With primary school places at a premium in some areas of the country the school admissions process can be very stressful for many parents. And D Day, on 16 April, was when thousands of families found out which primary school place they got for their child starting school in September. This year I was one of them. It seems so long ago since I had to do the application that decision day had almost crept up on me without me realising it.
Two years ago I was in the same situation when we found out the school for my eldest son. Before applying I had visited lots of local schools and done lots of research. We would have been happy with any of the schools we listed in our top three so getting the first choice wasn’t so crucial. But we were lucky and got our first choice school, despite being out of catchment. Our eldest loves it and settled very well and we are very happy with the school.
This time however, getting first choice was more crucial – obviously we want our youngest to go to the same school as his brother. So, this time around I didn’t do all the visits and research – top choice was my son’s current school and the others on the list were simply there for completion. The thought of trying to complete two school runs and getting to work on time filled me with dread, especially if both schools have the same drop off and pick up times – how does that work?! I know there are thousands of people who do it and make it work, as would I if necessary, but for simplicity the same school would be best.
So it was with some trepidation that I logged onto our local council’s website in the early hours to find out which school we had got. I know thousands of parents would have been doing the same. Some staying up late into the night to find out, some awake extra early to do the same. Never mind the frustrations if the website crashed or you couldn’t log on for some reason.
Our result – we didn’t get our first choice school … WHAT?! But he has a brother there, how can we not get a place at the same school? There it was in black and white “this school is oversubscribed so you have been placed on the waiting list”. I was so frustrated and upset by it. Never mind the logistics of two school runs, we want our sons to go to school together and they want that as well. The thought of telling them they wouldn’t be together broke my heart.
After my initial shock and anger I calmed down and started to think practically. I would speak to the admissions office and find out what we needed to do. We had been offered a place at our second choice school so I wanted to know should we accept it? After all we didn’t want to lose a school place altogether. Also, were we definitely on the waiting list for our first choice? What number were we on the waiting list? What is the next stage of place allocation? So many questions …
Later that day I rang the admissions team, explained our situation and was ready with my questions. The reply came querying that we had a sibling at the school. Yes I confirmed and it was on our application. The lady on the other end of the phone simply said she needed to speak to the school. Was this a good thing? I saw a glimmer of hope but still didn’t want to get my hopes up.
The next day I got a call from the school saying that my youngest had got a place and there had been an admin error. I was so relieved and happy that we got the result we wanted, albeit with a 'small' amount of stress for 36 hours!
But I am aware that not everyone is so lucky and the result some parents got was not at all what they wanted. I understand the anguish and frustration. You want so much to be excited with your child about starting school but if there is uncertainty or unhappiness about which school it will be, this is not easy.
Given my experience all I can say it that if you didn’t get the result you wanted – don’t despair! I know not everyone’s situation will turn out so easily as ours did but if you are not happy with the place you have contact your local education authority and talk to them about the best way to proceed. Many schools have waiting lists and as places are accepted or declined there is often shuffling in the spaces available so you might end up with a place at a preferred school.
Otherwise consider the school you have been offered and perhaps arrange a visit to look round – some get an unfair bad press so on visiting you might be impressed and happy to accept the place.
Alternatively, you can appeal the decision and your local authority will be able to explain how the appeals process works. Find out more about the appeal process here to see if you think you have a case.
Preparing to start school
So now we have our school place we look forward to preparing to start school. My youngest is an August-born child so will be one of the youngest in his year. This does bother me, especially with stories in the press about summer-born children not achieving as well. In some ways he seems ready to start school, but in so many other ways he still seems a baby. I know there are still five months to go until he starts so time for more development and progression. But there are also five months for the older children in his year to develop and progress. I guess all we can do is continue to support him as much as we can.
One thing in our favour is that because he comes with me on the school pick up run he knows the school and some of the teachers and pupils already so it won’t be a completely alien environment when September comes. Plus he has an older brother there to look out for him.
For me, I think the next few months will be nailing down some of the practical things (many of which he is more than capable of but we help with for ease and speed) to ensure he is prepared for ‘big school’. Things like:
- Getting dressed and undressed by himself
- Putting on shoes and socks properly
- Toilet habits – wiping properly and washing hands properly
- Tidying up
- Recognising and writing his name
We will also attend any trial school sessions and start talking about school and what happens there.
In the meantime I will enjoy my time with him as a pre-schooler as much as I can. My transition to a mum with two school-aged children is a whole other story!