#LifeSchool: Picking a School, Getting In, and What To Do If It All Goes Tits Up.

Its that time again, and I hope you enjoyed last week’s renting related #LifeSchool. Once again, if you would like me to feature a topic, feel free to get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

This week’s #LifeSchool covers everything playground related, from working out the best school (or otherwise) for your cherubs, to appealing if you can’t get in, the tips below have you covered. This is a two part #LifeSchool, as we’ll cover Bullying and other issues next time.

PICKING A SCHOOL- KNOW YOUR DEADLINES IF YOU DONT WANT TO BE LEFT BEHIND

Back when I was a child, picking a school was simple. You just went to the one nearest- I certainly did.

However, we now have the wonders of Ofsted, which has meant of course that the school’s voted Outstanding and Good fill up to bursting quickly and the one’s in the lower ranks have to basically beg parent’s to send their child there.

Then, there is the added stress of catchment, and whether there are, in fact, enough school places for children in your town.

The key to getting the right school doesn’t need to be grey hair inducing as long as you keep up to date with when to get your forms in.

Most school’s now have great websites, so finding out when open days are happening is simply a case of looking online. If you can’t make a date for a school though, its always worth giving them a ring as some will work round your availability. I actually preferred seeing a school without all the pre-arranged (and often utterly bollocks and just put on to look smarmy to parents) fanfare of the official open days. Its often far more enlightening to go in on a normal day and see the school on the hop as it usually is (when they haven’t hidden the naughty kids away for the day).

Make sure to ask questions- school’s are prepared for this so don’t be shy. Does your child have a health issue or are they classed as having Special Education Needs (SEN)? If so, does the school have policy in place to cover these children, and if so, what is it? What sizes are classes? Do they offer after school care? You get the idea- if it’s something you don’t know, then ask if it’s something which could be a deal breaker.

Make use of the calendar on your mobile phone, and get your forms in for school allocation before the deadline. They do say this makes no difference, but it doesn’t hurt if your chosen school is popular to get in early.

Make sure to read the form properly too. If your chosen school is a religious school, and you happen to be religious and in their parish, then mention it (do not make this up- they can and will ask for proof). Is it set up specifically for children with SEN, hence you choosing it? Again, add this to your form. If you have siblings in the school, this is also worth making sure you include as some authorities will automatically add a child to the school list if they already have brothers or sisters in attendance.

NOT GOT THE SCHOOL FOR YOU? DON’T GIVE UP!

Its becoming more and more the case that, come Easter when school places are allocated, kids aren’t getting any of their chosen schools. That’s no reflection on your child, it’s more a case of factors including Ofsted ratings and demand outweighing supply.

Some kids have even been given places miles from home, which causes it’s own issues.

It can be the same should you move areas and need to secure new schools too.

In the case of not getting a chosen place, don’t give up.

It’s time to get smart!

All school’s have appeals processes, whereby you are required to submit either a letter or form to them within a specified amount of time from the allocation of your child’s place. Its usually 30 days but some can be 14 so make sure you check.

The Appeal’s process can be a minefield, and, of course, whilst it goes on the Local Authority (LA) will expect your child to be in some form of education if it’s not the school holidays.

The first thing you need to do is again, add mitigating reasons for why not getting your child in to the school is going to be simply unworkable for your family. We’re not talking “Ofsted said the other school is shit and I don’t want my child to go to a shit school” as despite the Government thinking Ofsted is important, we aren’t meant to use this to our advantage, appeal wise.

One reason could be a commute- do you work and the school is the opposite direction from your home and work? Does your child have SEN and long travels by bus or walking are just not possible? Do you have other children at your chosen school and the allocation means having to be in two different sides of the town at the same time twice a day? All these can be added.

If the school is out of your catchment, the above reasons can be very important. I know, from experience when we moved from Maidenhead to Reading, we got Mini into our chosen school but not Littlest, who was expected to go to a catchment school a good ten minute walk from Mini’s non catchment one. The kick in the teeth was that the catchment school was actually a bigger distance from our new home than the non-catchment one. I would not have been able to get both dropped off at once,  either.

This all went into my form, along with details of Littlest’s illnesses and that, to be fair, Mini had acted as un-official helper when he had been unwell in school before we moved, helping to calm him down as she was used to his ill health and quite often could be calmer than the staff at the old school.

Make sure you add as much evidence as possible, then, make sure you google your LA’s Appeals rules. These are fully available online, and yes, they are boring as hell, and full of jargon, but they just may make the difference if things go wrong.

In our case, we found the Diocese (who is our school’s Authority) had not played by their own set rules and timetables, and, even worse, they allowed one expert to submit new information within the Appeal Panel Hearing- a great big no no rules of appeals wise.

Yes, you read that right- you will have to attend an Appeal Hearing, with three independent LA people, a Governor or Headteacher to represent your chosen school, and a Panel Host who is supposed to be well versed on rules. The school representative will have the chance to give reason’s why the school can’t fit your child, then you will be asked to give your reason’s for being unhappy with this. You can make notes, and you can ask questions, so if they say something you know to be wrong then always voice it.

The Panel then gets to ask questions too, so keep calm, be polite and respectful at all times. At the end of the hearing, you will be told to expect a decision shortly. This can be a few hours, or a few days.

If your appeal is successful, great, but if not, this is not the time to get upset and give up either.

THERE’S SOMEONE FOR FREE ON YOUR SIDE SO USE THEM!

Think back to the Hearing. Did the Panel stick to the Appeal rules? If not, as was the case with our appeal, your next step is the Ombudsmen service.

This is a free service available online, and each Ombudsmen service covers everything from schools, to gas and electric and GP surgeries too (more on those another time).

There is a long form to fill in, so, again, make sure you get as much relevant information in as possible. It will ask you to submit any proof, so, as always, my biggest advice is to try and get as much done in writing as possible to refer back to.

The Ombudsmen Service will then contact the other party involved and ask for their response, and will come to a decision based on the information you’ve submitted so make sure you are 100% factual and polite too.

In our case, the Diocese admitted their error, and within a few weeks a school place magically appeared. Yes, you do feel a little awkward to begin with when you’ve had to do all the above, but, always keep in mind that this is your child and you are acting in their best interest.

STILL NO PLACE? WHAT NEXT?

If the above fails, you can, of course, place your child on the school’s waiting list, but this can take time to get to the top of and, if a child enters the list who is in the Catchment, has relatives in school or has other, bigger mitigating factors than yours, you can slip a few places.

It may be worth looking again at the school you were given.

To my mind, I pay no attention to Ofsted rating. Our last school did nothing, educationally outstanding, for either of my children, and had no interest in dealing with bullying. It was rated, whilst we were there and despite several parent’s filling in anonymous feedback forms from Ofsted raising serious concerns, as Outstanding.

Our new school is rated as Adequate at the moment (although it’s being reviewed soon). I chose it after speaking to people in the local area when we moved to the area, all of whom said the school seen as Outstanding (where they wanted to place Littlest) was not great and our current school was a very good, old fashioned, community school.

I spoke to both school’s about Littlest’s SEN- the Outstanding school went quiet and said they’d get back to me (and didn’t), our current school knew what was in place the moment I spoke to them.

Go back, re-look, and if you really can’t stomach it, think about Home Schooling.

Home Schooling is on the rise, popularity wise, no doubt in part due to the lack of school places. It does have issues of it’s own though, and it’s not simply a case of removing your child from the education system and taking them to the park or Museum.

You will have to register with your LA as being a Home Educator, and you will be asked to submit termly lesson plans. You will be subject to home visits, telephone calls and emails, and the LA can take you to court if they don’t feel your Home Education is acceptable, and this can mean them placing your child in whichever school they can find with places in the LA’s region.

Home Education can be rewarding, there is a wealth of support on line both local and national for Home Educators, with local meet ups, money off or free visits to educational places, and resources online which are free or cost a few pounds to subscribe to.

Its not for everyone though- if you work, then you can’t very well give up your job, and some children- Littlest included- find the line between teacher and parent is too big. It was very hard work for us, and I was very pleased when he finally won his school place!

GOOD LUCK AND REMEMBER, DON’T STRESS!

Hopefully, all will be fine and you will find your place and everyone will be happy.

For every parent who has to plead for a place, there are many more who never even have to worry.

Do your research, get your forms in promptly, and keep calm and all should be well for your child starting in their top choice of school.

Next time in part 2, what to do when things go wrong within school- Bullying, Falling Behind and how not to piss off your teachers.

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