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Choosing A Primary School

Your local authority will have a list of schools in your area although it is possible for your child to go to school outside your area. If you have access
to a computer, you can also go to the Directgov website (http://schoolsfinder.direct.gov.uk/) to search for schools in your area. It’s useful to network as much as you can. Find out about what other parents, local newspapers, your health visitor or GP say about local schools. Get hold of the last OFSTED report (www.ofsted.gov.uk) and the achievement and attainment tables (often called ‘league tables’) produced by the DCSF (www.dfes.gov.uk/performancetables). You can read school prospectuses in libraries or ask schools to send them to you. Do you and your child want a single-sex school? How important is your faith to you both? These are questions that will help you to decide.

Visit the schools with your child at an open day or evening or make an appointment with the school secretary. Talk to the head, teachers and other staff. What do you feel about the building where your child will spend a great part of his/her day? Are there signs of the children’s work on the walls? Do children there seem to be happy and positive? Do you and the school agree on what you expect from the school? How does the school offer places if there is too much demand (if it’s ‘over-subscribed’)? You’ll probably hear much talk about ‘catchment’ areas – how close you need to live to the school to be sure of a place. A note of caution: how catchment areas are measured can vary from local authority to local authority. They can also change from year to year depending on how many children apply to that school. Just because your next-door neighbour’s older child goes to a particular school doesn’t guarantee that your child will get in.

As well as how you and your child feel about the school, consider how easy it will be for you both to get to and from the school. It may seem a long time ahead but you might, one day, want your child to be able to travel to and from school alone. Will that be possible? Will your child have friends living nearby? His/her social life will change when he/she start school and you might want to invite friends (and their parents) home. Will that be practical? You may also feel better if your child can travel to school with a friend.

You could find out whether or not the school encourages parents to get involved. Is there an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA)? Perhaps you could talk to members. The school’s OFSTED report will also have a section that gives the views of parents. This may be more detailed in some reports than in others.

You might be concerned to protect your child from any kind of discrimination or bullying because of his/her race or culture. Are there other Black and Minority Ethnic or Gypsy, Roma, Traveller children at your chosen school? Can you arrange to talk to any of their parents? Is there a Black Parents’ Group at the school? Can you talk to them? Parents you have met at nursery or playgroup may have older children at that school and may be able to give you useful guidance.

You could also raise your concerns with the head teacher of the school and ask to see the school’s race equality policy.

You will probably have a long wait to hear the result of your application to a school but you should be told when offers will be sent out. If your child isn’t offered a place in one of your chosen schools, you will probably feel extremely disappointed and your child will also need support and encouragement. Your local authority will, eventually, offer you some options either within the authority or outside. You can also keep your child’s name on a waiting list for any school in case a vacancy arises later.

Appeals

The letter from your local authority will explain how you can appeal if you’re not satisfied with the decision made by any school. The authority also gives you a closing date for any appeal. The appeal will be made to an independent panel, not to the school or local authority. It must be made by the closing date.

You will need to explain why you believe that the school has made the wrong decision according to its admissions criteria. The school will explain why it did not offer you a place. The panel will decide whether the school’s decision was reasonable or whether your child has a good case for attending that particular school. You don’t have to go to the appeals panel alone: you can take a friend, adviser or even a solicitor. You can get information and help on the appeals process from organisations like the Advisory Centre for Education (0808 800 5793) or your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Refugee and asylum seekers

If you are a refugee or asylum seeker, you will need to contact a school to register your child. The head teacher will probably want to talk to you to find out about your child and your family. You should be able to ask for an interpreter, which might be provided by the school or Ethnic Minority Achievement Service (EMAS) or you can take one with you. It is normal for the school to want to meet with you since information you give them might help them to settle your child into school and you’ll be able to find out how the school works. They might also be able to give you advice about other services that you might need. Take the opportunity to ask whatever you feel you need to know about how your child will be educated. Ask if you can see around the school to get a feeling for what happens.

If that school has no places, you can try another school. You can also put your child’s name on a waiting list for a place. Or else, you can appeal to an independent panel if you feel that the school’s decision is wrong. The appeal will have to be in English.

The National Curriculum expects teachers to plan for the different learning and personal welfare needs of pupils from all backgrounds, including refugees. The Children Act 2004 and Every Child Matters: Change for Children – the Government’s strategy for organisations that provide services to children – outline the responsibility of schools to ensure the well-being and progress of all children, including refugees, by working together effectively with other agencies and services.

Organisations like the Refugee Council (www.refugeecouncil.org.uk) can give help and advice. The National Refugee Integration Forum (www.nrif.org.uk/) website has useful information.

Gypsy/Roma/Traveller families

The local authority has a duty to ensure that education is available for all children of compulsory school age in their area whether permanent or temporary. Gypsy/Roma/Traveller families who live on temporary or unauthorised sites are included in this duty. Most local authorities provide specialist Traveller Education Support Services. You can get help when you move into a new area by contacting the local Traveller Education Support Service.

By law, the children of Gypsy/Traveller families should be admitted to schools on the same basis as any other child.

You may be able to get help and advice from the Friends, Family and Travellers site at www.gypsy-traveller.org and many local authority websites will also have sections that provide information.