As any parent can attest, applying for a secondary school place – especially when you have a particular school in mind – can be stressful. But what can make the whole process a lot more worrying, is if places have already been allocated.
Different local councils open applications on different dates, but these normally occur at the beginning of the autumn term, the year before your child is due to start the school.
Applications for secondary schools must be in by October 31, with places allocated on National Offer Day at the beginning of March.
For anyone applying outside of the regular cycle, your application will be classed as an in-year admission, with forms available from individual councils.
So far, so easy; but what happens if all the schools in your area are full? Or you are not happy with the places that are available?
Today, the experts discuss what parents can do if they are unhappy with the school places available following the deadline. Get in touch with your own education question and see it featured on Telegraph Education (details below).
Question: We have just arrived in London, how can we find a secondary school for our son?
We recently moved to London from the US and need to find a secondary school for our son. All the good, academic state schools in our area are full and we aren’t happy with the alternatives. Are we able to apply to schools outside of the area? Obviously, this isn’t ideal, what other options do we have? How would you suggest we find somewhere we are happy with?
Susan Hamlyn: You might have to rely on home schooling
This is the kind of query we meet every day. Good state schools in London – inner and outer – are oversubscribed and catchment areas get smaller and smaller.
You can apply outside your area but are likely to meet the same problem unless you have some special criterion, for example, your membership of a particular church or faith group or, in some cases, a particular aptitude your son may have.
Do not be tempted to circumvent the rules, for example, by renting a flat near a school you like if you are not planning to live there. This is seen as fraud and you can be liable to prosecution.
Do not be tempted to circumvent the rules, for example, by renting a flat near a school you likeSusan Hamlyn
You can go on the waiting list of a school you like that is near you and hope that places arise. In the meantime, you might have to rely on home schooling – if that is possible for you – and that could go on for quite some time.
If you can consider independent education, there may be a local independent school with a place but good independents are also very popular, of course.
Nonetheless, just as people move in, others move out and places do arise, especially at this time of year.
Have you settled permanently in your new home? If not, and if you can look at other parts of London, some boroughs are under less pressure than others.
Another option might be to find out where new state schools are opening and apply there.
Again, you will need an address and timing might be difficult but, while new schools are eagerly awaited in some areas, some parents prefer to hold back from applying until the school has established a good reputation.
Susan Hamlyn, director of The Good Schools Guide Advice Service
Kate Shand: Speak to the admissions staff of the state schools you like
Welcome to London. I hope the move has gone well and you are all settling into your new life.
We often help families who are relocating from the US to the UK and it is a stressful period choosing a new home as well as good schools for your children.
I’m sorry to hear that the schools in your area are not suitable for your son but please don’t worry. There are still a number of options available to you. Firstly, do speak to the admissions staff of the state schools you do like, even if they are full.
London is a transitory city and families can move, freeing up spaces where there may have been none before. Regular contact with these schools will ensure that you remain in the registrars’ minds.
Unfortunately, most state schools have a catchment area and if you sit outside the specified Local Education Authority’s calculation you won’t be able to apply.
Many independent schools now offer fantastic bursary and scholarship schemes to support families. Kate Shand
However, some faith schools do give places to children who live further away so it’s worth researching what might be available near your area if this is appropriate for your family.
Have you had the chance to look at independent schools? London is lucky enough to boast some of the best independent schools in the world and as they are private, fee-paying schools you won’t be limited to a geographical catchment area. This will allow you to be more selective in picking the school which works best for you and your son.
Many independent schools now offer fantastic bursary and scholarship schemes to support families who may otherwise struggle with school fees so do ask for further information from the registrar or bursary team at the schools which look suitable for your son.
It might also be worth considering home schooling your son for a short period of time until a place at a good school comes up. This would enable him to bridge any gaps between the US and UK curricula and ensure that he is able to join the school which is right for him.
Kate Shand, founder and MD of Enjoy Education
John Chard: You can appeal the decision if a school is full
As a parent you are entitled to express a preference for any school that you wish and therefore are not restricted to simply applying for schools in your area.
As you are moving outside of the normal admission round, which applies to pupils applying for a place in year 7 in September, your application will be treated as an in year admission.
Unfortunately, all popular and successful schools will be full and it is unlikely that you will be able to secure a place through the application process.
This will trigger a right to a statutory appeal which will be heard by an Independent Appeal Panel. The panel is not bound by the admission criteria or the admission number for the school and will consider each appeal on its own merits.
The panel will take into consideration any of the reasons why you would like your child to attend the school. John Chard
The panel will take into consideration any of the reasons why you would like your child to attend the school and if they agree with you, they have the power to offer a place even though the admission authority has refused to offer a place.
They will consider the admission authority’s case as to why an additional admission would be prejudicial and even if the panel agrees that an additional admission would be detrimental, it will then balance your personal case against the case for the admission authority.
If the panel agrees that your case is stronger than the admission authority’s case, it will offer a place.
Nationally about one in three appeals are successful but this will vary from one local authority to another, and also from one school to another.
John Chard, principal of School Appeals