To be perfectly honest, I’ve been burying my head in the sand about the girls starting school next year. But the time has come to accept reality and start thinking of school places. You’d think I’d be ready with them being Autumn babies but gosh the last 4 years have gone by in a blink.
After more than a decade teaching before motherhood, I guess I know more than most about schools but it’s odd being on the other side of the fence and looking at a school from a parent’s perspective. To help you out, I’ve put together a step by step guide to applying for a primary school place with some handy tips to help you find the best fit for your child.
Apply for a Primary School Place
Step One – Check your Catchment School
This may not be the school you expect it to be and surprisingly isn’t always the school geographically closest to your house. You’ll want to know which school is your allocated catchment school as most local authorities recommend putting this school as one of your choices if not your first choice. If you choose not to, your place won’t be held and the catchment school may be full if your are unsuccessful securing a place at your preferred school/s.
Step Two – Ask Around
Talk to local people to get a feel for how different schools are regarded. Obviously there will be good and bad things to say about every school so listen critically and don’t believe everything you hear. Local play groups and child care providers may also have information that may be helpful with step three.
Step Three – Draw up a Short List
Depending on your location and preferences, select between 2 and 5 schools to visit. I definitely recommend visiting your catchment school even if you are thinking this is not the right school for your child. Try and keep an open mind and just see what the different schools have to offer.
Step Four – Book a School Tour
Some school will offer individual tours and often the head teacher or a member of the senior management will guide you around and answer any questions you have. Other schools may choose to offer group tours with a few families. Check whether they are happy for you to take children with you if that’s what you want. Personally, I wanted to get a feel for the schools without distraction so chose not to take them. Ideally you’ll want to take a tour when children are in class to get a realistic picture of the school.
Step Five – Go Prepared with Questions
Before you visit school, make a list of some of the things you think are important in a school. Maybe class sizes or the grounds. Maybe extra curricular activities or before/after school care. Here is the list of questions I took. It wasn’t necessary to ask them all at each visit as some were answered naturally and others weren’t relevant to every school. Regardless, I had them in my head and jotted down so I knew what to look and listen out for.
- How does the school settle new children? Is it a phased entry?
- What are class sizes like?
- Are there any plans to restructure or expand the school in the near future?
- Does the school offer wrap around care? (Before/after school provision for working families)
- What interventions, extra curricular activities, enrichment opportunities does the school offer?
- What is staff turnover like?
- What’s on the School Improvement Plan? What are some of the biggest challenges the school is facing?
- How do you communicate with parents?
- Were you oversubscribed last year?
Don’t be afraid to ask some difficult questions. If you’ve heard rumours of restructuring or issues with staff turnover, ask about these. Sometimes there are simple explanations and often you find out all you need to from the reaction rather than the answer.
Step Six – Envisage your Child There
As you go around each school, try and picture your little one there. Do the staff seem friendly? Are the grounds inviting? Maybe you think your child would benefit from a smaller school or perhaps would thrive in a larger one. Look at displays and corridors. Check out the toilets to see how well cared for they are.
Step Seven – Think about the Practicalities
As much as you may fall in love with a school, the practicalities of day to day life over possibly eight years needs to be taken into consideration. Consider how your child will get to school. Your catchment school may provide transport if you live a certain distance away. Issues such as parking may cause you a daily headache.
Step Eight – Do your Research
It’s worth taking a look at the schools’ admission policies on their website and asking about the likelihood of your child actually getting a place. You won’t get any guarantees but you’ll be more informed.
Also check out the schools Ofsted report. A word of warning…Ofsted can provide some useful context for a school and highlight some areas to discuss with the head teacher but it is simply a snapshot taken over a couple of days and shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily in your decision. Personally I chose not to look until after my school visits.
Step Nine – Make a Choice that Works for you All
In most cases children will settle and make friends and so think about what is right for your whole family. Do you have mummy friends that you already know or maybe one school has a breakfast club that will let you get to work at a reasonable time.
Step Ten – Apply Online
When you’ve made your decision, you’ll need to apply for your primary school place online and put down upto three choices in order of preference. This needs to be done by the 15th January 2019 for children starting in September 2019. After that it’s just a case of waiting to hear which school your child was allocated. You can log on to find this out in April.
I hope you found this guide helpful and you get the school you want. Best of luck.