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Should I put as first choice a school my son has no chance of getting into?

(72 Posts)
GreenVelvet Thu 24-Oct-13 20:05:26

Because he is well out of the catchment area and it is a very, very oversubscribed school?

I know it sounds a daft dilemma. But my son told me today his friends in our small neighbourhood were applying there which made no sense to me hmm. But I suppose they have nothing to lose if they put it on their list. If they put it as a first choice and the answer is no, they can still go straight to their second, third choices etc assuming they get a "yes" there?

But something about putting a school as first choice you have almost zero chance of getting into feels weird to me confused.

ThreeTomatoes Sat 26-Oct-13 08:31:37

I haven't put down ridiculously long shots (there is at least one school I would have otherwise considered that we're well out of catchment for and that is over-subscribed). However, our three most local schools are schools that I really won't touch with a bargepole and so we haven't put them down. So here's my list:

Choice 1 - dd & I both really want it, well out of catchment but applying for a music place there (dd got through to audition, we will know by Tuesday smile)

Choice 2 - catchment is too small but been told it's not completely unreasonable as they think catchment will widen a bit this year. If we don't get choice 1, I really do want choice 2.

Choice 3 - Pretty realistic school catchment-wise, that i like but that i'm not 100% sold on.

Choice 4 - We're on the very edge of last year's catchment, i haven't even seen it as I had thought we were way too far away but it has a fairly good rep and a trusted friend was v impressed by it. It's just a tad further than I'd like dd to have to travel but only 1 train & the school does look good.

Choice 5 - A highly over-subscribed school that picks out of a hat rather than by proximity (^supposedly^), that we're fairly close to, but it's part of a Federation that I am highly suspicious of & i'd rather not be involved with, despite the appearance of great results (we're surrounded by them here, the 3 local schools i mentioned at the beginning of the post are the same Federation, but this one is the best of a bad bunch so I would be ok about dd going there).

I decided not to use my 6th choice for one of the more 'guaranteed' local schools (which i initially did) because I quite frankly am terrified of the thought of dd ending up there, and I thought, why on earth am doing this? If she doesn't get into any of the above schools even if i had put down an unwanted 6th choice, I would want to appeal/go on waiting lists etc etc anyway. If anyone thinks this is a bad decision, let me know!

RandomMess Sat 26-Oct-13 08:44:12

The danger of not putting that down as no.6 is that she could be allocated a school just as bad but on the opposite edge of the LEA area you live in...

So awful school with a long journey...

ThreeTomatoes Sat 26-Oct-13 08:54:24

Yes I know RandomMess but i think with especially choice 3 we are fairly safe to get one of the other schools... ?

If on Tuesday we get a 'no' from choice 1 I will think one last time about all this.

steppemum Sat 26-Oct-13 09:30:53

blimey threetomatoes, you have 6 choices??? We get 3.

We have struggled with the form, as ds passed for grammar but not enough to guarantee a place (although it is, say 90% likely he will get it)

school 2 is great school, but we are a bit far away, plenty of kids from here go there, but it is borderline. But then again last year they added a class to accommodate all the applicants.

school 3 is also a bit far away, also borderline.

All 3 schools are in different LEA.

Wouldn't touch local schools with a barge pole. We hoping that if we don't get 1 or 2 we will appeal, and should get in to 1 on appeal (fingers crossed) We really worried about not putting a guaranteed school as no.3, but the only guaranteed school is our closest, and any school is better than that.

Can I just repeat again, it doesn't matter which order you put the school, the system doesn't work like that.

tiggytape Sat 26-Oct-13 10:06:52

I think you have to be very honest with yourself when deciding against listing a "safe but disliked" option for number 6.

It goes without saying that you prefer options 1-5 and if the council can give you one of those (i.e. if you qualify for one or more of them) it will. But you do need to a bit of soul searcing about what happens if they can't.

When you open the email / envelope in March would you rather get an offer from a local school you dislike or an offer from a school that you didn't list which has an equally bad reputation but is further away or is so far away you’ve never even heard of it? Because this is your back-up school. If you cannot afford private, this is the one you'll be going to in September assuming appeals and waiting lists fail.

Appeals and waiting lists do offer some hope of a preferred place but they are never a guarantee and having them as a back-up isn't a great idea as they are so unpredictable. Even if your child has a overwhelmingly good reason for needing to attend a certain school, the appeal panel may still not find in your favour if the school is packed full already. Waiting lists move but not predictably and not always by a lot.

Some people have a secret plan B up their sleeves eg a private school option, plans to Home Ed, plans to relocate. But if none of these apply then number 6 should be your "best of the schools I would absolutely hate to get given" because even that is better than getting an equally bad school with a 7 mile commute.

bunjies Sat 26-Oct-13 10:13:54

We've done the same thing for dd. Her 1st choice is unlikely to be successful but at least 2nd choice is still good & as her brother goes there she's pretty much guaranteed a place.

steppemum Sat 26-Oct-13 10:21:01


I agree.
but in our case the 2 worst schools in our city (which isn't that big) are the 2 closest schools to us
So they are the most likely to have places anyway, and they are the only schools I would be 'guaranteed' to get a place in, if I put them on my form.
So in a way we have nothing to loose. If we put them down, we get them. If we don't put them down we probably would get them. If they give us places in another school across town, then that would be a better school than either of these.

The other side of it is knowing your area. This year there are about 170 too many secondary places in our city and the schools have all been heavily giving out flyers and trying to woo parents. This is partly because this year is quite a low birthrate. So we are not in an area with a massive pressure and oversubscription on places.

The schools we have put down as 1, 2 and 3 have all said there is a very good chance that we would get a place. They anticipate people from our area getting places, but no guarantees.

tiggytape Sat 26-Oct-13 10:42:37

steppemum - that is very true. If your true preference is "any school in a 7 mile radius that isn't one of the two closest to my house" then that's fine.

More generally though people only think about the ones they want and their chances of getting in so they block out the worst case scenario and don't give it as much consideration as they should (not you - but other people in areas with more people and less schools for example).

Every year people are horrified to find out they've not got one of their choices despite a few of them being fairly realistic based on past years.
They get allocated a school they've never even heard of that they then Google to find out is awful.
They assume the local awful-but-not-that-awful school will take them and find out that this school is full for the first time ever (happened in the year my son applied which was also a low birth rate year)
They decide an absolutely awful school on their doorstep would have been better than the absolutely awful one 2 train rides away but it is too late by then.

Of course nobody wants an awful school - that goes without saying. But, in general when you're applying your last choice is for the one you could just about live with if everything went wrong and that is almost certain to give you a place.

steppemum Sat 26-Oct-13 10:47:09

that is a very good way of putting it

our true preference is ''any school in a 7 mile radius that isn't one of the two closest to my house!''


I am still astonished at the school gate misinformation. The number of people who still think that the order on the form matters, or that if they put one school then they have to be given it.

I am jealous of getting 6 choices though. I wish we could have had 4/5 never mind 6.

tiggytape Sat 26-Oct-13 10:58:41

In some areas, 6 choices isn't a great help unless your child has passed 3 grammar school exams or you are Catholic with early baptism and weekly attendance sheets signed or you have 3 older children all in different schools so lots of sibling links and you live next to a good comp as well

Otherwise, in London where we have the 6 choices, there is often a grand total of 1 school that you have any hope of getting into whether you like it or not. In fact some people don't even have 1 (they live in the middle of 2 schools but too far from each to get a place). I don't know anyone who will fill their CAF with 6 schools that they have a genuine chance at getting but there's always a hope I suppose that if the council have a mad minute and decide to admit extra pupils, they might get lucky.

RandomMess Sat 26-Oct-13 10:59:38

But in London where you get 6 choices you can put down your 6 nearest non-faith schools (because you're not the right faith) and still not get into any of them as the shortage of places is so chronic...

steppemum Sat 26-Oct-13 11:16:57

yes that's true, 6 non choices is not much of a choice.

ThreeTomatoes Sat 26-Oct-13 13:15:31

Thanks tiggy you've given me something to think about.

I think like steppe said, judging by my borough, the closest schools to us are likely to be the unwanted ones with spaces, but one of them I REALLY wouldn't want, so perhaps I should put the other local one back on as no6 to make sure of not getting into the closest one!! Just had a quick google of the other two schools in Bromley that had 'all offered' last year, they're over a mile away but tbh would probably be preferable to my no6 choice grin. Still, as you say, i wouldn't want dd having an awkward journey so far away...

We have until next Friday to re-submit online if we want to, don't we, so perhaps i can wait till tue and keep fingers crossed she gets into Prendergast.(our no1) I can then think more clearly about the rest as it will become more of a reality if that makes sense.

steppemum Sat 26-Oct-13 15:43:04

'over a mile'

that sounds like a close school to me!

ForeverProcrastinating Sat 26-Oct-13 16:04:12

Can someone clarify who makes the decision, please - school or LEA? One HT said he has some influence, other said it was nothing to do with them.

Down here in Somerset we only have 3 choices. I have done as the form said, put my 3 choices down in order of preference. If we get none of them and just a place at local 'not over my dead body' school, I will go to appeal willingly, and re appeal as necessary. We don't have any other options available so I shall just fight tooth and nail to get (one of) the schools we want. There seem to be many variables that we parents have no knowledge about i.e. low/high birth years, how many extra's a school can accommodate without jeopardizing the classes and more. Also a fair bit of chopping and changing seems to go on at the eleventh hour.

How bad are these "terrible schools"? What makes them so awful? Low GCSE grades? Violence? Are they "failing schools" ?Quite how bad are they?

Are there really that many awful schools? All comps around here are decent, Some good, some outstanding. Some less desired because of " rougher estates" being part of catchment, but that's it.

Anyway, I am sure you will get into one of your top-5 ones, it IS a significantly low birth year after all.

tiggytape Sat 26-Oct-13 16:28:07

You apply to your council and it is the council who make the offers (even for free schools and academies).

However academies are their own admission authority so do will see a list of who has applied but only to apply the admissions criteria already set. It is very regulated (in law) so no funny business goes on about bumping people up and down lists.
They do have some influence in the sense that they can set their own criteria that differs from the council criteria eg they can choose not to give priority to siblings or to give it to children of staff. They have no influence over individuals though. The Head doesn't get any chance to enhance or veto any child's application to his school and all academies return the finished list to the council so it gets double checked too.

You can appeal if you don't get a school you like but it is best not to view appeals as an option that will be successful if you just stick with it long enough. Most appeals fail - that is a fact. And once it has failed, your chance is gone.
You can only appeal once per academic year (unless something important about your circumstances changes) so if you don't win at appeal for Year 7, your next chance is trying for a Year 8 place which isn't ideal if you have no school place for Year 7.

That is why you have to think very carefully about what you'd want the council to do if the worst happened and none of the schools you like could take you. It is easy in October to be adamant that you would rather sell up / home ed / pay private than accept the local school but how would you honestly feel in March if you got allocated a school in the next town you'd never heard of it knowing you were stuck with that school unless you could beat the odds and win at appeal?

tiggytape Sat 26-Oct-13 16:30:25

There is no tooth and nail fighting options open to parents to get the schools they really want. If there were they'd all do it. Ideally you have to fill in the CAF having accepted this.
You can have one appeal per school per year and most appeals will not be successful. After that there is no further avenues to explore unless you have a hugely compelling case of injustice and thousands to spend at judicial review.

ThreeTomatoes Sat 26-Oct-13 16:33:06

steppe - sorry that's meant to say over an hour away!

ForeverProcrastinating Here in London at least, each school on your list would receive your application and consider it independently i.e. they wouldn't know what else is on your list or in what order. All applications they consider according to their own admissions criteria - for most schools this is siblings, special needs cases etc first priority, followed by proximity for everyone else.

Some LAs and some individual schools carry out banding tests or use banding results (eg Lewisham) from primaries to divide applicants up into ability bands, so that schools can take a fair spread of abilities. This can possibly have an effect on catchment - if there are lots of middle attainers near a school and not many high attainers, for e.g., the catchment for high attainers would be wider than for middle attainers. And some schools don't use proximity at all- they pick names out of a hat (^supposedly^).

In addition, some schools have special priority criteria - e.g. Prendergast Hilly Fields that we've applied to take 10% of their intake based on a music aptitude test (& auditions), another school we've applied to takes 10% based on results of a Technology test. (The schools have a music specialism and a Technology specialism respectively, you see.) That 10% is given priority over the other criteria.

Having done all that, all schools send back their acceptances to the LA, who then sort through each applicant, and assign the school highest on each list of preferences that has said 'yes' to each applicant. So, if your choice no 2 and choice no 4 both came back saying 'yes', the LA would give you choice no 2.

Sorry that's all rambly, a conclusion in a nutshell for you:

1. schools receive independent applications
2. schools accept pupils based on their own criteria
3. LA assign the place you're accepted at that's highest on your list

The order you put school in does matter if you are lucky enough to qualify for more than one school. In that case you will get your higher preference. Schools never know in what order your preferences have been made, though, so just put them in your true preference order.

ThreeTomatoes Sat 26-Oct-13 16:35:18

ha! x-posted with tiggy!
I might have got the wrong impression about the applications going to all the schools then, sorry.

Obv as she says, with special criteria like tests etc it would be dealt with initially by the school

ThreeTomatoes Sat 26-Oct-13 16:35:59

& ellen's put it all in a much better nutshell than either me or tiggy did grin blush


steppemum Sat 26-Oct-13 16:43:25

That makes more sense 3toms!

Ellen - yes it comes into effect in that if you are accepted by 2 schools, you will get offered a place at the one higher up your list.

But there is still a 'school gate' myth that school A will only accept people who put them first, or that school B will fill up with first place applicants and so if you put them second there will be no places left and so on.

As tiggy says it is LEA that offers place. School doesn't know if you have put them 1st or 6th

ThreeTomatoes Sat 26-Oct-13 16:51:54

Fiscal one school I never even considered for my list, here are my reasons:

1. A year ago it was all boys, with very bad rep, it is now an Academy (so presumably will improve but still, a Federation i am very sceptical about and whose ethos I am uncomfortable with) but it still has a bad rep...

2. It has poor GCSE results.

3. It currently has a 70:30 boy:girl ratio, I have a dd.

4. There was recently a news article about the school inflating grades, that sort of thing.

I think those are reason enough for me to avoid it, when i have 5 other decent choices, albeit a few long shots?

I may ask for the post to be deleted later, to protect the school.

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