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School catchments Herts - someone explain veeeryyy sloooowly

(18 Posts)
Wigeon Mon 05-Oct-09 12:57:10

We are moving house, and intend to stay in the new house for several years. Even though my DD is only 15 months, this means we need to start thinking about primary schools.

Can someone explain veeerrrry slooowly to me - is it the case that in Hertfordshire (or anywhere else?) there aren't really catchment areas as such, and, presuming you don't qualify under the various priority rules (like SEN, sibling rule, children in care etc), whether you get a place depends on how many other children have qualified that year under the higher priority rules, and then the remainding places are allocated by distance.

So one year, an applicant who lives 1km away might get a place, and the following year, an applicant who lives right next to the school might not get a place. And therefore you can't talk about "catchment" as such.

I've been looking at this incredibly helpful School Guru website but it doesn't really explain about catchment.

Is that right? Am I missing something?


goingtohaveagoodnightssleep Mon 05-Oct-09 13:00:02

We live in Herts and catchment areas do change every year for the reasons you posted about, but you can usually get a rough idea if you are likely to get into a school based on where you live.

WHich area are you moving too?

Wigeon Mon 05-Oct-09 13:16:51

Thanks, goingto! We are in St Albans at the moment, and probably moving to Watford, although if a lovely 4 bed house with good garden and near the station turns up in St Albans for our pitiful budget then we will stay here! Where are you?

goingtohaveagoodnightssleep Mon 05-Oct-09 13:18:27

I'm in WGC.

Good luck with finding a nice house!

verygreenlawn Mon 05-Oct-09 18:32:39

I think that's right, but then there are also quite a few schools that have special admission rules - for example I think some of the secondaries actually allocate some places on a lottery basis (this happens at Verulam near us).

clam Mon 05-Oct-09 19:16:33

I think it's only single-sex schools that operate the lottery. Not general practice, anyway.
But your interpretation of the rules is correct, wigeon. At the moment. To be on the safe side, you'd either need to be very close to the school you want, if it's over-subscribed, or at least have a viable alternative close by. They also work on the principle of you being in a higher category if it's the school you're closest to (by their computer programme's calculation). If you're 10 feet closer to another crap school, then you move down a category which, with an over-subscribed school, means forget it.

piscesmoon Mon 05-Oct-09 19:28:18

Pop into your education department and ask.

Wigeon Mon 05-Oct-09 21:05:36

Ah, thank you all. Didn't know that Verulam and others operated a lottery, interesting.

RenderedSpeechless Mon 05-Oct-09 21:22:03

hi. also live in herts. just to add that watford can be a bit hit and miss re primary schools. the herts website has a very useful table that states how school places were allocated over last 3 years. you my find this useful to loosely determine schools within range of where you are moving. good luck.

Wigeon Mon 05-Oct-09 21:37:00

Thanks, RenderedSPeechless. Do you mean hit and miss in terms of quality, or in terms of whether or not you get a place?

RenderedSpeechless Mon 05-Oct-09 21:45:36

good question. i meant in terms of quality. i have a friend whose dd has just started reception and we spent a lot of time researching and visiting schools. i was surprised by the high number of allocations that went to siblings, leaving only a few places for distance allocations. hth

clam Tue 06-Oct-09 10:04:01

A few years back, a primary school near us had 22 out of 30 places go to siblings. Take away an SEN place that went first, and that left only 7 places for distance. In a densely-populated area, that meant a radius of about 100 yards!
At secondary level, with intakes of around 180 kids, you can expect about 80 or 90 places to go to siblings.

Wigeon Tue 06-Oct-09 12:28:30

Hm, interesting, thank you both.

QueenofHerts Tue 06-Oct-09 18:58:22

You've summed it up well in your OP Wigeon - basically after siblings etc it's distance and yes that can vary from year to year. School Guru is good for giving you an idea of your chances of getting in to a particular school from a particular address.

There is a partial lottery for single-sex SECONDARY schools in Herts. For St Albans, this means Verulam and STAGS. The way it works is that these schools take a percentage from particular parishes eg Harpenden, Wheathampstead, St Albans central, St Stephens, London Colney etc. Within each parish EXCEPT ST ALBANS the places are allocated by a random lottery. Within St A itself, if STAGS or Verulam is your nearest school then you have priority over everyone else in St A. If there are still any free places after that from St A, then these are allocated by lottery. This system was introduced 2-3 years ago, but this year the STAGS admissions for the StA area were so oversubscribed that even if it was your nearest school, you couldn't necessarily guarantee getting in. So if you want to guarantee a place at STAGS under the current system, you need to live very close to the school. However, it is possible this may be reviewed and the entire lot may face a full lottery in future. Clear as mud, isn't it?!

I'm St albans not Watford but ... how long are you thinking of staying in this new house - you do know that for secondary Watford secondaries are either highly academically selective and you have to start tutoring during primary (plenty of angsty website forums if you dare brave them) or, in effect, very poor secondary-modern style schools ... so you may want to be prepared for that. Oh, you can get in if you live almost next door to the school (£££££) or if your child has amazing musical talent.

Or go private

The basic rule is that if you see a large, affordable house it is probably too good to be true and may be next door to the School From Hell. But of course schools and admission procedures do change over the years ...

I hope this doesn't sound too pessimistic but best know now rather than in a few years time. I've got a couple of friends who've moved to Chiswell Green/Bricket wood because it's cheaper, only to come unstuck at secondary sad

Wigeon Tue 06-Oct-09 19:54:45

Oh, hi QueenofHerts - maybe we've bumped into each other on the baby-circuit?! How old is your DC or DCs? My DD is 15 months. Thanks for your comments and advice.

We are thinking of staying in Watford for several years, almost certainly through primary, and if we like it then until secondary too. We know a litle bit about secondary in Watford as DH is a teacher at Parmiter's, although we are clueless from the point of view of prospective parents rather than teachers. He is going to check if teacher's children get to the front of the admissions queue grin although he is unlikely to still be there in 10 years time!

Thanks again for your thoughts - all is very useful, even pessimistic ones!

southeastastra Tue 06-Oct-09 19:57:01

pessimistic is the word! <stays away from education threads as they bloody annoy me with their assumptions>

QueenofHerts Wed 07-Oct-09 14:32:11

Hi Wigeon - you probably wont have bumped into me as I'm an old gimmer grin- have a teenager and another in Y6 (hence the sec school knowledge)

Oooh, now Parmiters is the one I know about and what I was referring to about coming unstuck at secondary - mainly because so many people I know in St A apply to it. I have a feeling it's one of most oversubscribed schools in UK and I do know some really very bright kids who've got in at St Albans Boys but not at Parmiters. I think many people assume, oh, it's just like grammar school in my day, a bit of tutoring and my dc will certainly be in - but there are over a thousand (I think) kids competing for 45 academic places, and 18 musical ability places. So I think it's a school that's loved and loathed in equal measure iykwim. I think teacher's children used to be a criteria in many schools a couple of years ago but has now been abolished.

I decided not to touch with barge pole grin

Wigeon Wed 07-Oct-09 21:11:48

Ha! DH agrees that the issue is that, as you say, Parmiters isn't 100% selective but is also very over-subscribed, so all the other admission rules come into play.

I can't believe I am stressing about secondary school when DD is 15 months! I can only think that the stress is going to get progressively worse over the years!

I think I will definitely need to stay away from the Education threads, southeastastra. At least until DD is 2 when I shall start the secondary school research in earnest grin.

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