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Where to find most accurate information about school catchments? Looking in Harpenden

(18 Posts)
HopHopTrot Thu 05-May-16 22:05:35

Hi, we're totally new to understanding how school catchments work, as we only have a 1.5 year old. But it feels like a baptism of fire trying to understand it in the hyper competitive area that is Harpenden.

First question: where is/are the best place(s) to go to look for the most accurate information on catchments and previous admissions? Should we phone the school or Herts local authority? Or are they not likely to be answering calls from clueless homebuyers? I've found the website that sells the data that rightmove uses. It uses the local authority data for admissions in the previous year, its called

I'm looking at the The Grove Infant and Nursery School in harpenden, and from looking at the map shown on this page: (scroll down a bit to see it)
From what I can understand, the red catchment area is where the school gives priority to pupils geographically, but regardless of that - the grey circle is the distance of the furthest child admitted last year.

So is it simply a case that you are most likely to be offered a place if you live within that grey circle, and if you're outside you are probably less likely to get a place (although the caveat is that the grey circle changes every year!)

Is this website enough to make a decsion with? Or do we need to do more? Is there anywhere that shows historical data rather than just last year, as that would be useful to see how the cut-off area changes.

Sorry I'm so new to all this, I'm getting a bit overwhelmed it all! The current house we're looking at is literally 50m outside the edge of the cut-off circle and I'm wondering if this is enough to totally discount it?

Is there a school in Harpenden that takes in all the rejects from the mega popular schools? I'm not that bothered about a school being super good, but just don't want the DC to get into a school that is miles away! Being close would be good! Do we have to only look at houses next to the less popular schools? I'm so confused.

HopHopTrot Thu 05-May-16 22:07:25

No clue how my title got screwed up! It should read:
Where to find most accurate information about school catchments? Looking in Harpenden

Anotherwriter Thu 05-May-16 22:32:43

There was a phone-in on BBC 3CR Radio today about this issue.

It was to do with Herts Council.

One woman rang in and lived 275 metres away from her first choice. She was given her 5th choice (from memory)

Another woman rang in, also from Herts, saying she had been allocated by the council her 18th closest school. Yes, her 18th shock

Herts Council have been invited to talk on the JVS show tomorrow morning. Might be worth catching up on?

There is another thread here and the general advice is that houses don't change but schools can do.

I'm in the same sotuation as you. It's horrible, you only get one shot at education, don't you?

PresidentOliviaMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 05-May-16 22:45:52

Hi Op
Have amended your title for you
GOOD luck with your move - it's a tricky one, we know

merlottime Thu 05-May-16 22:58:08

You may be better to post this in Primary Education, there are lots of knowledgeable people there. I don't think the website you quote is very accurate; usually the best source of allocation data/last distance offered is on the council website.

TwinkleCrinkle Fri 06-May-16 00:16:34

You should be able to find the distances for the past couple of years on the council website. You can also input the address of houses you are looking at and find the nearest school.
Not in harpenden but I know it is extremely competitive there and you will need to be very close to the school to get a place. I would probably aim for inside of 200m of any you are interested in.

HopHopTrot Sat 07-May-16 07:14:06

Thanks for the replies, I'll check out the council website. Ironically we were interested in Harpenden because of its position and transport links not the schools, and this super competitive atmosphere is starting to put me off a bit.

HopHopTrot Sat 07-May-16 07:15:33

PS, thanks for sorting out my title Olivia!

Notonthestairs Sat 07-May-16 10:07:48

I live nearby - we bought a house on the same road as a primary school (NOT a long road) and didnt get in. A bulge year and a lot of siblings. We didnt get any of our choices and ended up at a school I would never have picked out - its been great, my kids love it and I've met some lovely people.

You're right to do your research but be aware things change year on year. The year after our first child started school our second could have started at the school down the road - but by then we didnt want to move the older child or have them at different schools.

I think Harpenden has a number of great schools - you should be fine but you might need to be flexible (or you might get lucky). The catchment competition is mental in Herts and makes a massive difference to house prices.

HopHopTrot Sat 07-May-16 13:14:13

Thanks for your reply Not, is the school your DC ended up at still walkable from your house? I really like the idea if being able to walkmy DS to school, and it wouldn't be possible if he ended up somewhere on the other side of town... I guess that's what you mean by stay flexible.

Notonthestairs Sat 07-May-16 14:25:10

We have to drive. It takes 5-10 minutes. At the start I used to rage about it - I had to drive past other schools! And we had bought this house specifically so they could walk to school - I had to get a bus to school and I dreamt of being someone that could roll out of bed and wander round!

But now the drive is completely part of our routine and I can honestly say I dont notice.
It has only been a pain when I am bringing children home for playdates - we had to get a bigger car - or when its been snowing (but then I dont fancy icey pavements either!).

I honestly wouldnt have picked the school but its turned out to have exactly the right nuturing enviroment than my kids have needed. So whatever happens schoolwise please dont panic too much - I look back and realised I spent about a year (from the day the results came out until I realised how lovely the school actually is) in a right state over it, totally unnecessarily smile

Namechangio Sat 07-May-16 21:58:45

The best way place to look as previously mentioned in the council website you can see the distances that got in for previous years at each step (allocation day, continuing interest etc). Not sure why that website is saying it was under-subscribed in 2014, that's the year my DC started and it definitely wasn't.
The grey circle looks reasonably accurate and as you say it will change each year depending on siblings and geographic distribution of other applicants. You need to be reasonably close to be confident of a place
Disclaimer we are current selling in the Grove catchment and the other Harpenden schools are all great!

Longdistance Sat 07-May-16 22:04:48

I work in Harpenden so know a little about the area. It is full of families, and spaces in schools are a premium.

Iirc, last years intake for primary schools, a somewhat 30 odd children did NOT get a school allocated ☹️

HopHopTrot Sun 08-May-16 09:53:07

Well I had a look at the Herts council website and the house we're looking at is about 50m further away than the distance of the furthest admitted child in the 15/16 dataset.

So unless some minor miracle happens, if we get this house we will probably have to accept from the word go that DS won't get into the Grove. It's such a pain that those in the southern part of southdown can't go to their nearest school!

It's funny Not, I can already feel myself getting worked up about it like you have described, and we haven't even got this house yet! It's a real pickle as otherwise this house is literally perfect for us, everything we've been looking for...

But looking at the stats if 240 odd people applied to the Grove last year and only 90 got in, that means there must be a large number of people from around the southdown area who have ended up at further away schools? Is that what you've found Not?

I can see two schools from the data which didn't seem to be oversubscribed, so I guess that's where all those who are rejected from their first choices end up?

Notonthestairs Tue 10-May-16 16:50:46

sorry - I forgot to check MN blush
I am not in the southdown area. I am in St Albans. Yes, if you dont get any of your choices then you will be offered a place at one of the undersubscribed schools - BUT you also go on a "continuing interest" list at which ever schools you opted for. This registers that you are still keen to go to that school and if anyone doesnt want their offered place (moving or goign private) then you might get a place.
So, if you are very close to the school you will be high up on the list - sometimes the lists move quite quickly so by the time september rolls around you have a place. Or, as in our case, we were still fourth. I spent the summer hoping to see For Sale signs along my road!
We stayed on the list (by accident, I'd already decided we were very happy with our undersubscribed school but forgot to come off the list) but were only offered a place at the school down the road from us 18 months later.

All i would say is don't obsess over a single school - look at all the schools in the area in the six months before you have to apply. Catchments change, schools become less fashinable (yes there is such a thing as a fashionable school!), head teachers move, OFsteds change. What you want now might not be what you want in a couple of years. And there are lots of great schools in Harpenden - you might have to drive but it wont be the end of the world. Thats just my experience.

Notonthestairs Tue 10-May-16 17:00:38

ps you can accept a place at one school whilst remaining on the continuing interest list for others. Thats why sometimes schools dont know exactly who will be coming in September because in a bulge year there can be a lot of movement on the lists.
Plus as I said before catchments change - one year you might get in, the next you wouldnt it. It depends on the number of applicants (and sibling applicants) in any one year.
Unless you are squarely in catchment it can feel like a lottery. We ended up writing to MP's, we challenged the council in every way we could (you can go to through an appeals process, we did 3!). But then our undersubscribed school turned out to be brilliant so we shut up!

HopHopTrot Tue 10-May-16 21:09:45

Thanks very much for your viewpoint Not. Lots to think about. All this worry might be for nothing after all, as our house doesn't appear to be selling! I just want it to all be over now.

CantSleepWontSleep Tue 10-May-16 23:45:52

Don't forget that schools will be oversubscribed because (almost) everyone applies to 4 schools, so 1 person will count in the numbers 4 times!

Harpenden catchments are absurd. Southdown residents can't get a secondary school place at the moment, but by the time your one is due to start secondary the new one should be built (Southdown will most likely get the new school allocated).

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