Diane Bialek's views on: 'Getting Your Child in to Your Chosen School' - Just How Level is that Playing Field?
If like me, you were just an ordinary kid, without any extra ordinary opportunities, the proverbial silver spoons being nowhere in sight, but were lucky enough to have great parents and go to a fantastic school - what do you do when you grow up?
I became an Independent Appeals Panel Member/Chair in February 2005
If your child does not get in to your chosen school, you can appeal to an independent appeal panel which is covered by the Admission Appeals Code.
When a child is not offered a place at their chosen school, it can be an extremely stressful and distressing time for all. It is more so, if you do not necessarily have the same skill set as others when appealing your case. I originally trained to sit on these panels, to ensure that I could offer a different perspective than some others might. I continue to sit and Chair these panels for the very same reason. The largest number of appeals that I have chaired, for one school, for the same intake is 175 and the furthest school I have covered is Skegness.
Having developed a huge social conscience, and truly believing that all children deserve a chance, being an Independent Appeals Panel Member/Chair was an obvious decision. What I care about most, is fairness and opportunities for all. Realistically, the playing field is well and truly more like a mountain range, but that's not the end of the story. We live in a society which is rich with diversity and charm - but that can bring with it challenges and issues relating to accessibility.
It's true to say that parental choice is the key when it comes to your child’s schooling, and yes, you can choose which schools you plop onto that admission application form, and the preference you place on each of them, but is that enough?
In my view, absolutely not.
Here's my checklist that I used when I was applying for school places, I've also included some of the pitfalls that I feel some parents fall in to when applying for a school place. Hope that you find it useful - remember, these are just my thoughts and not intended as a definitive guide;
- Whilst listening to what your child wishes is important - they are children, are they really in a position to know what's best?
- Friendship groups are so important - or are they? Most children that I speak with, do not have the same friends at secondary school that they had in primary school. When children move up to secondary school, some schools do not take into consideration who is friends with whom when they allocate classes. When hearing appeals by parents who want to move their children from their current school,(the one incidentally that they applied for), I have lost count of how many say that they only chose that school as their child wanted to go there and in hindsight, they feel that they should not have 'just gone along with it'.
- We all want the best school for our children, sadly there is a huge shortage of places to accommodate all those who apply for certain schools. I would advise all parent to ensure that they fully understand the admissions criteria for each school that they are interested in. All school’s admission criteria are specific to that school. Have you checked that your child will meet the admissions criteria for your chosen school, and do they have a chance of being offered a place? Are you not giving your child an unrealistic idea of their chances of being offered a place?
- Technology/Aptitude/Arts etc. Some schools offer places relating to a specific criterion, such as technology. If you are applying under any of those special criteria’s, make sure that you know how your child is to be assessed. Dates of exams etc.
- Do not fall in to the trap of assuming that as their sibling is already attending, they will definitely get offered a place. Unfortunately, this may not be the case.
- If you are applying for a Faith Based school place, ensure that you have completed/submitted any/all supplementary documentation and provided evidence as required.
- Do not assume that; because you live near a school, are aware that your address was in the catchment, the estate agent or letting agent told you that it is in the catchment, that you are in fact in the catchment for your chosen school. Catchments are not always obvious; some schools do not have one and school catchments change. You are advised to check for yourself.
- Is this the best 'fit' for your child? Could another school be better suited to your child’s individual needs?
- Travel is a huge bone of contention for many parents during appeals and I absolutely understand why. The sad fact remains that many of our secondary children are finding themselves having to catch 2 buses to school every day and 2 busses home. This unfortunately, is not an unusual situation or rare. On a positive note, our children do not stay little forever, they do make friends and there will come a point when they really do not want us parents hanging around and will relish those journeys to and from school without us.
- Children with additional/specific needs should be catered for in all schools. If your child falls in to this category please ensure that you bring evidence to support your case. It’s the same if there are specific circumstances that mean they need additional consideration/support. Just telling the panel will not be enough, they will need proof. Sadly, panel members will have been told untruths before and to keep it fair we need to see proof. School places are competitive, I personally heard an appeal where a mum told the panel that she was dying of cancer and had very little time left. She said that she was a single mum and her son needed to go to that school to be with friends. Understandably, the panel were very sympathetic – until it was found to be totally untrue.
- Bullying is another reason why you may wish to send your child to a specific school or move them from one to another. Bullying is one of those awful situations that can be horrendous for the child and for their parents, in fact for the entire family. I personally, would not believe any school that reported that they did not have bullying. This is highly unlikely and, in my view, totally unrealistic. Bullying, sadly does happen and could happen to any child at any school. The schools that I would consider, are ones that have robust bullying policies and adhere to them, not ones that deny that they have bullying in their school.
- Childcare issues can cause parents an absolute nightmare. This can be even more so for single parents. I would urge you to explore every option available if this might be an issue for you prior to attending an appeal hearing.
- Advocates/Representatives/family members/friends, can be a huge support during an appeal, especially if you are nervous/stressed/not used to speaking to a panel of people. I would however give a word of caution here. I have sat on hundreds of appeal hearings over the years and can applaud the many supportive friends etc who have been there for the parent. I have however, also had the distressing situation, whereby a representative (albeit with best intentions) has almost sabotaged any hope of the parent winning the appeal for their child. Sadly, some supporters are very vocal and strong in their convictions, taking over from the parent, and totally getting the wrong end of the stick - or worse, having a hidden agenda. Please do not let this happen to you, have a supporter by all means, do not let highjack your appeal hearing. Panel members really just want to hear your case, and why your child, and why that particular school. It really is that simple.
- I would urge you to stick to the truth when applying for a school place or attending an appeal hearing. Panel members are trained and experienced at seeing through false or misleading information. They do their homework.
- Finally, I would advise you to prepare as best as you can for any appeal, do try and attend as it does help you to get your points across. You do not need legal representation, excellent grammar, good spoken English etc. Appeals are for all and have to be accessible for all. Whilst Appeals form part of a formal two stage process, in my experience, all panel members try their very best to keep it as informal as possible in order for you to be able to get your case across.
Good luck with any appeals that you might have.