Applying for schools

APPLYING FOR SCHOOLS
Wanting the best for your child but being realistic at the same time By Lydia Pemberton, 3PB Chambers ©

Wanting your child to go to the “best” school in the area (not necessarily being in your “priority” area) is likely to be a pressing topic of conversation over the coming weeks. Identifying, visiting and then applying for the school where your child will have the best fit and/or the best opportunities is par for the course of a parent’s job.

Cards on the table though, it’s incredibly difficult to succeed in an application to get your child into a school which is not within your priority area. It is even more difficult to successfully appeal a rejection of that application. Why? Because there simply are not enough places in the “best” schools.

The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of how the school admissions system works and what considerations apply if you decide to appeal.

When to apply.
There is a common mis-conception that the earlier you apply the better the chance of securing a place at your child’s (your) first choice school; this is not correct. No preference is given based on date you submit your application, be it day 1 or the last day before the deadline. The timing only counts when your application is submitted after the deadline. Applications can actually be submitted throughout the year.

Different school admissions areas have different opening and closing submission dates depending on whether you are applying for a reception, primary or a secondary school place.

In Warwickshire, for example, the closing date for secondary school applications is 31 October 2019 and for reception/primary is 15 January 2020. Offers of places will made for secondary schools on 1 March 2020 and must be accepted by 7 March 2020 (a narrow window) and offers for reception/primary schools will be made on 16 April 2020 with a slightly longer period for acceptance of 24 April 2020. If you do want to appeal, then the deadline for secondary schools is 28 March 2020 and for reception/primary is 29 May 2020.

Important considerations for your application.
Wanting your child to get into the school with the best OFSTED report or best Arts facilities, for example, is going to be an aspiration shared by more parents than there are places available.
To manage your own and your child’s expectations the key is to be realistic.

It may be tempting to name only one school on the misunderstanding that limiting your applications

 

will improve the chance of success; it will not. You can apply for up to 6 schools (listing them in preference) and it really is to run the gauntlet to only put 1 or 2 schools.

Whilst you may not want your child to go to his/her fourth preference school, surely that is better than being allocated a school by your local authority which may never have featured on your top 6 list? Let’s be honest, if it did not feature on your list, it is not likely to have featured on many other parents’ lists either.

The priority area for your nearest school is physically drawn out on the maps available through the local authority website and not necessarily the school which you think is the closet as the set areas do not always follow the most sensible geographical plot.

The “closest” school to your “home address” is a straight-line measurement. If you happen to know a shorter way, it is irrelevant. Your “home address” has to be the address where the child spends most of his/her time. If parental care is equally shared then you as parents need to decide which address to put.

Crucially, your “home address” has to be a truthful address. It is a significant feature of many a school appeal that an application has been rejected because the local authority has made its enquiries (and they can be extensive) and determined that the address given is not the address where the child lives. Where a parent has succeeded on a fraudulent basis, the local authority can and do take away the place.

The order of priority in which places are allocated for Warwickshire, there are three sets of allocation criteria depending on whether you are applying for infant/primary, junior or secondary schools (details of which are available online). Whilst having a sibling already at the school will help, the distance of your home from the school does not feature as a high priority. Interestingly, the fact that your child lives in the priority area is only the 4th basis for admission for infant and primary schools and the 3rd basis for secondary schools.

Appeals

If your school of choice is oversubscribed and your application therefore rejected because the places were allocated to the children who were higher up the priority list, you can consider appealing. Again, cards of the table, the prospects of success are slim. For infant school appeals, the prospects are virtually non-existent.

For primary/junior and secondary schools, the appeal panel must apply a two-stage test. Stage 1 is to ensure that the local authority has

 

complied with the mandatory requirements of the Schools Admission Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

Invariably they will have done. It is under this stage that parents seek to overturn the finding that they have not given their actual address.
During Stage 1 at the appeal hearing the admissions officer will read out the reasons why the application was rejected (which the parents would have been sent in advance) and the panel will then be asked by the clerk to answer the following:
a) Whether the admission arrangements (including the areas coordinated admission arrangements) comply with the mandatory requirements of the School Admission Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998;
b) Were the admission arrangements correctly and impartially applied (it is not enough that a mistake has been made, the panel must be satisfied that the mistake has directly cost the child a place at the school);
c) Would the admission of the child prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources?
If the panel are not satisfied that the local authority has complied with Stage 1, then the appeal must succeed. Generally speaking though, the local authority will have carried out its job diligently and properly and the appeal will not succeed at Stage 1.

Stage 2 is your opportunity to try and persuade the panel that offering a place to your child will not prejudice the school. Regrettably, factors as your child’s particular skill-set or the practical difficult you will have in getting him/her to school because of your work commitments, are unlikely to be sufficient grounds for allowing the appeal.

In the writer’s experience, you will have to demonstrate something substantive and unique to your child or your situation, which would mean that greater prejudice will be caused to your child by not allowing the appeal than would be if the appeal was allowed. It is a sad reality that it tends to be the unfortunate cases, such as severe child or parental sickness, which lend themselves to better prospects of success.

Ultimately, the message to take away from this process is to think at the application stage which is the best school for your child based on the most realistic assessment of the chances of being accepted.

Isn’t it tough being a parent?!

Working together Willsons Solicitors and Lydia Pemberton are able to assist you with any educational law issues on which you would like further advice. Please contact Lorraine Walker at Willsons Solicitors on 02476 387 821 or at lwalker@willsonslegal.co.uk