Don't panic if your child didn't get his first choice of secondary school - follow these tips and make the best of the situation.
If you've got a 10 or 11-year-old at home you'll no doubt either be looking forward to September, or fuming. Yes, 2 March saw "National Offer Day", the day that parents and children finally found out which secondary school they will be attending from September.
And it certainly wasn't all good news. Of the 570k children who applied, it's believed a whopping 90k missed out on getting into their first choice school, which rose to around 20% in areas of the country that use the lottery system. And unbelievably, some children didn't get into any of their chosen schools.
Good schools are over-subscribed
One of the main reasons for this disappointment is down to school league tables and Ofsted reports. By revealing which establishments are highly rated and which are failing, the top schools are now, of course, heavily over-subscribed. So there are even cases of children being assigned places at schools miles away from their homes as their closest one is full.
Parents can no longer afford school fees
What's more, the credit crunch is applying even more pressure. At £10k+ per year, many parents who would normally send their children to an independent school have found themselves unable to afford the fees, meaning they're also muscling in for places at good state schools.
Not enough primary school places
What's more, things are set to get bleaker in the bigger cities. An unexpected rise in the birth rate, coupled with the fact more people are moving into certain urban areas means there won't actually be enough school places for five-year-olds over the next six years.
Times have changed
Clearly times have changed significantly since I was a child. In my day you simply went to your local school with most of the friends you'd made at primary school, and everyone lived close enough to walk or cycle!
Nowadays, the admissions system is incredibly complicated, with rules differing from school to school. Places can be allocated according to whether or not a child has a sibling at the school, its catchment area, your religious beliefs, entrance exam and some by lottery.
What's more, a number of schools have even been accused of flouting government guidelines by asking personal information of parents (such as marital status, occupation and even children's hobbies) to use as part of their selection criteria.
Parents accused of lying
And parents can be just as bad, with three-quarters of councils claiming that more parents have lied on admission forms this year. Typical examples include using a grandparent's address, or even temporarily renting a property that lies within a popular school's catchment area and citing it as their home.
And unbelievably, it's even been claimed that some parents have pretended a cousin, or even another child at the school with the same surname is their child's sibling, in a bid to secure a place!
So what can you do if your child didn't get his or her first choice of school? Well, for a start, don't panic. Before contemplating re-mortgaging the house to pay for private education, here are a few things to try:
What to do if your child didn't get into his school of choice
1. Get on the waiting list
Before you do anything else, ask for your child's name to be put on his preferred school's waiting list. Pupils may leave during the year for a multitude of reasons so your child may be able to take up a place mid-term.
2. Judge for yourself
If you haven't viewed the school you've been allocated, don't trust idle gossip - make an appointment to view it yourself. You may be surprised. Bad reputations can turn around in just a few years with a change of Headmaster/mistress and a 3-year-old Ofsted report could paint a very different picture to how a school is now.
3. Consider alternative schools
Also consider visiting any alternative schools that you may not have listed in your original choices - you may be impressed and importantly, they may still have spaces.
If you're still not happy you can appeal, in which case you need to do so as soon as possible. You can find out how in this free booklet. It won't be easy - only around one in four appeals ends in success, so consider your decision carefully.
If you do decide to go for it you must cite all of the reasons your child would benefit from your first-choice school (location, faith, strengths in a particular subject etc.) and compare and contrast these with any inconvenience that would be caused by him attending the allocated establishment.
Try and find details of similar appeals that had been successful to help strengthen your case. And check all of the reasons you've been given for not getting a place - for example, has distance the distance to your home been measured accurately?
But above all, you need to explain why this school is the one.
5. Special needs
If your child has special needs ensure you include details of these and why the school you have chosen would benefit these the most. And on that note, don't forget that your needs may count, too - for example, a local school may be critical for a disabled parent.
6. Get on the governing body
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em"! If your child can't switch school, consider becoming a school governor and you could help effect change from within.
7. Make the best of it
If you are seriously concerned about the education your child will receive, you could always consider supplementing this by paying for a private tutor. If there are a few children you know in the same boat, clubbing together with other parents to create an after-school club will reduce costs.
If you're still not happy, a severe way to deal with the situation is to consider home-schooling. You can either pay a tutor to provide all of your child's education, or tutor him yourself if you feel equipped.
But don't under-estimate the time and effort that will be involved, particularly if you intend to teach yourself. It is extremely unlikely you would able to hold down a job as well. Your child will also miss out on the important social benefits of attending school - and you could find that your relationship with your son or daughter changes.
So don't panic or give up hope if your child hasn't been allocated his first choice of school - there are things you can do to make the best of the situation.
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