Tuesday 7 September 2010, 13:32
I'm the head of admissions and appeals at Birmingham City Council and my role, and that of my team, is to allocate secondary school places to pupils. Where necessary, we explain to parents why their child did not meet the criteria for their preferred school. Our work will be seen in The Big School Lottery on BBC Two.
I really love my job and have recently completed 30 years service at Birmingham City Council. I started aged just 16 and my first job back then was in the adoption and fostering team.
Having children myself, it is a process I have been through, so fully understand that some parents may find this a stressful time.
Blast Films - who made The Big School Lottery - wrote to Birmingham City Council to say that they were looking to make an observational documentary to get an insight into how the admissions process works. My director, Tony Howell, asked if I would be willing to be involved and asked if I would meet with producers to discuss the programme.
At this stage I was reluctant, not only due to the additional time and effort, when we are already under immense pressure trying to help over 30,000 children and their families seeking school places, but also the thought of being on national TV.
And fellow admissions and appeals colleagues from other local authorities said, "You must be mad." I suppose as there's a natural wariness about letting cameras in!
But I was intrigued so I met with the producer/director, Amanda Blue, who was really encouraging and explained to me that the documentary would be about showing the process and the work that goes into allocating secondary places to children, as well as following the stories of several families going through the process.
After a bit of further persuasion from Tony Howell, who has been incredibly supportive, I took the brave step and agreed.
I then just had to persuade my team.
Much of our work involves talking with parents. It helps them understand if you take the time to explain to the parent that, for example, if over 1,000 children have applied for school A and the school only has an admission number of 150 places, then obviously the school cannot offer all of those children a place.
When a school is oversubscribed, places are offered in accordance with published admission arrangements. Overall priority is given to children with a statement of special educational need, followed by looked after children (in care or foster homes), then siblings and then by distance.
I will inform parents of their distance from the school and explain that X number of children live closer than their child, which is why they have not been offered a place.
My team and I take pride in our customer service and the empathy we feel for parents going through this process, and we advise them of their right of appeal and all that entails.
We often have tears and upset from the parents and even have people shouting at us, but we try to be understanding. We also have tears of joy when parents find out that their child has been offered their preferred school!
One thing I will not accept is for any of my team to be on the receiving end of abuse. Unfortunately this does happen sometimes, but in the main, after contact with my office, parents/carers understand why their child has not been offered their preferred school. They may not be happy about it, but we make sure they know what their options are.
Every year we receive cards, emails and letters from parents thanking us for our professionalism and informative and understanding service, which is fantastic - especially when some of these come from parents who have not been offered any of their preferred schools.
I really hope the viewers gain a better understanding of how the admission process works, how hard we work to ensure the process is fair and robust (for example checking home addresses), and that parents/carers know where and how to access information in order for them to make informed decisions about how to apply for a school place.
Julie Newbold is head of admissions and appeals at Birmingham City Council and features in The Big School Lottery.
To find out all future episodes of The Big School Lottery please visit the show's upcoming episode page.
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