Getting your child into the school of your choice can often be a most stressful experience. Parents will, after all, want to get their child into the school that they believe will provide the best education. Some parents will resort to extraordinary lengths in order to increase their chances of success. This entry is written from a school governor's perspective to advise parents on how to engage with the admissions process, and applies equally to applications at Primary as well as Secondary Transfer stages.
There are some important matters that need to be taken on board.
Get to Know the Rules and Procedures
You need to be fully familiar with the admissions rules for all the schools at which you are considering making an application.
You also need to understand the admissions process for each school. Many people do not realise until it is too late that not all state schools have a common admissions process. Many Voluntary Aided Schools have their own process and in which case you may have to complete two application forms, one for the Local Education Authority (LEA), and another for the school itself.
You need to then assess how well any application made by you will fit into the admissions criteria, and whether there are any unusual circumstances about your application (eg, Special Educational Needs) that make one particular school especially attractive (or maybe unattractive) to your child.
All of these points should be fully understood by parents if possible two years before the admissions process begins. Why? Because if it is of major importance to you that your child gets into a particular school and your application does not fit comfortably into their admissions criteria, then you are going to need to do some additional preparation. In these cases you need to contact the school as soon as possible, and long before the admissions process begins. 'Long before' can mean two years, especially if there are special educational needs involved.
Approaching the School
You need to contact the school office and ask for advice. Please note ask for advice. Going in with heavy 'attitude' will just get their backs up. On the other hand, asking them for their professional assistance will say a lot to them about your sincerity and honesty. Make diary notes of any meetings and write to the school with your interpretation of what was advised or decided in any meetings or conversations.
The school might advise you that your child will need a Statement of Special Education Needs (SEN), either because your child is particularly gifted, or there are other factors that indicate the education at a particular school is essential. If you are advised to get a SEN, you must contact the LEA immediately - this is not a five-minute process. Getting a SEN will require various assessments and consultations - it takes time, sometimes years - so don't leave it until you start to fill in the forms or you will be too late.
There may be other factors, for example although it is seldom written on any admissions policy, schools are reluctant to admit a child into a school year group that is not the right chronological year for the child. If you wish to make such an application, again, you will need to contact the school well in advance of the actual admissions process and ask for help.
In the period immediately prior to completing the application form, you should visit the school. In the secondary transfer process, there will be open evenings for you to attend. These will help you confirm or possibly alter your view as to which is the best school for your child.
At this point, it is vital to take on board a very important fact. It is not you versus the School. Schools do not have the authority to vary their admissions policies on compassionate grounds. If they do then they are open to maladministration charges. Each school has the capacity to admit a set number of pupils each year (the Standard Number). Places are offered to applicants in the order that the criteria are stated in the admissions policy until the number of places offered is the Standard number. The school cannot voluntarily exceed this. This process is fairly automatic. It is therefore essential that the application form(s) are completed correctly. If the forms are incomplete they cannot be considered in the admissions process - even if you fit the highest priority in the admissions criteria. Many parents have difficulty in understanding this, so ask yourselves:
How would I feel if my child was offered a place in a school, only to have it revoked because another parent was allowed to correct their application after the places had been allocated?
One more point - don't fib on the forms. The forms are checked for accuracy: fibs will just cause the application to be rejected, and with little chance of success on appeal.
If your application is rejected then you will be advised to tell the school if you still with to pursue your application. The reason is that some of the places allocated to other children will be turned down so there will be some vacancies. So, read the letter from the school and act on it.
No Joy? Appealing Against the Decision
But you may find that once the allocation process is completed, your child still does not have a place. Then you have to decide whether to appeal against the school's decision. If you feel that the school has not complied with their own admissions procedure, these are good grounds for appeal. The appeals committee does have a bit more latitude in reaching a decision than the school, so it is worth investigating. You will need to prepare a written submission, including any letters that have been exchanged and attend an appeals hearing. Again, going in to the process with 'attitude' will not help and it is essential to remember that the appeals committee are interested in the needs of your child, and not of you, the parents. Each LEA has a student/parent advisory unit and you should contact them for further advice. If the appeal goes in your favour, then the school must then offer a place although the schools admissions criteria are not affected and no precedent is set for future years.
It would be perfect if each parent were able to get their child into the school of their choice. Unfortunately there are not unlimited resources and it is a far from perfect process. So always have a Plan B. School A may be your ideal choice, but don't close your options for a second choice.