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Please help my friend who is facing the prospect of placing her children in two different schools with a 2 month old baby

(43 Posts)
lingle Tue 03-Feb-09 15:34:46

My friend R has two children, A and B. She is expecting C this summer.

A attends school 1. B is due to start there in September when C is six weeks old or so.

To her horror, she was told recently by her head that School 1 has adopted a "priority admission area" which she does not reside in. Siblings of current pupils residing outside the new priority admission area rank 4th shock in the priority list - after children who are first borns but reside in the priority admission area.

The new priority admission area idea is a good one except that no provisions have been made for phasing it in to protect siblings of existing pupils.

The school is usually oversubscribed - sometimes ridiculously so - and the head is very keen to avoid a situation she faced a year or so ago when she had 34 kids in reception and had to employ an extra teacher.

A and B could probably both get into my kids' school. However, A has had a challenging time in his first three years and frankly the last thing he needs is to be unsettled. Leaving him at school 1 is impracticable though because she can't get the two kids to different schools.

Please please can I have your strategic ideas. We haven't had the places allocated yet but it is very likely that my friend will have to appeal.

Should she talk to:
a) her head mistress (why didn't the head negotiate a transitional phase when she was consulted on this?)
b) her local councillor, who is our democratic representative but also sits on the executive committee that made the decision
c) write to the local council to say that if she does not get in they can expect an appeal (we suspect they always leave a few places unallocated each year to leave space for the inevitable appeals)
d) other parents in the same situation - tricky because some may get in and others not.

Would the fact that she will have a six week old baby assist at any appeal against having to send the children to two different schools? Will the fact that A could get into my kids' school go against her (ie might they say "well it's no problem because you can move both your kids")

I feel this is very unfair. She had a legitimate expectation when she chose this school for child A that child B would go there too.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts. Council insiders and parents with experience of similar situations are particularly sought after.


zoggs Tue 03-Feb-09 15:52:29

I think she has very good grounds for appeal. I don't think schools keep places open in case of successful appeals though so the class may be over subscribed again. In the first instance, she should contact the head to ensure that B is on the waiting list and ask for a copy the appeals process. Are there any other children in the same position?

I was in a very similar situation although without the rule change element and no younger sibling and I won my appeal. Your friend has a stronger case than me. Hopefully, it a place will be offered before it gets to an appeal as it is a stressful process.

SoupDragon Tue 03-Feb-09 15:54:54

I doubt she has a good case for appeal because there will surely be a number of siblings in the same position. Are they supposed to admit them all on appeal?

LIZS Tue 03-Feb-09 15:56:31

I don't think she can do much at all until the allocations come out and she knwos wshe is in that situation. They can't vary the process for her as it would then be unfair on others and result in many appeals. Changes to admissions criteria are decided a year or so ahead of the start date so it shouldn't only come to light now. Similar happened near us a few years ago and eventually they put on an extra class ina tmeproary classroom for the overspill rather thna bus little ones several miles to the nearest with space. Parents whose kids got the prized places first time round were pretty p'd off though.

worley Tue 03-Feb-09 15:57:44

what year are they in? all im thinking is that in my area we have primary middle and high school. for some of the children who were at my sons primary (not their catchment primary) were due to go to middle school they were forced to go to the middle school in their catchment not the one in the school pyramid they had been in. this then left some parents having to drop older dc's at the middle and then younger dc's at the out of catchment primary.
so she may win for now but what happens when they go on to the next school?
will she have to fight again.

worley Tue 03-Feb-09 16:03:37

and to be honest, if your school is good and she would be able to get in there why cant she send them there? i realise you said he has had a difficult past but he will have to move up to other schools eventually and maybe sooner could be better than later.
also if the children living in the catchment were all offered places and then parents who dont live in catchment start playing up and then being offered places, i wouldnt be impressed that they bumped up the class size just to keep parents happy.

Flibbertyjibbet Tue 03-Feb-09 16:04:51

No practical advice, but just wondering -

If the school is well over subscribed then how did she get her first child into that school? Don't they go off distance for firstborns? So that in an oversubscribed school places would first go to siblings then to children living nearest?

Then, having read your op again... I would say that if I were her I wouldn't panic until she gets the letter offering places. Heads don't have the final say in who goes there. If on the application she was asked whether they already had a child at the school then the school surely can't just turn round and disregard that info?

wannaBe Tue 03-Feb-09 16:05:32

the fact that the school is over subscribed is most likely the reason why the catchment areas have been redefined. Some schools do keep places open but this generally only happens if they have a two form entry.

It's all very well expecting the school to make exception for the siblings of existing children, but this in itself creates problems - after all your friend has a child in the school at the moment, so if they admit the sibling she will be in the same position again in 4 years time when the baby is due to start school. Should the school then be expected to make allowances for that sibling too because her original child started at the school when she was in catchment?

Tbh I think there's very little your friend can do. The head might have had some input when this decision was made, but she wouldn't have had any authority - she would only have been able to state her opinion.

your friend will just have to wait and see what happens and appeal if necessary, but tbh I don't think a baby is a mitigating circumstance, sorry.

wannaBe Tue 03-Feb-09 16:08:52

unless the school is independent/a faith school the head will have no say on who is admitted and who isn't. Admitions to state school are done by the local authority.

littleducks Tue 03-Feb-09 16:09:13

s friends daughter got in on appeal as her bro was already at the school

sorrento Tue 03-Feb-09 16:11:14

This happened to my friend and she has home educated B until a place comes up or Junior school which ever happens first.
Home ed with a primary school child isn't rocket science and her playschool has allowed her to continue there 5 mornings a week.

BonsoirAnna Tue 03-Feb-09 16:11:32

It is clearly unreasonable, because it is so inconvenient, to expect parents to have their children in two different primary schools because admissions criteria changed between the time of the first sibling and the second sibling starting school.

I think that these are the only valid grounds for appeal, personally. But they are very valid. Your friend should write to the LEA and the headmistress, stressing this.

moonmother Tue 03-Feb-09 16:21:51

I'm having the same sort of problem, well sort of.

We moved to the town we live in now 2 years ago, then only my DD (8)was in school, and the catchment school, didn't have a very good reputation. I knew of another school out of catchment, that was great and luckily got her a place.

My son joined the nursery there when my Dd started in Year 3.He is now in reception.

We are on the 3 tier system (lower, Middle and upper).

My DD is moving to middle school this September and the catchment school is across the other side of town. The middle school that is nearest to Ds's school is heavily over -subscribed, the only other middle school near us is a Church of England school.

I don't drive so it would be an impossibility to get them both to school on time. Also my Ds has only just settled properly at school and I don't want to have to move him, having one child move school is enough.

I have applied to both, in the hope that one will let her join, but if not then i will have to home educate her till a place becomes available- not something I really want to do, she will miss her friends terribly and is very bright, and to be honest keeping up the pace of her learning will be incredibly hard.

The application is in and we have to wait until early March to find out.

lingle Tue 03-Feb-09 16:26:01

Ooh, lots of good quick answers, though not many of them saying what we wanted to hear! keep them coming!

Is there a consensus that the pregnancy is irrelevant? I'd assumed that would be taken into account. Shows how much I know!

To answer the questions:

1. Apparently there are six parents in her year alone with this problem. Six!

2. Yes, it is because of its oversubscription that the school is now having a priority admission area. Our town runs along a valley and school 1 is closest to the downstream part of town. But the people furthest downstream don't usually get in at the moment precisely because people like my friend (who lives towards the middle of town) tend to get in instead. So at the moment there are lots of people living on the downstream edge of town who have to walk past school 1 to take their kids to my school. My friend got her first child in to school 1 on a waiting list basis - it wasn't a particularly oversubscribed year. But it will be harder for child B because being relatively close to the school will no longer be particularly relevant. All the kids at the extreme downstream edge of town will get priority.

It is a sensible and desirable policy change except for the lack of transition arrangements.

One thought. Child A will be 7 next year. He can walk to School A without crossing a road save for one place where there is a lollipop man. Perhaps he could walk and they could manage two schools until child B (who appears the more mature and resilient) can transfer back to school 1?

It's all a bit sickening for her. She felt passionately at the time child A was 3 that she was doing the best for child A by trying to get into school 1.

LIZS Tue 03-Feb-09 16:33:02

If there are 6 parents in same boat it seems less likely that any appeal would succeed as that would potentially open the flood gate and they cannot physically accommodate them all. There may be selection criteria applied within the out-of-catchment-with-siblings category to determine which child is offered a space first (such as by distance) assuming the school is not already oversubscribed by that point. But if she lives further away than the others then she still would not be top of the list. Perhaps she needs to consider sharing the shcool run with one of the others in the same boat - one takes and drops one way, the other goes to the second school.

zoggs Tue 03-Feb-09 16:36:33

All 6 children will have to be treated the same. When I won my appeal I think I was one of 8 families in the same situation but that was at secondary level so much bigger intake. We all got in and the school had to adjust its admission procedure for subsequent years.

wannaBe Tue 03-Feb-09 16:52:59

pregnancy is irelevant. Not sure why you think it would be taken into account tbh, because the baby isn't going to stay a baby for ever - so by that it assumes that all parents with younger children need to be given priority and that is unrealistic.

lingle Tue 03-Feb-09 18:23:11

Oh dear, even the people who thought she stood a good chance don't any more.

This is really useful for me now because I'll stop making "it will all be fine" noises and change to just listening and nodding IYKWIM.

It's lucky that there are a couple of places at my school for child A. We had a temporary head in his admission year after a failing head which is why everyone was anti-us and pro school 1 in that year. Now we have a fantastic head and are fully subscribed in reception.

I just feel for child A.

It all goes to show it's never over till it's over with this school lark....

clam Tue 03-Feb-09 19:37:19

Why is the Head making these decisions anyway? I thought it was standard practice that local education authorities dealt with all admissions, according to publicised rules. Precisely to avoid potentially unfair practices being adopted. There was a massive hoo-hah where I live a few years ago, when the actual County Council changed the sibling rule in the way your Head has, without due consultation. They had to abandon the idea when threatened with the High Courts by a lawyer parent whose child was adversely affected.

wheresthehamster Tue 03-Feb-09 19:52:01

I hate rule changes that are harsh and sudden. I agree that the rule change is better but there is no reason for siblngs to immediately go to the bottom of the pile. Better to say siblings in catchment, then siblings out of catchment, then catchment children then out of catchment children. The siblings out of catchment will reduce every year and should not be a major problem.

I have no advice but feel the pain sad

muppetgirl Tue 03-Feb-09 20:00:51

I just want to add the other side of the coin whilst I totally sympathise with your friend!!

We moved to a new town that had 3 new schools in our area planned. They open up school 1 and 2 then drop planbs for school 3.

As school 1 and 2 are new they let in anyone and everyone so fill up the school with those close and very far away from school -but they hjave funding so they are happy.

Time to apply for a school place for ds 1 and we are 18th on the list (after the places are filled) for school 1 - .4 miles aaway and are 13th on the list for school 2 .5 miles away as the siblings of those children already there have priority. We get allocated school 4, not one we would have even considered.

So we go to another school we chose but it is private as we feel we have no choice as the 2 local schools are full and heavily oversubscribed which is a situation that could have been easliy foreseen due to the cancellation of school 3 and the oversubscription of schools 1 and 2.

I feel for your friend but can see our point of view too.

lingle Tue 03-Feb-09 20:49:52

"The siblings out of catchment will reduce every year"

exactly, wheresthehamster, exactly.

boccadellaverita Tue 03-Feb-09 21:31:42

I'm not a council insider exactly but I am a member of my LEA's admissions appeal panel, so I hope this helps. Please forgive the telegram style post!

1. I'm assuming this is not a foundation school and so admissions are with the local education authority rather than the school itself.

2. Any appeal should be addressed to the body making the decision - so most probably the LEA.

3. To be successful, any appeal has to demonstrate that the decision to refuse a place was unreasonable and not consistent with the school's published admissions criteria.

4. Changes to a school's admissions criteria are supposed to be consulted upon - were they? I am a governor of a school which is currently consulting on its admissions criteria. (I have to say that, personally, I'm not sympathetic to the argument that there should have been a transition period because the transition period could go on for years, if every child currently at the school can act as admission ticket for every younger sibling. There has to be a cut-off point and (in my view) it might just as well be now as 1/2/3 years down the line, when there will still be parents disappointed that younger siblings no longer get priority. But that's just my view and it's by the by. An earlier post also pointed out the knock-on effects for children living close to the school if out-of-catchment siblings are given priority).

5. There is nothing to lose by talking to the headteacher but probably nothing to be gained. She is not the admissions authority - the LEA is (but see 1. above).

6. Ditto the councillor. Councillors do not have the power to overturn admissions decisions - that is for the appeal panel - and the council is very unlikely to unpick the decision to create a priority admissions area once it's made. On the other hand, this is the sort of issue which councillors may want to pick up.

7. Ditto writing to the LEA. It may be useful to ask them to confirm what public consultation there was about changing the school's admissions criteria to create the priority admissions area. But their reply to 'if you don't admit my child I will appeal' will most likely be 'well that is your democratic right'. LEAs are very resistant to anything which looks like blackmail.

8. Any appeal has to be based on the school's admissions criteria. Of course, you can mention any compelling compassionate circumstances but be aware that every appeal will probably mention compassionate circumstances of one kind or another so they may not be decisive. The inconvenience of haing two children at two schools may not be enough to win an appeal.

9. Schools in this LEA do not leave spare places to allow for appeals. They allocate all available places. If an appeal succeeds, the school the LEA then has to decide whether to require the school to admit an extra child. It may be useful to confirm what your LEA does.

10. Look at the DCSF website pages on school admissions. The Advisory Centre for Education also has information on appeals.

I'm not a lawyer and I can't advise your friend on what to do. This is a growing area of law and she may find it useful to consult a solicitor who specialises in school and admissions law.

myredcardigan Tue 03-Feb-09 21:43:35

Can I ask though if the LEA would expect you to take your child out of school 1 and move them to school 2? Surely such an expectation is unreasonable? Assuming this is unreasonable would school 1 accept child A being 15mins late every day for the rest of his school career? Because surely a parent cannot be expected to be in 2 places at once. Just curious as to whether they'd expect him to leave or accept him being late everyday.

I feel for her. It cannot be easy especially with a new baby.

boccadellaverita Tue 03-Feb-09 22:04:50

Yes, I feel for her too, but certainly the view within my LEA - and others may differ - is that, although obviously not ideal, having two children at two schools cannot always be avoided if school 1 doesn't have a place for the younger sibling. Our LEA does not take any position on what parents should do in those circumstances, although it expects parents to ensure (by sharing school runs, using a childminder or however) that each child gets to school on time.

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