Get ready to apply for school places for September 2012

BONNIE wants to go to school. She’s only been in nursery part time for a year but has now decided the time has come to move onwards and upwards.

She can’t quite get her head around the fact she’s not old enough yet.

After all, some of her mates from nursery have donned their smart jumpers and headed off into the big wide world. So why hasn’t she?

We’re telling her gently that she’s not old enough yet, and that after the next summer holidays it will be time for school.

Yet at the same time we’re getting letters about applying for her place right now. Scary huh?

The applications process starts almost 12months in advance, with primary school preferences to be in by noon on January 16, 2012, and the even more imminent and controversial secondary places in by 5pm on October 31 this year.

If your child is turning 4 between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012, then you’ll need to fill in primary forms, by post or online.

If your child is in year 6 and turns 11 between the same dates, the you’ll be applying for secondary school about now.

I’ve done this process several times over now, including an appeal, and it doesn’t get less stressful. You just have to hope for the best.

Admittedly we’re now in the enviable situation of having ‘sibling link,’ or a brother or sister already in the schools we prefer, but I certainly wouldn’t assume that’s a free pass. In fact I know it isn’t. Every year we hear the stories of children ‘failing’ (inappropriate word, I know), to get into a school their sibling already attends, or twins being sent to different places.

The idea of parental ‘choice’ about school allocation has screwed up the whole system. It’s led to inequality and over-subscription, messed up the norms of catchment and community and in some cases caused irreparable damage to families.

The stark fact is, unless you have the cash to send them private, you have no choice. You can express a preference, but ultimately, it may be useless.

We’re a perfect bad example. Our sons all went to a primary school that wasn’t our nearest. Due to a complicated story involving us getting jobs in Northampton 13 years ago when we still lived in Bedford, our boys ended up at the school where they’d been to nursery.

Back then there were spaces. Now the same school is oversubscribed, and we’re living on the opposite side of town. Meanwhile, I know nothing about the school nearest to us, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Do we move Billy out of the school he’ll have attended for five years, away from his friends, the teachers he knows and the excellent after-school club? Do we take Bonnie away from her nursery pals?

So, get ready to visit the school open days, weigh up the pros and cons and fill in those forms. Then endure the agonising four months waiting for the decision.

The biggest test you’ll face is staying positive, keeping your anxious anticipation to yourself.

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