Is there a point including schools with tiny catchment areas?

(19 Posts)
goingflowing Sun 06-Sep-20 19:20:24

So, here's my dilemma... I have been researching to apply for a reception primary school place next year for DS. We will start visiting schools as soon as we can and I have been asking around friends etc to get as much info as I can. There is a number of good schools in our area, but some are so sought after they have a tiny catchment area. There are also 1-2 there that are in the 'requires improvement' category so I would want to avoid and will not even put on the list to avoid getting a place there if I can.

I understand that I have to put 6 schools on our application. I have worked out that there are about 3 that are good and we have hope of getting in, so those are def being included on our list. Then, there are another 3 that I'd have liked it if we got in, but realistically, we probably won't, because of the tiny area those schools end up accepting applications from, since they are so sought after.
Is there a point putting those schools in my application at all?

And if i don't put them, then what do I go for for the remaining 3 places? nice schools that are further away? (there are 1-2 that I hear have no catchment as such and while 'good' have been undersubscribed in the past so we could get in in theory) nothing at all?

I just don't know what's the best strategy here...

OP’s posts: |
RNBrie Sun 06-Sep-20 19:32:42

Make sure you put at least one school you have a realistic chance of getting in to. If you only put schools you like but have no hope of getting into, you will be allocated one that has a place, most likely one of the schools you don't like.

Asking as there is one you like and are close enough to to get a place then you can put any other 5 you like in whatever order you like.

The schools don't know which order you put them in. The council will allocate you the first school in your list who has a place for you.

EduCated Sun 06-Sep-20 20:59:08

Yes, make sure there is at least one ‘ banker’ - a school that you have the most realistic chance of getting into. Even if you don’t like it, it’s better than a school you equally don’t like but even further away (if you didn’t get any of your choices).

If the three you’ve identified includes one you’re likely to get into, then go for it with some of the ‘slim chance but who knows’ ones.

admission Sun 06-Sep-20 21:48:21

It is important that you understand the system that is used, which is called equal preference.
If you have to put down 6 preferences then you put them in order of which school you most like to go to first and the rest in downwards order. You can apply for any school in any LA.
What happens is that the LA where you live is responsible for allocating the order of admission criteria order. So for all schools the absolute priority goes to looked after children and previously looked after children. After that it is in the admission criteria order as approved for each school. Do not assume that all the schools will have the same admission criteria order, they could easily be different, especially when it comes to faith schools and also academies.
So if there are 350 applications which put down a school as one of their preferences, then the LA end up with a list of all 350 applicants in admission order criteria, which nearly always ends up with applications in the same criteria being allocated in order on distance to the school. So on your first preference school the LA will look where you are on the admission criteria order and if say there are 60 places available and you are 58th on the list you will be offered a place at your first preference school. If however you are 68th on the list you will not be offered a place at your first preference. The LA will then carry out the same procedure on your 2nd preference school and beyond until they can allocate you a place at one of your preference schools.
If the LA cannot offer you a place at any of your 6 preference schools then they will look to offer you a place at the nearest school that has available spaces. That is nearly always going to be a school you do not want and quite possibly a distance from your home. That is why it is important that one of your preferences is the school that you are most likely to get into because it is the nearest school. By doing this you at least get a school that is viable in terms of getting to the school etc even if it is not a school you want. It is far better to be offered and accept the nearby school as the starting point to hopefully get a place at a school on appeal that is more attractive to you than have no school place at all.
So in the context of your application I would put your nearest school in 6th preference and use your first two preferences for the two schools you would most like to go to but probably have little chance of getting a place at. Then your choices for 3rd, 4th and 5th preference should be schools you are happy with but are more likely to yield a place because they are nearer your home than your absolute favourite.
You say you are not going to consider schools that are "requires improvement". I would suggest that this could be a mistake, such schools could easily be improving rapidly and be a far better school than the Ofsted report suggests. I would suggest you visit and make your own mind up on whether they should be one of your 6 preferences. You should be aware that a school that is deemed outstanding by Ofsted and has high parental approval could easily not be outstanding. It could be 10+ years since they were inspected and high KS2 test results is not always a good indicator of a good school.

taradiddle Sun 06-Sep-20 22:02:13

Don't disagree with any of the above - but the difficulty you might have is that many/most schools aren't going to allow you to visit, quite possibly at all before January, depending on how things go. Hopefully some will have online resources to give you a feel for the school, and you might get some sense of the place by phoning up to ask. You can look at local Facebook groups etc, but bear in mind that it can be difficult to get helpful advice on these - many parents either have an axe to grind, or will want to post-rationalise their own choice, or might just have very different priorities from you and your child.

trilbydoll Sun 06-Sep-20 22:04:56

You've got nothing to lose by putting them down, as long as you also have realistic choices on the form. There are often low birth years or other anomalies and people get places where they were not expecting to.

minnieok Sun 06-Sep-20 22:06:30

My advice is to put down schools you are willing to accept, you don't have to list all the spaces. But be aware that the fewer choices you put down the less they have to work with do you could get another school all together


bathorshower Sun 06-Sep-20 22:11:47

Our LEA publishes data each year for which criterion each school reached when they were allocating places, and how far away the furthest child was on that criterion. I spent a less than thrilling evening going through the aforementioned data for 5 years for each of the 5 schools we were considering (only allowed 3 preferences where I am); it was a worthwhile exercise as I discovered that one very desirable school never had space for all those within catchment, let alone those outside. But another (the one DD attends) had space about half the time. We put it first and got lucky.

I agree with the others about including a 'banker' that you are likely to get in to, especially as you have 6 choices.

Fatted Sun 06-Sep-20 22:11:49

I'd recommend putting the ones closest to you OP.

When I went through this with DS1, he didn't get into his first choice school. He ended up with a place at our second choice, which actually our closest school. We didn't appeal and are happy with where he is now to the point that it was our first choice for DS2.

Another child in our road also applied for our first choice and didn't get a place either. They didn't include our second choice/nearest school in their choices and actually ended up in another school further away that is a nightmare to drive to. They ended up applying to move to the nearest school because the journey was so stressful! The child is now in DS1 class.

Echobelly Sun 06-Sep-20 22:15:25

Don't ask, don't get - as others have said, have insurance, but put the one you want first. We didn't get our first choice primary, but we did get our 1st choice secondary for DD, which had a tiny catchment we were nowhere near in (but a slight change to criteria just before we applied just slipped us in) - and we were empowered to put it as our 1st choice as we had some other realistic options on the list.

Wearywithteens Sun 06-Sep-20 22:37:16

Agree with admission.

You really need to read school admission policies to see what their oversubscription criteria is to have some idea as to whether you’ve got a chance or not. I know of schools where you could live next door and not get in because they prioritise on faith and siblings. I also know of parents who’ve travelled the county and picked the 6 outstanding schools they like the look of and they don’t get in any. Had they read how the school actually allocate places? No.

YewHedge Sun 06-Sep-20 23:10:11

You probably will not be able to visit the schools for this years application.
Have a look at their websites and ask around for people's opinions.

KihoBebiluPute Sun 06-Sep-20 23:18:38

if the closest schools to you are all unsatisfactory, then leaving them off your list has this effect: if you don't qualify for any of the 6 schools on your list, you will be assigned to a school that is just as bad, but further away and you will then wish you could get a place at the terrible nearby school so you could spend your time and energy supporting your DC's learning rather that wasting it on a long commute.

so put an unsatisfactory school in at #6 because there is slways an even worse option.

the vast majority of any child's primary outcomes is set by the amount of engagement their parents have with ensuring the child reaches their potential. your child has already won that lottery, because you care. if you don't get the nicest school your child will still be ok.

goingflowing Tue 08-Sep-20 09:02:28

Thank you all so much, this is all so so helpful!

@admission @KihoBebiluPute Yes your strategy makes sense. I need to work out which is the school that would be the best for my 6th place/my insurance

I have had a look at admissions criteria in most schools around here and they seem more or less the same for all actually: first it's special education needs, then siblings (we are in neither of these categories) and then distance, as the crow flies, so I think that's where it all plays out for us.. we are in London, not sure if this makes a difference

And I hadn't even thought that it's possible that we won't be able to visit the schools at all! Eek 😬 I hope this changes as it will make me very nervous to pick a school that I have never set foot in, judging just by other people's experiences... fingers crossed this is not the case. I have emailed all my 'possibles' to see what their current policy is in terms of that

OP’s posts: |
AwkwardMum Thu 12-Nov-20 09:48:54


In your example of 350 applicants putting down a school as one of their preferences, and being 68th on the list for 60 places- presumably some of the 60 who are offered places will not take them, either because they have been offered a place at a school higher up their list, or because they have changed their mind. What happens then to the spare places? It must take time to send out offers and receive acceptances or declines, so if you were eg 61st on the list you’ll already have been notified that you haven’t been offered a place there and may have accepted a place elsewhere. Do they follow up with you to say there is a place now available?

admission Thu 12-Nov-20 11:06:07

If you can be allocated a place in a school that is higher up your list of preferences then that is the school you will be allocated. So in the example I gave it is not necessarily the first 60 on the list that will be allocated places, it is the first 60 on the list for which this is their best preferred school.
There are always parents who for good reason want to change their mind on the school offered. If they reject the place offered then that vacant place will be offered to the pupil who is top of the waiting list. This waiting list is set up after the initial offer date and will include all those looking to change their preference or who were classed as late applications. This waiting list order is again based on the admission criteria of the school and may be very different in order from the initial criteria order on which the original places are offered, especially where there are lots of late applications.

AwkwardMum Thu 12-Nov-20 12:14:35

Thanks @admission. I can see why it needs a computer to work it out!

audienda Thu 12-Nov-20 16:00:17

To add to what admission said, the computer algorithm will be churning away endless times behind the scenes before offer day. Children will be constantly being shunted up to higher priority schools as other children are allocated a space at a school and then removed from any lower preferences. The computer only 'stops' once that process is complete and everyone has been given the highest preference possible (or allocated another school if none of their preferences can offer a place). At that point the computer spits out one actual offer per child, and that's the first time that parents find out which school they've been given.

After offer day there is still movement, generally triggered by parents declining places due to moving out of area or going private, and therefore new places becoming available for late applicants and children on the waiting list - so there's another little flurry of movement. Finally, that settles down again but places continue to become available in dribs and drabs up to September and beyond.

PresentingPercy Thu 12-Nov-20 23:53:18

One word of caution about RI schools - some have been in and out of RI for years. They improve for a bit and then slide again when the head moves on to their next project. You should also look at any newsletters on the school web sites. Not just a glossy prospectus. Check out what actually happens in school and look at as many newsletters as you can to get a good flavour of the school. Does it have values you agree with? Does it look exciting? Are there interesting things pupils have done? What about initiatives with parents? Look at all their policies on their web sites. Are you in agreement with them? Then hang around a bit when dc come out. A bit difficult but you could drive and park in the road. Do you see dc like yours? What about the parents? Pyjama mamas or working mums?

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