What to do when you can't have first choice

Getting the best out of your chocolate box when your favourite's gone (Photo credit: Unsplash)

Getting the best out of your chocolate box when your favourite's gone (Photo credit: Unsplash)

Resistance may be futile, but persistence can pay off: is there anything to be done to gain the 2017 state school place you hoped for?

For first time parents, not being offered your first choice of school place can feel like a personal failure – it’s hard to remember that you were not choosing a school after all, but stating a preference. In London, one third of secondary school pupils were not offered their first choice of school.

School feels monumental for your first child, you look so carefully.  At nursery you were seeking out love and care and home-from-home and the educational element was perhaps more incidental.  In planning primary school you have weighed up the pros and cons of proximity to home, Ofsted ratings (how does a ‘good’ from 2015 compare with an ‘outstanding’ from 2007), maybe you dared a foray onto your local Mumsnet page and a few carefully planned strolls past the school gate at pickup time.  In some cases you may not have even felt completely confident about your choices, but the failure to get your first choice of school is inevitably a shock, a body-blow after all of the careful sugar-free, organic, baby-signing and music classes.  For those seeking places for second or third children, the blow can be just as great, though based on a little more knowledge and a lot more logistical necessity.

So what now? 

Your options from here out will depend hugely on where you live and your budget (is private education an alternative, even until the next academic stage?) but, wherever you are and whatever the alternatives you are able to consider, your child is of course going to be all right. Children will survive going to the “wrong” school, leaving their friends, and – should you go on to appeal and win – changing schools after the beginning of the school year too. So, getting used to the new turn of events may be all you want or need to do.

But, there is an alternative:

  • In most London boroughs/areas you will automatically be on the waiting list for your first choice of school (or any higher up your list than your allocated school) but do check this is the case, sometimes if applying out of borough you'll need to put yourself on the list.
  • Did you miss anything in your initial application – a new free school or a better school in a neighbouring authority that you could also get on the waiting list for?
  • Review the appeals procedure for your first choice of school. It’s very unlikely that you will be successful unless you happen to hit the criteria for appeal and are extremely determined to pursue it, but it can be done. The key is to start early and do your homework.
  • Find out which schools still have places and scrutinise them - any improved performances revealed in new inspections - and visit if you can.
  • You'll need to consider how late in the day you'd be prepared to make a switch - after you've bought the school uniform, for instance? Places do come available even as late as during the first few weeks of September.
  • Think it’s too late to consider private education for 2017 – no, not necessarily, talk to us now!

In our experience, there is actually quite a lot of movement in the first years of school.  Parents are typically at a point in their careers where moves are inevitable, siblings are moved to be with other siblings or strategically positioned for transfer to secondary school, families move to larger homes or to the countryside or win places at the schools they originally wanted and fall out of a love with a school that suits you perfectly.

And in addition to the movement of pupils making spaces available, schools change too.  Changes of leadership can transform a school in just a couple of years and the Ofsted ratings you relied upon can prove to be hopelessly out of date – a school put in ‘special measures’ last year could be ‘outstanding’ next.  You could find yourself at the most desirable school in the neighbourhood.  A mediocre infant school may merge with, and be transformed by an outstanding middle school and an academy chain merging primaries and secondaries can bring managerial economies that boost classroom funding.

For some, there is the independent option, a huge financial commitment, about both affordability and whether your education pot is best spent early or saved for later years, or later children, but the choices are both varied and exciting and well worth consideration. For the motivated and determined, you might give the school you’ve been allocated a chance and if it doesn’t work out, vote with your feet.

It’s a stressful time. Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss how we can help you find a way through.