Has your child missed out on a primary school place? Our expert guide for worried parents: The New Day

18 April 2016
The New Day

A slightly different version of this article was published in the New Day, a print only newspaper, 18th April 2016

Having been a school teacher for over two decades and written two books on this subject, I know of the distress that parents go through when their child is not given a place at their first choice school. Here’s some of my advice.

Don’t panic!

Most serious research indicates that it is actually a child’s home background which has the most decisive effect on how he/she does at school: if you are a supportive parent/guardian who encourages your child to do their homework, listens to them, and provides them with a loving home, then he/she will do well.

But let’s weigh up the pros and cons of the different options.

Making do with the school you’ve been given

PROS: In 2014, eight out of ten schools were rated good or outstanding according to Ofsted, and those that are not are being closely monitored by quite a few different agencies, including Ofsted. So do look carefully at the school you’ve been given: talk to the teachers and take your child around it. It’s probably a perfectly good school.

CONS: Some parents do feel permanently discontented with a school which they have not chosen or which was not top of their list. They also may well feel their child is not progressing well there.

Deferring entry

PROS: Children do not have to start school until after their fifth birthday. There is flexibility, particularly for children born in the summer term: full guidance from the Department for Education can be found here. There is a great deal of evidence that summer born children do not attain as highly as their older peers so it is worth considering deferring entry if your child is young for their year. You should talk about this with your preferred school or an educational adviser: the system is much more receptive to parents doing this than it used to be. Moreover, if you aren’t happy with your allocated school, deferring will give you much more time to shop around.

CONS: It may be that your child would benefit from “getting stuck in” straightaway, and this would stop you (and your child) from worrying for a whole year or term (depending upon how long you defer). This entirely depends upon you and your child: you know your child better than anybody. If they are going “stir-crazy” at home (or nursery) then it’s well worth considering.


Home schooling

PROS: You can tailor the education you want your child to have and have the benefit of that sustained close contact with them. There are a number of support networks that can provide you with many resources to help you educate your child: the internet has made quality home-education much easier. Numbers of home educated children are rising so this is proving an increasingly popular option.

CONS: Very time-consuming and potentially very expensive. Your child will miss out on being taught by trained teachers (unless you are one) and the social life of school. There is some evidence that home educated children are at a severe disadvantage when compared with peers at school.

Going private

PROS: Private schools have more resources than the public sector and so can offer things like smaller class sizes and better facilities. Teachers, not constrained by the National Curriculum, have more freedom to teach.

CONS:  Very expensive: why pay for a school when you’re already paying for state schools through taxation? There also is an argument that teachers in the private sector may well be unqualified to teach, and less well equipped to deal with children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).


PROS: If you’re very upset about being rejected by a favoured school, you could have a go at appealing. School appeal panels consist of independent lay people who adjudicate upon the evidence and their judgment has to be accepted by the school. You will need to convince them that your child meets the school’s admissions’ criteria (the rules for accepting a pupil). If the school is full, you will additionally need to show that your child will suffer more by not being admitted than the trouble incurred upon the school for admitting them.

CONS: Appealing a school place can be a stressful process and often involves a time-consuming paper chase of gathering evidence. Roughly one in eight appeals are successful, with some schools only having 6 successful appeals out of 70. You can find many stories about appeals on my website here about this.

Going on the waiting list

PROS: If you feel it’s fine for your child to move into a new school during term-time, then this is a very plausible option. At the beginning of the school year, there’s always quite a bit of “churn” with many schools finding that new students have not turned up. Headteachers are always grateful to have students “on hand” to be moved quickly to fill empty spaces. It’s worth contacting your favoured school regularly throughout the year and asking them if they have spare places.

CONS: Moving into a new school during the middle of a term can be stressful for a young child because friendship groups tend to form early on and it can be difficult to catch up with the missed work.


Move house

PROS: If your favoured school allocates places on the basis of distance, then this is a serious option to consider; moving right next to a school may well guarantee you a place.

CONS: Check and double-check that moving house actually will guarantee your child a place! I’ve come across a few cases where parents have moved house only to find that this was not the sole criteria, or that “distance criteria” had changed. This can also be a very expensive option with houses situated near popular schools being very expensive.

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