviour and mood no matter how much you try to hide it from them. This can bring all sorts of problems for when your child does starts school in September. We spent months agonising over whether we would get into the local school, stressing about the appeal which, when combined with the devastation of losing my father-in-law, meant we had a very distraught and unhappy house over the summer. I'm sure this is the main reason why my daughter had such a hard time starting school in the autumn.

Thankfully our daughter has now settled into her primary school and enjoys it. I'm not sure what we would do if a place ever did come up at our local school. There would be a lot to weigh up and consider.

This post was first written and published on Cheryl's lifestyle and parenting blog - Tea or Wine. She also works as a freelance marketing copywriter. You can follow Cheryl on Twitter or Facebook.

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