Tag Archives: school applications

School applications – with 400 extra applications and over 400 not getting a first, second or third choice place – councils need to do the maths

IT LOOKS like a huge amount of people didn’t get their children into their nearest primary school this year, and will have to start the soul-sapping job of appealing.

Allocations for secondary places always cause problems, but the primary system is now heaving under the weight of requests. There were over 400 more applications than last year.

The number who did not get ANY of their three choices was 476.

That’s a whole school’s worth of reception-age kids, or roughly 15 class-fulls.

I feel particularly for those who live near a school and haven’t got their eldest child in because they don’t already have a child in the system. But there’s no arguing with the priority for sibling link. It would be heartbreaking, let alone a logistical nightmare, to drop a four-year old off at one school and bus across town to get a six-year-old to school somewhere else.

I know that sounds biased because all four of our offspring have been at the same school since our eldest got a place ten years ago. But I can’t apologise for that. Back then the school wasn’t oversubscribed, as very few schools were. Now it has a waiting list. It is also one of the few that has a nursery and afterschool attached, which means people further away have to choose it.

The plain fact is that the county council has a responsibility to find places for all children and they knew full well the population was rising. They are allowing new houses to be built which are meant to attract families. But new schools are not being built as swiftly as new housing developments.

Since the move from the middle and upper school system almost a decade ago, many schools were closed down, as pupils were crammed into the remodelled primary and secondary schools. The end result is that there simply aren’t enough primary schools in Northampton. There are plenty rotting away in a state of desperate disrepair waiting to be sold, but not enough to house children nearby.

There are lists of all the schools in the county on the county council’s website. They break down how many places were allocated by what criteria. In Northampton there are only two schools that are marked as having places left. The village schools have LOADS with places. But how many families with young kids can afford to move to a village? How long before a village school with spare places is deemed uneconomical and closed too?

Idiotic and largely misleading league tables, coupled with the maddening fiction of ‘parental choice,’ and financial cuts that are seeing fewer teachers employed when there should be more, are all having a detrimental effect on education as a whole.

Investment in nursery places is great but what if there’s nowhere to teach them locally when they actually get to compulsory schooling? Why give parents the chance to go out to work if they’ll have to give up that job in order to get their children to a school half and hour’s drive away? It’s a ridiculous situation.

It is essential that you look at the county council website to work out what to do next, as different schools have different procedures.

If you didn’t get ANY of your choice, I would advise that you ring your three schools and get on their waiting list. You may find that a school has held back places for appeals, and most importantly, when everyone responds to their allocations, more places become available. Which makes it very important that you respond QUICKLY to accept a place if you DID get what you wanted.

Any extra places are re-allocated on May 30, June 20 and July 16, or you may find you get a call literally at the last-minute. A friend’s son had actually been bought uniform for a school further away and the day before term started she was told a place had come up at her nearest.

You should also contact your local councilor, because they should be the ones working to get more schools built-in this town, not sitting back while the weeds and wildlife take over the ones the politicians chose to close.


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Don’t kid yourself, there’s no magic formula to getting into NSB

STAYING on the subject of Northampton School for Boys, I’ve had calls from friends recently, asking me: “How did you get yours in?”

Well, if you’ve followed these ramblings over recent years, you’ll know that I didn’t.

Yes, Jed and Dougie are now both NSB pupils, but I certainly didn’t ‘get them in.’

And if you are helping your Year Six son choose a school for next September, there’s nothing you can do to ‘get them in’ either, other than fill in the forms and hope for the best. So don’t hold your breath.

There’s no ‘points criterion’ like there was in the past. You have to take them to do a ‘banding’ test on a Saturday morning, and might take the technology and music exams which share a handful places among genius kids. Other than that, the school insists its selection is random.

The number of available places – once you’ve taken out those with siblings already there, those with statements of special needs and the aforementioned geniuses – is probably less than 100.

Yet there will be over 700 applicants for those places from across the county and beyond as there’s no catchment area, which may explain the huge amount of pupils who seem to come not from Northampton, but from wealthy villages.

When our first-born Jed applied three years ago, he didn’t get in. We appealed, he still didn’t get in. He went to another school, which he quite enjoyed, but stubbornly stayed on the NSB waiting list, even though we were told it was highly unlikely a place would come up.

A year later, second son Dougie, keen to stay with his friends from primary school, also applied for NSB as his first choice. And he DID get in.

Things were a little awkward at home between brothers, mostly over the vastly differing sporting opportunities at their respective schools.

Then a week before the start of the 2011 summer holidays, we had a letter, saying a place had come up at NSB, and would Jed still like it?

I won’t bore you with further repetition, but he took the place, and started this term in Year 9, two years after his peers.

A note of caution to prospective parents: If your son hates sport, it might not be an ideal first-choice school. (Just ask any pupils about the ‘levels run.’) Discipline is strict, expectations are high, and curiously for a school with no selection, you can really feel like a pauper when you see the rows of Range Rovers and Mercs doing the school run.

There’s no doubt it’s a good school, but try not to let yourself become blinkered – there are other good schools out there too.


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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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