Talking to your child about their school application

by Dave McPartlin, Headteacher at Flakefleet Primary School

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Dave McPartlin is Headteacher of a Primary School in the North West of England. He knows all about the disappointment parents feel when they don’t get their first choice of school, often because they’re simply out of catchment. It can be frustrating and stressful for parents, but as Dave says, it’s important to remain positive about your child’s education, wherever they end up.

All over the UK, primary school applications are rushing in, ready for the various deadlines. However, each year tens of thousands of pre-schoolers are not offered a place at their first choice school: in 2019 this accounted for 9.4% of applications - approximately 57,000 children. If you are concerned that your child may fall into this category, here are some helpful tips to deal with any disappointment.

Stay positive

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Every child should look forward to their new school and although it might be difficult, parents need to hide any disappointment towards the allocated school place and make the experience of starting school as positive and as exciting as possible. Walking past the school and pointing out features can help your child to become more familiar with where they will soon be spending lots of their time.

In addition, make the most of any opportunities to pay a visit to the inside of the school - many offer familiarity sessions with their new teacher, or stay-and-play sessions for parents and children to meet each other.

Educational establishments are very much accountable to Ofsted and systems are in place to ensure that children get an excellent deal. The reputations of schools can take a long time to change and most parents are very pleasantly surprised when they visit their school by how much they like them. The gulf between perceptions and reality can be huge and often only backed up by hearsay. So, please try not to be too disheartened if you’ve not got your first choice; go into the new school experience with an open mind.

Support at home

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It’s important to note that, in reality, a child’s education is only in part down to what schools do; parents have an even bigger part to play. There is such a wide range of things that families can do to support their children, including reading, practising spellings, completing homework, talking to them about their interests, and generally just giving them a wide range of experiences and opportunities outside school.

Appealing your school place

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One option many parents immediately think of if they don’t get their first choice of school, is to appeal the school’s decision. However, the reality is that most appeals are unlikely to succeed - families need to prove that the admissions criteria were not applied correctly, or that they are in fact illegal. Infant class sizes are limited to 30 children and appeals panels are usually reluctant to exceed this number unless there are exceptional circumstances. Possible reasons for a review of a decision may include a child moving in to the area, a sudden change in personal circumstances, an undisclosed medical issue, a child having an EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan) or they may be a looked-after child. Parents need to be very clear about why they wish to appeal, based on facts rather than emotions.

Accepting the alternative

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Further down the line, if you still think that the school you have been given is not right for you and your family, you are within your rights to change schools, if you can find somewhere with a place. All schools will operate a waiting list, so be sure to ask how long they will keep your name on record for, as you may need to ring back and confirm that you are still interested in a place after a given period of time.

Starting school should be an exciting experience, although not one that can always be planned with much precision; children are much more resilient than we give them credit for and often deal with setbacks better than adults. Be assured that most schools are incredibly warm, friendly and caring places full of fun and laughter; stay positive for the sake of your child and help them look forward to a new stage in their life – they really will be fine!

For further information check out the rest of Starting Primary School which has lots of ways to help prepare children for different aspects of school life – both practically and emotionally.

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