Primary focus on school places
Living, as we do, in a world still dominated by Covid, sometimes it can be hard to focus on anything else.
Social distancing, the obligatory wearing of face masks, office closures, and furlough schemes and a crippling curtailment of social lives has been the norm for quite some time now.
But despite the upset, upheaval, restrictions, personal sacrifices and loss caused by the worldwide pandemic, for most people life goes on, a fact brought into sharp focus for parents with school-age children, because we have reached a pivotal point in so many parents’ lives – the allocation of primary school places.
The date Friday 16th April will have been ringed in thick red marker pen or heavily underlined on many a household calendar for many months as a crucial reminder of the date of their child’s most significant educational milestone to date.
And while the majority of families will get their preferred primary school place for a September 2021 start, some won’t. So, faced with that undoubtedly disappointing scenario, what should you do?
According to Sophie Baber, headteacher at Brookham School, a thriving nursery and pre-prep school in Liphook, Hampshire, nestled serenely next to its big brother, Highfield School, the first thing is don’t panic.
“Don’t let your child see that you are upset,” she said. “In fact, I would strongly advise you not to open the email in front of your child. The last thing you want is to transfer any stress or anxiety on to your child.”
Once you have processed the offer and collected your thoughts, it’s time to accept the school place you have been offered.
“While this may seem counter intuitive, it’s important that your child has a school to go to in September,” said Mrs Baber. If you don’t, the chances are that you could lose your place and be offered an even less desirable option. This will not affect your right to appeal.
“Once you have done this, I would advise phoning your preferred choice of school. This may prove challenging at this time. If you think it’s brilliant, the chances are so will lots of other parents. As a result, the phones are likely to be busy and the waiting list may be long. Equally, phones may not be manned in the way they normally would be.
“Once again don’t panic, if you cannot get through, leave a message and follow up with an email asking to add your child to the list.”
And Mrs Baber added: “Remember there is always movement, places come up all the time and it’s not uncommon to be offered a place on the first day of the new school year. If you don’t get a reply to your email within a couple of days, check that your message has been received.”
Now your child’s name is securely on the waiting list, it’s time to consider appealing.
The Brookham headteacher said: “Remember you have the right to appeal but, if you are to be successful, you need to have a solid case. Your reason could relate to a mistake in the admissions arrangements or the suitability of a school to meet your child’s needs. It is important to note that each local authority will have a slightly different process, so it is imperative to check out your local authority’s website. Most will have an online form to complete and you will have to complete a new form for each school you wish to apply to.
“Don’t forget to have all your supporting evidence in a digital format, so that it can be uploaded and submitted all at the same time. You may want to consider employing a solicitor or a member of a schools’ appeals organisation to help.”
But she warned that going to appeal was “extremely stressful” and the chances of success were “limited”, leaving one further option that parents may wish to consider.
“There are some truly outstanding independent schools around,” she said.
“With nurturing smaller class sizes and an enviable breadth of curriculum, delivered by specialist teachers, this a brilliant back-up plan. If you are in the fortunate position of being able to afford this option, you will find that many independent schools will be open for admissions all year round. If financially this seems an impossibility, it is worth picking up the phone and asking about the bursaries on offer.
“With all of these options there is no magic wand, but if you don’t ask…”
Highfield and Brookham Schools are still open for admissions, so if you are interested in finding out about places in Reception and Year 3, e-mail Charlotte Cottrell on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01428 722005.