Tag Archives: secondary school admissions

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 hate me, but the NSB waiting list has come up trumps

IT was Dougie who brought me The Letter. Our second son, proffering the manilla envelope with a Northampton School for Boys franking mark. His school.

With just a week left before the summer holidays, he wondered if he was in trouble.

As previously detailed in these columns, we have three sons in three different schools around Northampton.

Our first-born, Jed, didn’t get his first choice of the ridiculously oversubscribed school for boys, and has attended Malcolm Arnold Academy-nee-Unity-nee-Trinity for the past two years.

Much to our surprise, Dougie, a year younger, did get into NSB, where he has spent the first year of his secondary education happily knee-deep in sport, more sport, testosterone and sport.

Meanwhile seven-year-old Billy is endeavouring to make his own mark, noisily, at the large urban primary school his two brothers attended before him.

Back to the letter: it wasn’t about Dougie – it was about Jed. It was offering him a Year 9 place at NSB to start in September as two boys in his age group have left.

To say it’s come as a shock is an understatement. We’d applied two years ago, and along with hundreds of other parents, had failed to get a place. We’d appealed, and while 11 appeals had been successful, ours hadn’t.

We were told we could join a waiting list, but warned that the likelihood a place coming up was very remote. Indeed we reasoned that having been forced to take 11 more pupils in than they wanted, the chances of a place becoming available was about as likely as Jeremy Clarkson buying an electric car and joining the Green Party.

Stubbornly, I put him on the waiting list anyway.

And then last week The Letter arrived.

Jed was understandably conflicted. Having settled well at MAA, made friends, worked out which teachers he liked, been given opportunities to tour the Olympic Park, have lunch with Boris Johnson, act as a mock lawyer in a real magistrates court, play bass guitar, argue politics with Tory sponsor David Ross and talk on the radio about his experiences of the new academy, he was now going to have to decide if he wanted to leave, at age 13. We told him to sleep on it.

It was Dougie who volunteered the first advice. Dougie, 12, who has spent his entire life being known as ‘Jed’s brother,’ who was pleased to be at NSB without his older sibling.

“You should take it,” he said. “Think of the sport. Think how mad you get when you can’t do the sport you want at MA. . . Plus I want everyone to refer to you as ‘Dougie’s brother.’”

We discussed the pros and cons of each school. And although he was grateful for those friends and teachers who’d encouraged him at MA, and would certainly miss having girls around, he was resolute: NSB had been his first choice school.

Their facilities, like it or not, are amazing and the standard of teaching is proven. The range of subjects offered at GCSE is wider and the discipline strict. We agreed that while we felt disloyal, MA still needed a few more years to settle and that NSB could simply offer Jed more now.

I have spent the last week feeling guilty at our luck. I’ve so many friends whose sons also didn’t get in, and have spent hours, and plenty of column inches, raging about the unfairness of NSBs refusal to have a catchment area. I still stand by that opinion. If fewer boys were being bused in from Bedford, Brackley, Oundle and upmarket villages, there would be more places for boys who actually live in and around Northampton. It is, after all, NORTHAMPTON School for Boys.

Ultimately, however much we want all schools to have the same facilities as NSB, making ‘parental choice’ a redundant concept, they don’t.

We don’t even know if we’ve done the right thing. You take the best chances you can for your children and hope it all works out in the end.

One thing I will miss though: Malcolm Arnold’s uniform is far nicer than NSB’s.

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Staying positive over secondary school admissions?

IF you have a child who is about to go up to secondary school in September, then this week is likely to be horribly nerve-wracking, and you have my complete sympathy.

This is the week the school place allocation letters go out (or if you can wait several hours for the county council computer to grind into action, you may find out online).

As detailed in previous episodes of these weekly ramblings, I have had two experiences of this so far. For one child we got our first choice, for the other, we didn’t.

You feel guilt when your child doesn’t get their first choice and guilt about everyone else when they do. But thankfully, both our boys seem to be getting on OK in their different schools, which have various pros and cons.

The whole system is a farce, but for the sake of our kids we have to make the best of it.

I can’t stop you being anxious, but I can tell you that the right thing for you to do is be positive around your child and not rant and rave about the school they may end up having to go to, where chances are, they may actually be happy and thrive.

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