How to apply for primary school
Some mums start worrying about which primary school their child will go to before they've even given birth. Pushy parent syndrome? Possibly, but it's true that in many areas getting into the school you want can be tough and the admissions procedure a minefield.
Nursery: ages three to four
Reception: ages 4 to 5
Year 1: ages five to six
Year 2: ages six to seven
Year 3: ages seven to eight
Year 4: ages eight to nine
Year 5: ages nine to ten
Year 6: ages ten to 11
What you need to do is plan ahead and be aware of the choices and the possibilities in your area long before your child reaches the stage when you need to apply, which is in the autumn of the year when they're rising four.
Since most local authorities now have reception classes for four year olds, make sure you start asking about primary schools well before your child's fourth birthday.
"I'm already engrossed trying to choose a school for dd, and she's only 19 months!" CantSleepWontSleep
Many primary (and secondary) schools are oversubscribed, particularly in cities, so don't take anything for granted, even if your child goes to a nursery linked to the school of your choice.
"Assume nothing!" GirlySwot
Mug up on the admissions procedures in your area and make sure you're about crystal clear about:
- When you need to apply
- What the admission criteria are, including the catchment area
- When you find out which school your child has got into
- How to appeal if you don't get a place at your preferred choice
- How local schools' waiting lists operate
There's huge amount of discussion on the Mumsnet talk boards about whether the current requirement for children to be in full-time education in the term following their fifth birthday adversely affects their academic performance. Take a look at our information on things to consider if you have a summer-born child due to start school, including your options for deferring or delaying their place.
The crucial thing about primary school applications is to make sure that you fit the admissions criteria for the school you're applying to.
Schools have to give first priority to children in public care but then the criteria used to decide admissions are usually whether:
- Your child has a sibling who will be at the school when they start
- You or your child has a disability that would make travelling to a distant school difficult
- Your child or family is of the particular religion or faith served by the school (for religious or faith schools)
- Your home is close to the school
Every year thousands of parents waste their time on applications that have no chance of success because their child doesn't fit the profile of the school they're applying to.
"It might be worth phoning the school or the LEA to find out where, in practice, the catchment area for each school finished last year, to work out whether you have a chance. The catchment areas change each year according to the number of applicants and number of siblings, but it should give you an idea of whether you're in with a chance." frogs
Read the small print about admissions criteria very, very carefully indeed – and don't waste time and emotional energy wishing your child could get into this school or that. If you're not Catholics and the Catholic school at the end of your garden is oversubscribed, you won't get in: it may seem unfair, and unreasonable, but there's no point in banging your head against the school railings when you could be searching around for a school that will take your kid.
"You need to check their admissions policy and whether or not they are usually oversubscribed. There is usually a catchment area, a policy of admitting siblings and children in care or who have SN statements. So even if the LEA asks for three choices, if your three choices are oversubscribed and your child doesn't fit the admissions policy then they will allocate a place at the nearest available school even if it is not on your list." chopchopbusybusy
Mumsnet Talk threads buzz with stories about people who've rented houses close to schools in order to secure a place for their kids. This isn't illegal, but you do genuinely have to move into and live in the rented house. Also, as some mums point out, if you do then get your child into the school you may be ostracised by other parents if you move back to your original home. Giving a false address is fraud and some local authorities have been known to prosecute. As we said at the top, it's a minefield.
Local authorities coordinate the admissions process for all types of state primary. To apply, complete the application form provided by your local authority, either online or on paper.
Religious schools are in general over-subscribed and do well in the league tables. To get your child in, you may need, especially in urban areas, to 'prove' your religious affiliation and commitment, to the extent of getting a letter from the priest (or equivalent).
Remember as well that if you're applying to schools in another authority you need to do those applications separately.
The Scottish system
Children in Scotland usually start primary school in the August after their fifth birthday, although if they are born between September and February their parents can choose to send them to school in the August before or after their fifth birthday.
The education authorities set out catchment areas for each of their primary schools, and if you live within a catchment area you'll normally get a place at the relevant school.
You do have the right to ask for a place at a school other than your local catchment area school.
To do this, you need to make a placing request to your education authority. If there is space at the school, the education authorities must agree to your request. But the authority does not have to expand the school to meet placing requests.
The authority can also hold back places for children who may move into the catchment area.
"You may be expected to provide proof of residence ie council tax bill in your name. Some increasingly do such checks nearer the admission date and home visits to ensure you/child are living there." LIZS
If you're battling through the difficulties of the state school admissions system, you might wish you had the cash to simply opt into the private system.
Independent primary schools are known as pre-prep and prep schools. Pre-prep goes from five to seven year olds, while prep schools generally take girls up to 11 and boys to 13 - the point at which they sit the Common Entrance Exam to independent secondary schools.
Independent education can be highly competitive, too. And you apply direct to the schools, rather than through the local authority, which can make life more complicated.
"There are several (supposedly) very competitive private schools in my part of London and I know a handful of people who were unable to get their children into reception at good state schools and were 'miraculously' offered spaces at the last minute at one or other of the most cut-throat pre-preps. Especially with the recession, I imagine that it won't be spectacularly difficult to find a place at one of them, especially if you don't have a particular preference." lalalonglegs
Whatever option you choose, before you know it your child will be approaching the end of primary or prep school and you'll be starting the whole torturous process again for secondary school. There's always home education if you want an alternative - get on Mumsnet Talk to find out what it entails.