How can schools support families who did not get their first preference school place?
The 16th of April 2021 is National Offer Day for primary school places across the country. Starting at school is a huge milestone within a child’s life, which is both exciting, but also a potentially daunting time. The process of applying for school places can also be quite stressful for parents, especially if you don’t receive the news you want on the 16th April.
Firstly, many people do get their preference choices and if you do then massive congratulations! but unfortunately, there are some families who won’t get the news they want. Statistics show that up to 17% of families are not getting their preferred choices. Therefore, as a school make sure you are equipped and aware on how to support these families.
How can schools support disappointed parents?
If parents haven’t got their first choice at your school, be a support system for them. Here are examples of how you can do this:
- Firstly, tell parents not to panic: Offer support, reassure and comfort the family. If possible, recommend other schools in the area that may fit their needs and be helpful and supportive where ever possible.
- Guide them through the appeals process if they wish to do so – if they don’t agree with the decision that’s been made, then they have the right to file for an appeal. The appeal panel consists of members with both education and legal knowledge, who will take into consideration the reasons for appeal and any difficulties it may cause the family if their child does not attend the preferred school (2).
- Explain to parents that the most important thing to remember is that this child is educated and has a school place.
Explaining why and how the decision was made:
Many schools receive more applications than they have actual places and due to the high demand in applications, schools have to prioritise the places that they offer, here are some examples of factors taken into consideration:
- Distance that the child lives from school or ‘the catchment area’
- Disabilities – are the parents or children disabled which may impact on and make their commute more difficult?
- How vulnerable is the child classed as?
- Does a child need to leave their previous school due to serious issues such as bullying?
- Do they have any siblings at the current school?
- Faith – only applicable at faith-based schools; for example, if the school is a catholic school they are more likely to offer a placement to a catholic child/family. Some schools may ask for evidence or references to verify the faith.
- Their academic ability – Grammar schools will conduct things such as entrance exams and make their decisions based on their grade/pass rate.
Explaining the appeal process to parents
So, a parent isn’t happy and wants to appeal the decision; Firstly, explain to parents to wait for a letter that they will receive from the Local Authority stating that their child hasn’t got a place at their chosen school5. This letter will provide information on how the parent can appeal against the decision. If they appeal, a date will be provided of when the appeal will take place.
The appeal panel will normally consist of 3-5 members who will be given the information regarding why your child’s place was refused. Explain to parents that they will have their chance at this meeting to explain why they are appealing the decision and will also be able to provide examples and/or evidence as to why you feel that that particular school would best meet the needs of your child.
After the meeting, it is down to the panel to decide the overall decision. Parents are normally notified via post within a week. If successful, then the child has a place at the chosen school, if unsuccessful then inform the parents that they can still place their child’s name on a waiting list for the school. But the most important thing to remember is that they are attending school regardless and receiving an education.