Admissions Y1 -Amazed and a little despairing

(88 Posts)
rushingrachel Fri 03-Jan-14 18:54:37

This is a bit of a long one! After nearly 10 years abroad I have recently been offered a job in the UK. It seemed perfect, near to the area in which I was brought up (Suffolk/Essex border) very rural. Although the salary is not great, and my DH would need to continue to split his time between Brussels and London, we thought we'd find a property in a village near to a good village school (such as the one I went to) and we would find a good balance. The property we found was lovely and four doors up from the local village school. So we rang to check. Year 1 full. Then we spread the net to 5 other schools trying to find a place. Nothing. It has made making a decision about the move virtually impossible. To apply you need an address, but to commit to an address you need to know your children will be placed, and in my case in a school with extended school cover. The fact is only awful schools, which were awful when I was around and still seem to be, can commit to having a Yr 1 place and then if the place is miles from where you live, and you work, how can you organise to collect them?

I wonder if the government ever thinks about people like me. They say they want to attract skilled expats to return to the UK and yet how can we with this uncertainty? My DH and I are both solicitors, we should be able to contribute to tax and community. But if we can't even be allowed to understand where a place might arise before we commit to a rental we might as well give up.

Something has gone wrong here. We have a lovely, clever, well educated son and the UK has nothing but the worst to offer him in terms of state provision.

I really, really, wanted to come home and build a home for my family and I feel very let down.

SavoyCabbage Fri 03-Jan-14 19:01:10

It depends on where you live I suppose and there is an element of luck.

I've just come back to the UK too and there is space in the 'outstanding' primary school I went to as a child for both of my dc, and I wouldn't have been able to get them in for reception as it is massively oversubscribed and I wouldn't have been close enough. There is also space for them both at the school opposite my mums house.

Now if I can just get my dh of 13 years into the country I'd be sorted!

LIZS Fri 03-Jan-14 19:08:32

Have you had the opportunity to visit any of the schools with spaces ? You may yet be surprised and can always go on waiting lists otherwise. Before and after school provision isn't a given anywhere and you may have to accept using an off site club or childminder instead . You do need a confirmed address to apply from and iirc that is the same in many countries.

rushingrachel Fri 03-Jan-14 19:11:55

Yes but that means taking a total punt. You rent a house, no school within 15 miles wants your kids, you can't get back from work to the school 15 miles in the wrong direction to move them from school to after school club. What do you do? I will land up declining my job offer I think because above all I have to be certain my kids have continuity and I can't.

scaevola Fri 03-Jan-14 19:12:25

Even if resident in UK, you can only apply from the address you are actually living at.

LIZS Fri 03-Jan-14 19:15:54

We have local ASC which collect. You would probably have more flexibility living in a town than choosing a more rural location and if you are renting can bide your time to find something which works better for all of you. You could call schools direct asking about vacancies and appeal for a place if not but classes in infants are limited to 30. Would private be an option initially ?

rushingrachel Fri 03-Jan-14 19:31:02

Yes I am not claiming it's any harder coming from overseas than moving within the UK. It's just frustrating how you can't get information definitively about where you would get sent if you signed a tenancy in a particular place. Really frustrating. And the lack of joined up ness of after school care here seems to me to militate against both parents working in decent jobs.

CecilyP Sat 04-Jan-14 09:40:32

You are asking for the most popular schools to keep places empty on the off chance that someone in your circumstances might turn up and want one. It isn't going to happen. The most popular schools already have waiting lists. The fact that your son is lovely, clever and well educated does not give him any priority over any other child, The situation is further compounded by your wanting to live in a rural area where the schools' PAN are small.

I can understand your frustration, but you would be better off working from the basis of which schools currently have Y1 vacancies (with after school provision as an ideal) and planning your housing and travel to work around that.

tiggytape Sat 04-Jan-14 10:10:01

Since 2006-2008, the UK has experienced an unexpected and huge rise in the birth rate. Very few councils saw this coming and very few made any extra provisions even when they knew what was about to hit the school system.
As a result, schools in many areas are so full that they cannot offer places to all of those who have lived nearby for years and who applied on time let alone people who move to the area and apply later.
The schools you like will have already turned away dozens of people who live locally and applied to them 2 years ago. They cannot cope with on time applications let alone save places for latecomers.

It is very frustrating but the law also means that Year 1 class sizes are capped so they don't even have to option to squeeze extra pupils in.

It's just frustrating how you can't get information definitively about where you would get sent if you signed a tenancy in a particular place.

Most schools don't have endless spaces left in Year 1. Therefore the council cannot possibly tell you that if you move to a certain area in 2 weeks or 2 months time that space will still be available. They have no idea if another Year 1 child will move to their area tomorrow and apply for a place. If so, they aren't allowed to save it for you.

The best bet is perhaps not to target an area with just 1 school but to look for an area with several decent sized schools and apply to all of them plus go on all of the waiting lists. If you apply to schools with 90 children per year rather than 30, you have more chance of a place either immediately or from the waiting list whereas in an isolated area with 30 children in a school year, there's a chance none of them will ever leave.

prh47bridge Sat 04-Jan-14 10:48:25

Just to add a couple of points to Tiggytape's comments...

Once you have a confirmed address in the UK and have applied for a school place you are entitled to appeal for your preferred school(s). If they have 30 per class in Y1 your chances of success are low but if they have smaller classes than that you have a reasonable chance of getting a place. Also, if there are no places within a reasonable distance from your new home the LA must find a place for you under their Fair Access Protocol. It won't necessarily be at a school you want and may be some distance from home but you are at least guaranteed to get a place somewhere.

rushingrachel Sat 04-Jan-14 11:11:57

It's not an area with one school. There are 5 I could manage to drop to and get to work on time. Nothing in any of them. And then you say I should find school places and then find a house, but that's exactly the problem. No address no school place.

I am not suggesting we have a god given right to a good school place. Just that the system makes about everything to do with trying to organise and commit to and cost a move very difficult in an age when the job market is supposed to be ever more flexible and mobile. And that goes for those who have to move within the UK as much as for those who come in from overseas.

And fundamentally actually I was just surprised and very very sad that a job move I have worked very hard to engineer will seemingly fail on this hurdle.

Blueberrypots Sat 04-Jan-14 11:12:53

It is very frustrating but the law also means that Year 1 class sizes are capped so they don't even have to option to squeeze extra pupils in

Really?

In our area, our small village primary with one form entry per year has been exceeding this for years now. We have written to the LEA many times and took it quite a long way up the food chain. They claim that appeals are all being accepted by the panels on fair grounds but the reality is that they are building hundreds of new houses and have to put children somewhere. There isn't a non-oversubscribed school for miles around here. And we are nowhere near London.

We have had 32 to 35 children in each KS1 class for years now and as soon as one leaves another appears straightaway.

scaevola Sat 04-Jan-14 11:26:31

The LEA can force a school to go over numbers if there are no places whatsoever within a reasonable distance or for other genuine FAP reason. and children admitted by appeal can also legally take take the numbers up, as can pupils with a new statement.

But they cannot go over numbers otherwise, nor can they admit from the regular waiting list (even if previously coping with a higher number) until numbers drop below the limit.

But the LEA must find a place somewhere, and if over 2 miles must provide transport.

CharlesRyder Sat 04-Jan-14 13:14:44

Could you run to a private school? They are more likely to have built in wrap around care.

tiggytape Sat 04-Jan-14 14:17:07

FAP is an emergency measure that can enable a council to force schools to take more than 30 pupils in a Year 1 (or any) class. It only comes into force though is no school within a reasonable radius of the child's home has a place for them.
The definition of reasonable though is still several miles (with free transport provided if the child has to travel more than 2 miles)
A council could quite legitimately issue a school place 3 or 4 miles away and this would be deemed reasonable even though it is often a struggle for parents to cope with this.

rushingrachel - I wasn't suggesting you had limited yourself by focusing on just 1 school, more suggesting that you focus on areas with lots of schools of a decent size to optimise your chances of getting an offer as close to your new home as possible. Don't forget, waiting lists operate too and even if you get a disappointing allocation initially, you can ask to wait for better or closer schools too. I know it isn’t idea but schools are under enormous pressure for places. They cannot save places and they cannot promise anything in advance since places can be snapped up overnight if a new family moves to the area suddenly. All you can do is pick the best location possible (for work and to be within range of several schools), apply, accept what you’re offered (with free transport if it is over 2 miles from home) and wait on the lists for something better to come up. There isn’t any way around it for anyone and even people living in that area for years will have been turned down for the exact same schools you’d like. It isn’t just newcomers – often there isn’t enough room for on-time people to have a real choice either.

As prh says, you won't end up with no place at all but you may not initially get a school of choice.

PanelChair Sat 04-Jan-14 15:53:01

I agree with tiggytape and prh47bridge.

Very few schools now are so under-subscribed that they have spare capacity. While it is true that you cannot apply for a place until you have an address, the LEA should be able to tell you which schools have current vacancies.

As recent threads here will testify, moving mid-school year can create all sorts of difficulties with finding school places. You may need to think creatively about how to use childminders and before- and after-school provision to make an initial placement work, while you wait for a place to become available through the waiting list and/or appeal for places at your preferred schools.

Shootingatpigeons Sat 04-Jan-14 16:04:00

When we returned over ten years ago the LA would not even consider our application until we were back resident at the house even though we owned it, could prove we were returning and our tenants leaving. When we tried to fix tours of schools on a return visit in February (we were a 13 hour flight away) the local state schools either refused or showed us around with barely disguised disinterest / resentment clearly perceieving we were wasting their time. It meant we missed out on the secondary school admissions process and returned as late applicants and got offered a school that was several bus rides away, but then we did get offered a place at the local school three weeks into term, because a child had drooped out and no one further up the waiting list (including us) wanted to shift an 11 year old at that stage.

Admissions in this area are cut throat. Many parents spend years planning their strategies for getting into a good school, moving, making sacrifices so they can pay, tutoring for selectives, and those children whose parents are not equipped with the necessary knowledge and money already lose out. So I do not in any way think that being a returning expat with amazing, obviously hmm, children does actually trump their needs and a process that attempts to be fair.

However I do also think it betrays an insularity. The response to our expressions of interest in private schools could not have been more different. They were keen to have the benefit of what one Head described as my DD's "amazing experiences and knowledge of other cultures", and the more selective the school, the more interest they showed. It meant my DD who initially wanted to be in a inclusive socially and academically mixed school ended up feeling it wasn't an environment she felt comfortable in, that her experiences would make her not valued and "weird".

I am afraid that returning expats either have to plan on going private or just live with the fact it is a gamble and they take luck of the draw along with everyone else.

rushingrachel Sat 04-Jan-14 16:14:15

Thanks. I really appreciate the pragmatic advice. It has helped me refocus expectation and I am coming to terms with this all. I simply didn't know the system was as stretched as this in the relative middle of nowhere.

I went to one of the five schools within manageable distance of the job, and my mum lives up the road so I am actually local to the area and know it well (I am, in a real sense, trying to move home). When I went to school there were biggish classes in my school (above 30 if I recall) but if you moved to the village you went to the school and that was the end of it. Now there are people arriving in big cars outside the village school to avoid the town schools, and we could move to the village and not be able to go. All seems in such a muddle. Oh well.

I do absolutely understand why the system is as it is, given the stress on places. There are just people like me and mid year movers who will always have a problem.

But even if it isn't relevant to the "system" that my child is mostly pleasant (except when he's a monster) and well educated and clever, it is highly personally relevant to me and I will not send my DS to a bad school where I have a sense he will be unhappy given I have a choice not to do it. The casualty is me and my professional ambitions and my desire to come home but I find I am often the casualty as a parent!

I don't think we could afford private (UK salary loads lower than here). The other problem is that we have DS2 who is 2.5 so has started school where we are which is free. So in costing the move we have to take into account paying monstrous amounts for nursery which we are not paying at the moment and that would probably financially tip the balance.

Figure it could be I just have to throw in the towel and stay stuck as a depressed homesick expat. I've obviously just gone about this the wrong way around. But there wouldn't have been a right way. Unless I got a job there wouldn't have been any options to consider anyway.

Thanks to all again for practical tips.

meditrina Sat 04-Jan-14 16:17:09

OP has described an (extremely common) position - she has discovered (from LEA or schools themselves) that, in her target area the only schools with vacancies now are ones she does not like the look of, and some of which are an inconvenient journey from the areas where she most wants to live.

FAP will not be activated as there are vacancies in e general area, so the only way into preferred schools in KS1 is via waiting list (and of course that brings uncertainties of whether a place will ever come up, if you would be at top of the list, and when a vacancy might occur).

Aside from that, you could look to the private sector (if there is an affordable school nearby), expand the radius of where you hope to live to see if that brings any additional schools into the frame, or resign yourself to a school you don't like that much at present (though do look out for things like new HTs etc, which can change the actuality, though not the reputation, of a school surprisingly quickly).

meditrina Sat 04-Jan-14 16:19:11

Sorry OP - my post crossed with your last one (slow typing).

rushingrachel Sat 04-Jan-14 16:23:29

Not at all, every little nugget of thought is helpful!

applepearorangebear Sat 04-Jan-14 16:26:57

OP, you will become entitled to 15 hours per week of government funding for nursery provision for your 2.5 year old once he/she turns 3, if that makes any difference to your family finances? Though it is always worth checking that any nursery you have identified accepts the funding (most but not all do, particularly the incredibly expensive ones).

Good luck with whatever you decide. It is a complete nightmare trying to get a place in a decent state primary school place in huge swathes of the country now, so you are not alone.

clam Sat 04-Jan-14 16:34:04

Does anyone want to send their child to a bad school? We're all in the same boat really, and it's sad, but I'm afraid unrealistic, to want to move here from abroad and expect to sail into an outstanding school just like that. There's a long queue, unfortunately, and it's growing longer by the day.

rushingrachel Sat 04-Jan-14 16:44:32

I am sorry Clam, I didn't say anyone wanted to send their child to a bad school. Just that, at my personal expense, I won't do it to my children. And for the record I am sorry anyone has to. Hostility is unnecessary. I really actually do appreciate the practical advice one gets from mumsnet which is helping my thinking.

I am not an unrealistic person, or expecting to queue jump or anything else. I just want to come home. And I want the best for my kids. And I was unprepared for those aspirations being incompatible.

irisha Sat 04-Jan-14 18:01:29

Two points.

Having lived in the UK, the US and and in several countries on the continent, I would never swap an average state school on the continent for an average UK state school (unless a grammar or a comp like DAO, but how many are there and it's so much more tricky to get into those select few).

You can of course move right next to the preferred school, your 2.5yr old will get in and then the elder sibling would be top of waiting list. But then you have secondaries to consider which are much more important than primaries. And there again, continent state provision (in general) wins easily when compared to the UK.

Having said that, I totally understand your frustration re lack of places for local children when you move into the area. Where I lived in the US in Connecticut, the local state school HAD to provide a place as long as you are in the catchment. I don't know if it's universal in the States, but it makes total sense to me. Also, in many places in Australia it works like that.

I saw a threat on this forum, where a family were agonizing over a 1 year work transfer abroad because they couldn't be sure the school would have places for their kids when they'd come back to their house in a year's time. That effectively puts a total stop to any kind of mobility - classic island mentality.

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