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Absolute distance from school

(17 Posts)
whinetaster Mon 03-Aug-15 11:03:15

Our local London council gave recently abolished catchments. You are now allocated a place at a school based on absolute distance from the school. This makes sense except that our nearest school is now apparently not the one 10 mins walk away but the one 30 mins walk away. This is because in absolute distance terms the 2nd school is 50m closer BUT this includes a large graveyard surrounded by 8 foot walls- practically we will have to walk 30 mins down to the main road, along and round which takes 30 mins to walk.
This seems mad! Does anyone have any experience of appealing this? Is there anything we can do?

cgehansen Mon 03-Aug-15 13:05:10

I agree it's mad. Using straight line distance to offer school places means some people get a choice of 2 or 3 local schools and others get 'allocated' a place elsewhere within 2 miles of home (which is a long way in London). I'm guessing you've already done so but it's worth checking the distance calculation is accurate. You need to know the actual address point of the school from which the LEA measures distance and compare that to your home using Using the postcode to postcode distance often gives the wrong result.

tiggytape Mon 03-Aug-15 13:33:17

The advantage of using "as the crow flies distance" is accuracy.
In many parts of London schools are so full that 20cm can make the difference between getting a place and not getting a place.

If you are measuring walking routes, it is considered less accurate and there can be disputes eg if some footpaths are lit and included but others are unlit and not accepted (even though it is a safe route that hundreds use and that shaves 400m off the journey) then some people miss out that way.

And fixed catchments are increasingly less useful in densely populated areas. Living in catchment doesn't mean getting a place. It means having priority for a place. But if 200 people live in catchment (the rising birthrate makes this more possible now) and there are only 60 places, it isn't much good. They just take the 60 highest qualifiers and those living closer and those inside but nearer the edges of catchment dont get in

If the new system is at consultation stage then write in to let them know. If however it has already been approved, you are going to be stuck with it unless you can show that it has been changed to deliberately discriminate against some people (eg if they've done it to prevent a council estate on one side of the graveyeard having priority for a particular school).

It is also worth noting that you won't necessarily get allocated your nearest school no matter what system they use.
If you want the school 10 minutes (now classed 30 minutes) away and you apply, you can still get in.
Equally if both schools are full from siblings and people living slightly closer than you, you may not get into either of them even the one 50m closer.

whinetaster Mon 03-Aug-15 22:03:05

Thank you both. TBH it sounds like we're in a pickle. Both schools are good- but both are over subscribed and we are (in London terms) a long way away from both. We were fine when we were in the catchment for school 1 as the catchment was an unusual shape which put us in the middle of it- realistically now I don't think we will get either.
The other problem is that siblings now automatically get first priority regardless of distance from school. According to my neighbour (an estate agent) the rent in the tiny flats opposite the school went up 20% in the 2 months after the announcement! Rent, get one child in, then move somewhere further away. It's really frustrating. We're playing by the rules but the rules keep changing and lots of people don't!

prh47bridge Mon 03-Aug-15 22:30:00

Rent, get one child in, then move somewhere further away

Most councils in London are wise to this. Renting to get a place is unlikely to work. And many councils are putting a distance limitation on sibling priority so that parents who got their eldest in then moved away find that their younger children don't benefit from sibling priority.

tiggytape Mon 03-Aug-15 22:42:44

As prh says, the people paying the huge rents are unlikely to succeed if they are cheating especially in London. Councils aren't daft and do council tax history checks and other checks too to verify addresses.

If the rented home is their only home then so be it. They can use that address. But if the family have another house nearby but are renting an additional home to use it for school admissions, the council are going to spot this very quickly and won't allow it. The council don't prosecute or anything dramatic. They simply tell the families involved that their original home will be the one used to measure distances not the newly rented flat (regardless of which address the family choose to live in). Many people think leaving the house and physically living in the flat for a few months makes it their home. It doesn't and most councils are very hot on this topic.

And as prh says, some rule changes are designed to help people in your position. Too many London schools found they were turning away people 300m from their gates in favour of siblings living 3+ miles away. So there is a shift towards limiting the distance a sibling can live from school and keep priority for a place.

Knowing all this in advance though does give you the chance to look at other schools and not assume that the 2 local ones will be definite options. You should list both local ones on your form of course but make sure you list others too.
Is there a school on your way to work that usually has spaces? Even if it is a long way from home, if they are undersubscribed, you can get a place if you list it.
Is there a school you really want to avoid? If so find other undersubscribed schools further away but the easiest journey possible and list those below your top 2
Make sure you use all 6 options on your form and try to include at least one school on there somewhere that tends to take all who apply or whose criteria you meet for other reasons eg faith not distance.

whinetaster Mon 03-Aug-15 22:53:48

I've checked- these's no distance limit for the siblings ��
There are lots of good schools around- TBH any of the 8 closest schools to us are all good. However, most didn't fulfil their catchments last year, and there were a few children who have ended up being bussed elsewhere- the local paper estimated we were around 40 places short last year, and given our distance from all of the schools this could well be us.

I'm going to be pragmatic and put all schools, in order of distance (except the Catholic one on our doorstep who won't take us because we're not Catholic- but that's a whole other rant). I'm also going to bury my principles and put her name down for some private schools. I really believe in state education, but I can't have DD bussed to school miles away. I need a contingency.

This is mad.

mugglingalong Mon 03-Aug-15 22:54:35

It does sound frustrating, although with the odd-shaped catchment (unless it is because of a geographical obstacle like the Thames), it might have meant that someone who would have lived only 5 minutes from the school did not get priority over you because they were out of catchment for School 1 and so had to go to school 2 which is further away from them too. School 2 being slightly closer doesn't mean that you are more likely to get a place there, put them down in the order in which you liked them most. If being close is important then put school 1 down first.

tiggytape Mon 03-Aug-15 23:01:10

It is difficult.
If the admissions criteria has changed a lot from last year, it may be harder to work out your chances but it is worth trying.

Rather than simply listing the 6 closest schools, you can try to do what you did when you considered the Catholic school: look at each school's criteria and see how well you match it. You can ask each one "what was the last distance offered for non siblings last year" (the recent abolition of catchments may make that info less helpful than usual but as a rough guide it might be useful).

So: if one school is 750m away, has 30 places and only took non siblings from 320m last year, you can concede it's not looking hopeful.

But If another school is 800m away but has 120 places in reception and took non siblings from 900m away last year, you could pin more hope on that one.

cgehansen Tue 04-Aug-15 09:45:24

Not all councils are good a stopping people using a temporary address to get a school place. Where I live the estate agents say lots of people do it particularly around the preferred schools. You just need to show that the child lives at the address you are applying from e.g. with a council tax bill. Yes they will check whether you have another address or not but if they can see you don't live there e.g. someone else is paying the council tax then it won't be questioned. So people rent a flat near the school and rent their own home out, or pretend their own home is a 'business address' or buy a 'but-to-let' near the school and live there when making their application. Having a distance limit on siblings would make a huge difference. Getting rid of catchment areas feels like a very backward step.

whinetaster Tue 04-Aug-15 10:43:37

Thank you all for the helpful posts. It does seem that I need to play things cleverly, and possibly give up on the idea of my child going to the closest local school! The reason the original catchment was an odd shape is that there is a cluster of schools all very close together, with the houses I live in in a bit of a dead zone (unless you're Catholic). So the catchments made it possible to get a place locally. There were some children who weren't able to get into school 1 who lived closer to it than us- but they had the choice of 2 other good schools almost as close so no one really minded.

I know this will sort out inequities in other parts of the Borough, and that there are always winners and losers- just annoying to be one of the losers!

Possibly the subject of another thread, but I mentioned to an acquaintance that we might put her name down for some private schools as well and she asked me what tutoring I was doing for the entrance! What fresh hell is this? She's three.....

And breathe. smile

prh47bridge Tue 04-Aug-15 13:47:41

Where I live the estate agents say lots of people do it particularly around the preferred schools

I would treat what estate agents say with caution. It may be accurate but they do have a vested interest in getting people to take on short term lets for admissions purposes. Yes, some councils aren't very good at picking up false addresses. But others are very good. They keep a list of known addresses used for short term lets and look on applications from those addresses with suspicion. If someone owns a house and rents elsewhere they will use the address of the house the parents own and won't accept arguments such as the home being a business address. And if someone tells them a parent has used a false address the council will investigate. Many of these will be caught before offers are made but the council can act even after that. Every year people lose places after their child has started at school because the council has found that the application used a false address.

whinetaster Tue 04-Aug-15 14:46:29

Its good to know that hopefully there won't be fraud- however, house prices round here are insane and a lot of people rent so can legitimately move closer. It looks like regardless of fraud we will just be too far away from any school and may need to be clever in what we do.

titchy Tue 04-Aug-15 15:55:09

Just to pick up on what you said at 22.43 last night - put the schools in order of your genuine preference. As long as they're listed you get equal priority, so if the nearest isn't your favourite don't put it first!

LibrariesGaveUsPower Tue 04-Aug-15 16:40:35

Yes, schools in order of preference. smile
Also, if you get 5 or 6 choices you can afford 1 or 2 on dream schools. Sometimes all it takes is a low sibling year or a bulge class and you're in. Then 3-4 sensible choices and ideally one or two 'bankers' (the shit school 0.5 mile away is still better than the shit shit school across town (I've known people who had to wait it out at a local school they didn't like whilst waiting on waiting lists for example. And others who grew to love the 'shit' school).

What gets really tricky is if you are in a total black hole.

cgehansen Tue 04-Aug-15 17:13:56

The amount of temporary moving that goes on to get a place in school really depends on how tightly the rules have been worded. I know Camden are good at preventing temporary addresses being used to get a school place but other local authorities have loosely worded admissions policies that are easy to work around. Often you only need to prove you live at the address you're making the application from and don't have another empty address that's your permanent home. I remember a recent case of someone using their parents address to get a place. They were prosecuted but the case was dropped because that scenario wasn't specifically excluded under the admissions rules. Sadly the only way to be confident of getting a place is to move well within the last distance offered radius. The system seems to be designed to maximise stress and uncertainty. It's much simpler in other European countries.

prh47bridge Tue 04-Aug-15 19:42:29

They were prosecuted

The case you are referring to was 6 years ago. The reason the prosecution was dropped was nothing to do with the clarity of the admissions rules. The issue was that it isn't clear whether or not this kind of behaviour is covered by the Fraud Act.

Since that case all councils have stuck to sanctions they are clearly able to apply - using a different address to the one supplied by parents if the false address is discovered before offers are made, withdrawing the offer if the problem is discovered later. They can apply these sanctions regardless of how tightly the rules have been worded. The parents affected can appeal and argue that the council has acted unreasonably but that would be difficult to win, especially if it is clear that they have tried to fiddle the system.

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