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could someone come and hold my hand while I work out which primary schools to apply for please <whimpers>

(16 Posts)
headfairy Thu 15-Sep-11 11:50:24

I can't get my head around which schools to put down and in what order. Our choices are (in distance order)

1) School A, 0.2 miles, Catholic, excellent school. DS is baptised catholic but we are pretty well lapsed. Haven't joined a church since we moved 2 years ago.

2) School B. 0.42 miles. Most recent Ofsted report (Nov 2008) was mostly Good, with the odd satisfactory. Our builders children go to it and he said it was ok, but a bit chavvy.

3) School C. 0.56 miles. DS currently goes to the nursery there, excellent school. Lastest Ofsted (Mar 2009) was mostly outstanding with much reference to the friendly atmosphere and great pastoral care. Only has 30 places, and we're 100m outside of last years catchment area though it's my preferred choice - only one slight matter for concern is there is a new HT so will the school change drastically?

4) School D. 0.62 miles. Meant to be a terrible school. Lots of reports of bullying. Latest Ofsted (Nov 2009) was satisfactory but KS results are poor.

5) School E. 0.65 miles. A fabulous school, one of the most popular in the area. Outstanding on it's Ofsted report (so much so that it's not regularly inspected any more) But it's only 4-7 years so in a couple of years I assume I'll have to start looking for middle schools and go through all of this again. Is that a downside?

6) School F. 0.75 miles. Another amazing school. So outstanding Ofsted don't bother going there any more. They're one of those schools that are deemed to be so good they are drafted in to look after failing schools. Larger intake of pupils. I think it's 90 this year so more of a chance of getting in? Also only for ages 4-7 so same as school E, will I have to scrabble around looking for a middle school in a couple of years?

Phew, sorry that's so long winded. I've got lots of open days booked, but I'm still so undecided. Anyone care to offer me a shoulder to cry on (and preferably choose the school for me grin)

Not sure if the order you rank them makes a difference to how your application is considered but if not (it doesn't in my LEA), I would go with preferred school first then others - at least in part as your DS is in nursery and you are happy with that school...

Applying for junior school at 7 is not going to be a problem - loads of others will be in same position and if at a feeder school it usually counts in your favour...

Also, do you want a catholic education at a later stage eg high school - if so push for catholic now and go back to the church as you will stand a better chance if you are regular church goers rather than lapsed when the time comes ...

Personally, from what you've said I would go for 3, 1 (if you want catholic influence), 5, 6, 2, 4

If not bothered about catholic influence then you might want to drop 1 down your choice list....

Main thing for me would be keep away from a school with reputation for bullying etc... New HT can make a difference, but the atmosphere and support for children is also a lot to do with parents and children at the school too and if that is good then its a great start...

redskyatnight Thu 15-Sep-11 12:02:26

Wow, I'm jealous of you having so much choice!!

For me, I would say, try to make a list of what you are looking for in a school - this will depend on your priorities and any particular needs/interests DS has.

I'd wait to see round the schools before you do anything else. You may well really like one or really hate another which will make your decision easier!!

I'd also find out what the chances of getting into any given school are. And I'd definitely aim to put a school that you would be ok with and have a good chance of getting into as at least one of your choices (otherwise you could end up at somewhere you hate).

I would read Ofsted with a pinch of salt. One person's "outstanding" is another person's nightmare.

I'd consider the "next school" only inasmuch as what the options would be if you chose a 4-7 school now. My DS went to a 4-7 school. At 7 he basically had the choice of 1 school to move into (nowhere else had places). Luckily we were happy with the school but if we hadn't been ...

grubbalo Thu 15-Sep-11 12:28:17

I agree take Ofsted with a pinch of salt. Go with your gut feeling much more. From reading your post it seems like 3 is the clear front runner if that helps!

My DS has just started school and it has coincided with a new headteacher. However they seem absolutely fantastic, really positive, really keen which can only be good for the school. So I wouldn't worry about that too much in your decision making.

joencaitlinsmum Thu 15-Sep-11 14:19:47

I would say look at as many as you can and then go with your gut instinct, yes look at the Ofsted reports but dont set store by them, its my opinion that if a child is happy and content and is being set the right values at home they will do well where ever they are.
No school is ever going to be 100% perfect all the time and some parents will rave about a school whilst others will moan. Where are your child's friends going? Is that important to them to be with friends they already have?
Do you need to take into consideration travelling time and working etc, if this is a issue then you and your child will become streesed if they are late everyday etc.
HTH

AurraSing Thu 15-Sep-11 14:34:51

Be realistic. How likely are you to get into each school? My LA publish information about the last person to be given a place (i.e., within catchment with sibling in school, outside of catchment by 1.8 miles etc) It doesn't guarantee you will/will not get a place, but it's a good indication.

Rank the school in the order, but put in one that you are very likely to get into. Otherwise you could be sent to one 7 miles away.

I agree don't rely on Ofsted, looking around each school gives more of a feeling of what the school is really like.

Barbeasty Thu 15-Sep-11 15:05:13

Where exactly in the admission criteria would your SD being baptised put you, and how far down the criteria list do they get? Some schools don't care about church attendance, others very definitely do.

Do you know which school the new head at option 3 has come from and what that's like? If it was similar/ good then chances are that school 3 won't change massively. But also, is it just a change of head or have other teachers moved? How many of the original staff are still there?

Think about what matters to you- clubs, class/ year sizes, policies, homework levels, uniform, and see how each school fits.

What are the options afterwards, either junior or secondary, and what effect would your choices have? Apart from having to go through it again at 7, does the catholic school feed into a catholic secondary and would you want that?

headfairy Thu 15-Sep-11 16:07:16

Thanks for all the replies everyone.. it's all so helpful. I called the council schools admisssions helpline this afternoon and had a very useful chat with someone there. I was told that unless I was a practising Catholic and regularly attended a local Catholic church (ie 3 times a month) I wouldn't get in to school A and as it's voluntary aided it wouldn't be considered on my list of nearest schools. So I'm dropping it off the list.

Their measurements are slightly different to the ones I was using too, so school D is actually 100m closer than school C which is incredibly annoying. I'm not even going to put it on the list. I'd rather take my chances with another school further out. Generally the primaries around here are pretty good, this is the only one that's really dire. If I put it on the list sod's law dictates I'll get a place. Of the intake of 60 last year, 32 were offered to people for whom the school was not the closest, the furthest place offered to someone 1.8km away.

The school I really want him to go to (school C) isnt' looking that promising. They have an intake of 30, last year there were 246 applications of which 17 places went to siblings. Of the remaining 13 places the furthest successful applicant lived 0.80m away. I live 0.9m away (argghh!)

Bramshott Thu 15-Sep-11 16:13:31

OK, so setting aside school A and school D, I'd put:
1. School C - you really want him to go there, and they might have fewer siblings / closer applications than last year
2. Either School E or F
3. School B - because presumably you'd rather a place there than somewhere miles away if the others are full

coccyx Thu 15-Sep-11 16:17:42

by the way Ofsted check ALL schools.
Our small village primary was always well oversubscribed ( 16 places and about 70 applicants a year) the headmistress retired a few years ago and school gone downhill . only 6 applicants this year!!
have a good look round a nd you will get a good feeling hopefully. I also agree take the Ofsted ratings with a pinch of salt. Only tell you what they judged it to be at THAT time

headfairy Thu 15-Sep-11 16:28:26

bramshott thanks so much for that, I've been wading through the figures for 2011 admissions and I think you're right. I think I might have a slightly better chance with school E because last year their furthest admission was 1.78km away. Mind you that could have been because the school is so popular they added another class last year and had an intake of 120 instead of 90.

I agree about taking the Ofsted reports with a pinch of salt... they seem on the whole to have been done ages ago. Lots can have changed in that time. The reports of bullying I've heard about school D were from parents at ds's preschool so maybe they're true. Or maybe it's all a ruse and they're trying to put me off applying because the last Ofsted report is nearly 3 years old and the school has pulled off an amazing turn around and it's now the best school in the county <clings to hope>

admission Thu 15-Sep-11 19:57:25

Headfairy, the first thing to establish is whether the admission criteria for all the schools, discounting the catholic one, are the same - that is they are all maintained schools from the LA. Secondly what is the order for admission priority. Normally it is Looked after children, medical issues, siblings and then distance but is there any priority to catchment school.
If catchment is an admission category i would strongly advise putting down the catchment school as one of your preferences, even if it is the dreaded school D. If you put down other schools and you do not get any of the preferences you could end up being allocated a school anywhere, by doing what I suggest you have a much better chance of getting a local school.
All Local Authorties operate what is called the equal preference scheme for allocation of places. What this means is that for each preference the LA puts all applications in the admission category order. They then look at where you are on the lists and decide for which schools you fall within the admission number places. If you could be offered a place at your first preference and your second preference then they will offer you the first preference school. This is the only time that the order in which you place the schools is important.
Whilst last year is a good guide you cannot rely on it, the number of siblings in a year group and the distance admited to change on an annual basis.
So if you have three preferences I would put school D as third preference if there is catchment zones and school B (as the nearest school) if there is no catchment. School C is obviously your first preference and which ever of E or F that you like best when you visit.
Please do make sure you visit all the schools (including D) before you make a final decision.

headfairy Thu 15-Sep-11 20:36:41

Thanks for that Admission, that's really helpful. When I spoke to someone at the LA school admission helpline this afternoon she said that there wasn't really such a thing as catchment areas for primary schools in the county. I've got the PAN lists for last year and these give the furthest distance travelled by a successful applicant (iyswim - I haven't phrased that terribly well). I do appreciate things change year on year... last year there were 17 siblings at my preferred choice of school and this year there could be say only 5. Or there could be 25. If it's the former then after they've allocated places to children for whom the school is their nearest, they may well be able to extend beyond last years 800m to admit pupils. Fingers crossed!!!

For all of the schools I'm considering I'm fairly certain (I need to double check) they have the same admissions critieria, as you say LAC, exceptional circumstances, siblings, nearest school, then all the others based on distance. All the schools are LA funded apart from ironically the dreaded school D, which is VA as it's a CofE school. I don't think it being a church school impacts much on it's admissions. Last year only 7 of it's 60 places went to children who's parents went to church. 21 were siblings. The remaining 32 went to children living in the community based on nearness to the school.

The woman at the admissions line told me I should put them in preference order, even though the schools aren't told what order we put them, because if I don't get my first choice school I will automatically go on the waiting list for that school if I want to.

I will definitely visit all the schools... I think it's probably more important to go and see school D, I'd quite like to make my own mind up about it, though God knows how I'd find out about bullying. I suppose I could just come out with it and ask the HT a direct question, that I'd heard there was a problem about bullying and what were they doing about it? That said, one of my friend's sons goes to school F, the amazing school that everyone wants to go to and he got in to a fight with someone who bit him so hard he drew blood and her son is now scarred. I guess fighting and bullying can happen at the best of schools!

AnyoneButLulu Thu 15-Sep-11 20:46:57

Do double-check the published admissions criteria and historic admissions on school A, people answering phones have been known to get things wrong, and some catholic schools do have open places for very local catholic-ish children.
do put school C first, and then make sure you get and stay on the waiting list if necessary. you've got a good chance, and even if you have to put DS in a less desirable school for a year you should have some chance if a place comes up (I was offered a place for DD in December of reception year at a school I didn't think we had a prayer of)

builder Thu 15-Sep-11 20:59:36

You must live in a very urban area to have so much choice. This probably doesn't help you!

Be realistic, if there is a pressure on school places, only apply to schools that you have a chance of getting in to. Where we live, some people put the most popular schools down in the town (despite not living anywhere near them) and were furious when they were given schools 5 miles away.

Secondly, go round the schools. Reputations aren't always accurate. My dds go to an unpopular school that has very mixed intake and lots of poverty. However, I would say that it is probably the best school around...it doesn't have lots of pushy parents making the teachers upset (such that they leave). It is heavily focussed on the children doing well and enjoying themselves and they are utterly approachable. My dd1 has always been happy and has done very well. dd2 has just started and has been bouncing in.

I contrast this with our local, more popular school, which has a high turnover of teachers and not such good behaviour. (But the parents look posher!) Their school meals supervisors had to come to our school to find out how to control the children at lunchtime!

headfairy Thu 15-Sep-11 21:45:09

Builder I don't think it qualifies as urban, we're home counties, about an hour and a half outside London. I think it's semi rural really. Only 2 mins out of town and you're in the Surrey Hills. But we're very close to the town centre. I know what you mean about putting down schools you have an actual chance of getting in to, but as others have said, things change year on year. I wouldn't have got in to my preferred choice school last year, but who knows what the situation will be this year. For that reason I think I have to put it down. Even if as anyonebutLuLu says it's just to get on the waiting list. I may well get a place after only a few months as I'm sure there's always a bit of movement around in the reception year.

Thanks for the encouraging news AnyonebutLulu. I'm glad your dd got a place at a different school. I'm hoping something like that might happen for me too.

I think the Catholic school are uber strict. It's one of those ones where it's not just sufficient to go to church, you have to actively be involved in the church life too. I can't in all conscience pretend that I'm a devout church goer. Ds was baptised, mostly because his now departed great grandmother would have had a heart attack if he hadn't been. There's no point in even considering the Catholic school. Last year every single place went to children who had the written support of the priest. I'm so glad my taxes pay for children who live 2kms can go to a school at the end of my road while mine is excluded hmm (don't even get me started on faith schools, I have soo many arguments with my sister about them)

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