This is a blog about school admissions for parents in England and my own personal hopes and fears for my own son now that he has a school place.
In the most oversubscribed areas, it is revealed that around 80,000 children face the prospect of missing out on their preferred primary school, with over 20,000 at risk of being denied any of their preferred choices. Last week, I found out that we were one of those 80,000, when Barnet Council informed us of the places selected for my son; who will be taking up his reception place from September 2015. From the choice of 6 schools we indicated as our preferences, we were allocated our fourth, yes our 4th choice school!
Freddie, my son for those of you who don’t know, was born three months premature at 1lb 9ozs in May 2011, 12 weeks earlier than expected. Children born between April 1 and August 31 are classified as “summer-born”. Compulsory school age is the term after a child reaches his or her fifth birthday. I state this, not because of my teaching background, but because as a father I am naturally very protective of his early start in life and the countless medical conditions he had to endure as a result of his extreme low birth-weight and extreme prematurity. Like any parent, I want the best for my child and want to make sure I am making the best decisions for him.
I also make the point that my wife and I both grew up in many different locations around the UK and the world, therefore making us both grow up in a variety of educational settings. Although, this may have done nothing to damage our character, there was certainly an impact on our schooling in terms of examination outcomes. Now, although exam results are not the be-all-and-end-all, and I have no desire to worry about this at all for my son 10 years earlier than needed! However, and probably more importantly, I am often found dreaming about the implications of my son growing up in a household, without access to one or two good schools throughout his life; choices that will be dependent on a housing market and affordability, rather than what school places are available.
Now, although we were initially disappointed with the outcome, and despite the preceding 3 schools offering 240 school places between them, we count ourselves fairly lucky to be allocated one of the 60 places in our fourth choice school. The reason for this, is because it is a new school, one that we thought would be over-subscribed and incredibly popular; not really having any inclination that we would stand any chance of being accepted. In many ways, our choice was guesswork! I wonder how many others are left in this frame of mind …
I do know many other parents are ruthless about school places. I know I could be too. But I’m not precious. As a teacher, I’m aware of the challenges parents, schools and local councils face. The decisions we all have to make and the potential impact these decisions can have for the rest of our lives. Nothing can be left to chance, but why do I feel that our school admissions process has been opportunistic?
Well, in all-honesty, the answer is that my better-half made the decisions, informing me along the way and of course, I trusted her to do this. Coupled with this relief, is having paid an extortionate amount of money for childcare over the past 4 years, with a deep exhale of breath, we welcome the thought of state school education after such a long period of penny-counting. But, what if? What if we decided to opt out of local authority provision and decide to continue with our child’s paid-for-education? Would I be so opportunistic? Would we still receive our first choice? And the bigger question is, would the quality of education be even better if we paid for it?
In this blog, I share my thoughts about the process, the statistics; our hopes and fears as parents and finally, some solutions.
Here is the data from 2014; click to open larger images:
- For starters, being a teacher in London makes logging into the outdated and hideous LGfL (London Grid for Learning) network infuriating and much more complex. All teachers in London have a dedicated email address for this portal and when wannabe parent-teachers hoping to login to LGfL for the first time to nominate their top 6 choices, LGfL make this impossible to do.
- Once you (are a teacher working in the same council) have bypassed this system, you can make your school choices in the eAdmissions website. This is straightforward. The difficulty is making your selection based on what you know / don’t know about the schools; plus the admissions process that makes whatever you decide, out of your hands anyway!
- You make your selection. Visit schools. Attend open days, mainly designed during the day, making it impossible to attend as you have to work. I did take 1/2 day off school to attend our first choice school, mistakenly taking our son along for the experience. This made it harder to relax and interact with the headteacher. There is also this 2015 admissions guide for parents which is no-less than 108 pages long!
- Equipped with a login, school visits, pamphlets, postcode data and catchment information, we were now in a position to make our selection.
- Choices made, we waited, and waited and waited until …. Ta-Daa! Here are your results … and now you are reading this blog.
The following is written on the basis of knowing our school place.
- An unknown quantity. New school, new building, new headteacher, new staff, new facilities. Everything will be new.
- Will the building be completed on time?
- Working in London, we are victim to the rental market. Where will be living in one, two or even in five years time?
- Will the school be the right one for our son?
- Like any parent, what if it isn’t right for us?
- That the excitement of a new school (yet to be built) will not be left to chance or compromise.
- That we will secure our own property in the near future.
- That our son will be happy, safe and enjoy his schooling.
- I am confident that all nearby schools are good enough. I hope this school will be too.
- That I can have a say in the school’s future as a parent and possibly, as an elected parent-governor. We will just have to wait and see …
Now, for whatever reason – social engineering, siblings or even the removal of automatic entitlement which is soon to be happening in Wandsworth and Brent, priorities or postcodes – we find ourselves having to travel slightly further away from where we currently live and with the prospect of not really understanding the decisions behind the outcome. I wouldn’t be the first parent to write a blog or article about the unfathomable process of primary allocations, or the unpredictable lottery it appears to be. But, I would like to make my own case for transparency:
- Publish the (current cohort) number of places available to all potential parents
- Place this information online, keep the individual data private, but allow 1st – 6th choices to be visible.
- As places are filled, changed or removed, allow the data to be available, fluid and live.
- This will ensure transparency, fairness and a level of accountability on each local authority. This will also make the parents more accountable for their choices, as well as empowered.
- Allow parents to adapt their choices as the data changes, with clear cut off deadlines; easy to use login platforms and electronic communications.
A story here from Schools Week, about a mother who won a delayed reception place for her daughter born in August, putting further pressure on other admissions authorities to allow children to enter school later.
Also of use, is the DfE’s guidance here for parents on ‘summer born’ students. The headlines are shown below:
- school admission authorities are required to provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday, but flexibilities exist for children whose parents do not feel they are ready to begin school at this point.
- school admission authorities are responsible for making the decision on which year group a child should be admitted to, but are required to make a decision based on the circumstances of the case.
- there is no statutory barrier to children being admitted outside their normal year group.”