Guest post: "We assumed we'd get our first choice school - we were wrong"
After going through the appeals process, Charly Dove says parents should keep an open mind about the primary school their child is offered
Posted on: Fri 15-Apr-16 14:35:51
(49 comments )
With our local primary school a nine minute walk from our front door, we assumed that was where our daughter Poppy would go. While we'd dutifully filled in three other options on our application, we'd only visited our first choice. That was where we wanted to go.
As the offers rolled in for all Poppy's friends from nursery on the big day, we were convinced hers wouldn't be far behind. Discovering she had a place at a different school was a shock. Immediately, we blamed ourselves for being so naïve.
We weren't upset that Poppy wouldn't be continuing to school with her friends, or that the other school was a car journey rather than a short walk away. We were worried that the school she'd been allocated had a decidedly bad reputation. So, we decided to appeal against the decision.
I spent the following day on the phone. A woman from school admissions explained the appeals process and told me we were automatically on the waiting list for our first choice. I spoke to the local council, other schools, fellow bloggers and parents. I didn't find anyone who had won an appeal that wasn't based on exceptional circumstances.
The assumption we'd made that Poppy would attend the school up the road was rapidly collapsing. Despite this, I decided to persevere; I'd heard enough stories about the school Poppy had been allocated to know I didn't want her to go there.
I requested for Poppy to be put on the waiting list at two other schools and arranged a visit at the school she'd been offered a place. By the end of the day, I was exhausted. When I collected Poppy, her two best friends crowded round to ask why Poppy wouldn't be going to school with them. I didn't know what to say - but thankfully Poppy wasn't within earshot.
I was delighted when I saw what she's been doing at parents evening. It highlighted not just how far she's come but also how brilliant the school is – even if it's not what we initially envisioned. Our story goes to show that you shouldn't make any assumptions about schools.
Later, we discovered that at our local school, most places had been offered to children up to 0.6km away. We live 0.7km from the school. All 90 of the reception spaces had been offered, with over 70 children on the waiting list.
In advance of our appeal, we had to submit supplementary information supporting our case. This had to focus on why our first choice school was the only one for Poppy, rather than our concerns about the other school not being right. We had a long list of reasons but specifically focused on three areas: location, health and wellbeing, and personal development.
However, when we got to the appeal we were told that any new information included in our written submission was inadmissible – so the details we'd provided about the local school being best for Poppy were discounted. It was clear from the beginning that the appeal was a pointless exercise, but we pushed on regardless and put forward our case.
A week later we were notified we'd been unsuccessful. We remained optimistic as Poppy was still on the waiting list for our first choice and by August 2015 she was fourth place. However we decided to make the best of the situation and give the school she'd been allocated a chance.
Poppy is a bright and sociable child so we hoped she'd settle in. During the weeks that followed it certainly seemed she was doing well and making friends. But the week before parents evening we discovered that wasn't the case. Poppy wasn't doing as she was told, didn't want to listen and was being rude. It was heartbreaking to hear and easy to attribute to her being at the 'wrong' school.
Luckily, the change in Poppy from December to now has been astounding. She's progressing brilliantly with her reading and she's obsessed with writing. I was delighted when I saw what she's been doing at parents evening. It highlighted not just how far she's come but also how brilliant the school is – even if it's not what we initially envisioned. Poppy's teacher and her assistants are fantastic and Poppy loves going to school.
Our story goes to show that you shouldn't make any assumptions about schools – whether that's about getting your first choice or what a school will be like once your child is there. If you don't get the school place you wanted, try not to be disheartened - and perhaps don't bother appealing unless you have an exceptional case!
Thinking of appealing? Read our guide to all you need to know.
By Charly Dove
Completely agree with this. I was so upset when my DD didn't get into the local school last year. We appealed, unsuccessfully and remained on the waiting list. However, we love her allocated school (wasn't even in our 3 choices) and I wouldn't move her now.
I could've written your OP. School 5 min walk from house with all DD's friends. Ended up almost 2 km away in a school with a bad rep.
She loves it though and has some new lovely friends and a great teacher.
School run is still a pain but if she was offered a place in first choice now I wouldn't accept it.
Her bad behaviour was easily attributable to her being at the wrong school?? Seriously?
Good to hear you saw sense.
I'm always amazed that people think they can appeal simply because they don't like their allocated school
I read it that the OP believed this at the time but was mistaken.
I could be wrong though.
So glad that Poppy is happy and doing well OP.
We kept dd1 in the school she started nursery even though it was graded 'needs improvement'. We are in London and her class size is 16
The school is really good despite what Ofsted have said and a lot of her classmates moved to the outstanding school that has 4 reception classes and is oversubscribed.
There is too much hysteria over schools imo. It is the one thing about being a parent that has really got me down! Everyone in the state system desperate to get into the "destination" schools and elbowing fellow parents and pupils out of the way like crazed shoppers on Black Friday. Parents bending the rules and downright lying and cheating. And the children who don't get into the schools with the best results and the best Ofsteds having the feeling that they are somehow second best.
I had hoped not to be enmeshed in the complete bonkersness that is school choices by not going down the grammar route and never entertaining the idea of private. A lovely level playing field for all was my naive expectation. It turned out to be bolleaux.
We were allocated our 5th choice of 5 when we went through this. I decided not to appeal and give it a go. We have not looked back, our DC's school is quite wonderful. Not everything is perfect of course but I am consistently amazed by how great, innovative and creative the school is and how committed the staff are. Its a small single entry school with a very motivated staff and they are constantly organising really special trips/activities etc for the school. Teachers take a truly individual approach to learning for each child. None of this comes across in their 'Good' offsted rating and the better rated school nearby has had a succession of HTs in the last few years, and is currently running bulge classes in portacabins for a 4-form entry system. Many people sneer a bit when I say what school my DC are at as it does not have a good reputation. I dont mind, it means the school can remain small and village-like, with a great community spirit amongst the families there despite being in central London!
I fully agree with your advice OP to give the school a try before putting yourself through an (probably pointless, definitely stressful) appeals process.
There is a support/chat thread here for those waiting nervously for this year's reception allocations.
There are some real experts on admissions and appeals who post frequently and tremendously helpfully on MN, so it's worth starting a thread if you find yourself in a pickle,
The key think about reception (and year1 and year2) appeals is that - in England - those year groups are bound by the Infant Class Size (ICS) regulations which mean that there may only be 30 children per teacher in those year groups. This number can only be exceeded if there are circumstances formally ruled as exceptional.
You can only win an appeal if ICS rules apply if one of the following three things apply:
a) they made a mistake handling your application and that mistake deprived your DC of a place (eg they overlooked a sibling even though you had properly mentioned it on the form, they measured your distance to the school wrongly)
b) there was something wrong in the entrance criteria (eg giving priority to a group they are not allowed to, or not giving priority to a group they must, such as LAC) and this error deprived your DC of a place
c) the decision is so unreasonable that it is perverse (in a legal sense). The threshold for this is very high, eg child protection issues.
What is mentioned in the guest post - why this school is uniquely suitable - is not a permitted grounds when ICS applies, though it is for year 3 and above.
Has anyone appealed and won due to the fact that the parent has mobility issues and needs to have the shortest distance to travel for the school run? The next nearest school is double the distance as our nearest school but I use a mobility scooter (which obviously only has a short range on a battery) so I'm worried about getting stranded on the way to or from school.
Greengoth- yes ... Mine !!
Do it -go for it and good luck!
Does your first preference school have an 'exceptional medical and social needs' category, and did you apply under it with supporting material about the range of your scooter?
Over 3 miles, and transport has to be provided for the pupil. You could also make a case for exceptional need for transport, even if below the statutory distance, on the grounds of your mobilit restrictions.
Greengoth, our appeal situation a few years back told me that logistics won't win an appeal - they said if we had to hire someone to do the school run, that wasn't their issue, only their obligation to provide a suitable place (suitable for the child).
Might depend on local area and luck, but I had medical supporting information, but alas not considered relevant.
We won an appeal last year.
The information given makes it very clear that you must submit all information regarding your appeal before had and that they can discount anything you bring up on the day, but not submitted (I believe it's 10 working days) before. If you do any online research, it's clear. I found it an exhausting few months. Not just an exhausting day.
We won our appeal, our neighbours didn't. But their Dd loves the school she is at now. They even moved house last September to go further up the waiting list. But when a place was offered her Dd was desperate to stay where she was.
I think often this affects the parents far more than the kids and the kids seem to adapt well.
I didn't get my first choice and closest secondary school, I got my catchment one where only 40% of children get 5 GCSEs. My school was adopted 10 years ago by a successful academy where 80% of children get 5 GCSEs, but this has not improved the results of my school at all.
My school has just made several major Fuck ups with the GCSE exams which will seriously impact the life chances of its pupils.
My dd has not had a good secondary experience and I only wish I had lived a few hundred yards closer to my first choice school.
In reality, for many of us there is no "choice" and our children are left with inadequate schooling. It's inexcusable and a complete disgrace.
"there is no "choice" "
This is so true.
I don't just mean the language - no parent gets to choose, when you apply you can state your preferences - but also the reality that it is possible to live in a 'black hole' where you aren't close enough to any school to get an offer. Plus all the places where there is only ever going to be one school you qualify fo.
The issue is assuming that because you live near a school or other children in your street go to that school that you will get a place. You have to get the numbers from the council as to how far away the furthest child allocated a place lived last year etc. We knew we would be borderline for the schools in our area due to a bulge even though we were nearer our local school than the op. It's really important to do some research. We actually moved house having done ours.
A few years ago in Bristol a no of families were offered no school at all, none of there 3 choices, no alternative. There were simply not enough school places to cater for all the kids. The council suggested home educating, busing kids to a school 20 miles away etc. There was nothing to appeal for. Eventually extra classes were put on...bulge classes in terrapins mainly. It was a horrid anxious time . The situation has improved but demand for primary places will continue to rise.
When I collected Poppy, her two best friends crowded round to ask why Poppy wouldn't be going to school with them. I didn't know what to say - but thankfully Poppy wasn't within earshot.
How on earth would they have known? They must have been 3 or 4! Or do you mean your best friends?
Op said the day after kingscote. Wouldn't most kids have been told? Mine wants to know if she's going to the same school as her brother and her friends. I know preschool put up lists if people want to share too.
We had a "no allocation possible" letter first time around too. Gulp. Luckily we knew about a new school that was in the offing so wasn't a complete panic.
The LA allocates places according to the published criteria. They can only go on information given on the application form. For ICS appeals they can't be said to have acted unreasonably if they are unaware of the circumstances i.e. mobility problems.
In my experience one of the main problems in our area is that parents think they have a 'choice'. In our area it is certainly not a choice but it is clearly stated that it is a 'preference'. I know people that have thought they could choose the school for their DS and put down their 4 choices. Unfortunately they did not put down any school that they were close enough to get a place in so they were offered a completely different school. She decided to give it a go and has been really happy. She has also got involved in the PTA, volunteers at the school and is looking at being a governor.
In my experience one of the main problems in our area is that parents think they have a 'choice'.
I agree. Parents don't get a choice, they get to express a preference. Lots of parents think they get a choice when, in my opinion, it's made clear you don't.
Kingscote so glad it wasn't just me thinking that!