This time last year we were all in a panic about picking (?) primary schools. Perhaps living in London added to the fiasco, I don’t know. But whilst we are surrounded by loads of primary schools, competition is fierce for places. Any places that is. I don’t think that will ever change.
It was heart breaking to see so many parents devastated last year, not getting their 1st, 2nd or even 3rd choice schools in our area. After wildly desperate appeals and endless waiting lists, for most, there was nothing that could be done.
I didn’t want that to be us. So, I decided that we needed a plan, to play the game well, because we wanted to win! It was game on, and this is how we went about it.
Schools change. Fact. Even the crappiest school can turn itself around with the right help. We have seen it. The main idea about looking early is that you have time to gather information about the schools in your area, without the pressure of having to make an imminent decision on which ones you are going to include in your application. Most schools will accommodate tours before the main rush leading up to the application deadline. So take advantage of this. It will help to keep the stress levels down, trust me. Don’t forget, if you are looking a year plus in advance, schools can change, as do their reputations, so don’t rule anything out yet.
When you go visiting, think about your own child’s personality and what type of environments they will thrive in. It’s easy to get pulled along by other parent’s views on what the ‘best school’ is, but finding the right fit is so much more than just looking at the stats. Basically, don’t be a sheep, and don’t be afraid to stick two fingers up at everyone’s perfect school, if it’s not your little ones fit.
Nearer application deadline time, once you have an idea of the primary schools around you and have done your homework on them, see if you can weed out the ones that don’t tick the boxes. We ended up with just 3 that we were happy with, which were a reasonable distance away from us, and then 3 which were way too far away.
Don’t keep any schools that you wouldn’t be happy with in your shortlist. We hated our 2nd closest school to our home, so we kept it completely off the list.
If you know you are going to be competing for limited school places, then distance is everything. There are lots of tools online to help you work out if you are likely to be within the last year’s catchment areas for particular schools. But did you know that many councils will welcome a quick email or telephone call if you want to know the exact distance between a particular school and your home. This will particularly come in handy when you are about to list your preferred schools in order on your application form. See if you can get confirmation of distance for each of your shortlisted schools.
Look at your shortlist and this time put your schools in distance order from 1 to 6, with 1 being the closest school to you, and so on. If you live in an area where schools have very small catchment areas, then this order may be the safest bet for your application form. If you have larger or overlapping catchment areas, then you can afford to sift through your list and jiggle those schools around to suit. The main thing is to be realistic. If your 1st choice school is too far away and not a match, you won’t be offered it. The system will just keep skipping down your list to the 1st school it finds that you qualify for.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that in an ideal world, we would all put our number 1 school in well… 1st place. But if your 1st choice hasn’t been carefully considered against your actually eligibility, then you may find yourself bitterly disappointed. It’s not worth it. It’s a tricky game of going with a mix of your head, heart and crossing everything for a bit of luck.
And as for us? We did win.
We got our 1st choice primary school this year. Woohoo! There was a good chunk of luck involved, but by making very carefully measured and rational decisions, it put us in a really good position to grab our happy ending.
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