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Last Updated: Monday, 11 July, 2005, 05:37 GMT 06:37 UK
Chasing places
children in classroom
How far would you go to get the school you want?
Going to a new school is a nerve-wracking time for children and their parents alike.

It's particularly difficult for the thousands each year who don't get into the school they wanted.

All this week, Breakfast has brought you a new series of films about school choice. It's called Chasing Places.

Friday 15 July

Today is the last in our week long series looking at the struggle many parents have to get their children into the school of their choice.

We've been inundated with emails and texts from you on this subject and we spoke to the director of The Education Network group to see what he thinks can be done to make the whole process easier.

During Friday's programme we spoke to Jacqui Smith, the School's Minister about the difficulties some families are facing - particularly in big towns and cities.

Thursday 14 July

  • Home Schooling

    For some families the answer can be to opt out of the education system all together and teach their children at home.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that home schooling is becoming increasingly popular, though there are no official figures.

    This morning on Breakfast we feature a family who've taken the home schooling route.

  • And we talked to Janey Lee Grace, the Radio 2 presenter who teaches her young children at home.

    Janey says she felt that home schooling was the very best that she could offer her children, particularly because she can allow her children to follow their particular interests and tailor their education to them.

    She says she's not a teacher, but that doesn't matter as she feels that as parents you learn with the children and "facilitate their learning".

  • We spoke to Brenda Holliday, trustee of the Home Education Advisory Service and John Bangs, head of Education at the NUT - they have opposing views on home schooling.

    John Bangs said that socialisation could be a problem for children who are educated at home.

    But Brenda Holliday said the reason that many families take their children out of school was "because of the standard of socialisation they have to endure" - in the form of bullying.

    And she said that there were many other opportunities for children to socialise.

    Wednesday 13 July

  • Faith Schools

    On Wednesday we looked at Faith schools and the rise in their popularity.

    We heard from one Breakfast viewer who was unable to get her child into her local Jewish school, because of the school's policy of giving preference to the children of former pupils, over local children.

    But what's the answer to over-subscription, particularly in the faith sector?

    On Breakfast we spoke to Andrew Haldenby of the think tank Reform.

    He believes that parents should be able to open new schools to meet demand more easily.

    "One of the most important things we could do is make it much easier for new schools to open so that we have more good school places"

    We also debated the issue of faith schools with Frank Dobson MP and the Church of England's chief education officer, John Hall.

    They took opposing views. Frank Dobson MP said that with society increasingly divided, education could bring people together:

    "We need to be looking at an education system which brings people together and makes people experience one another's cultures and religions".

    John Hall claimed that Church of England schools, though "distinctively Christian" were "inclusive of the local community".

    We want your views.

    Tuesday 12 July

  • How far would you go?

    We looked at the lengths parents go to get their child into the right school.

    It's becoming increasingly common for parents to move into the catchment area for their chosen school: in some parts of London, catchment areas have shrunk to a few streets as a result.
    still from Breakfast's vox pops of parents at a school gate
    This mother told us she wouldn't blame parents for lying

    For selective secondary schools, many parents also choose to have their child privately tutored, on top of their regular schooling.

    But would you go as far as renting a flat in a catchment area - or even "borrowing" a friend's address?

  • We talked to some parents at the school gates - and we debated the issues with Kathryn James of the National Association of Head teachers and education writer Jenni Russell.

  • Tomorrow (Wednesday) we'll look at faith-based schools and ask whether it's fair to exclude children from some of the best-performing schools in the country on the basis of their religion.

    Monday 11 July

  • No guarantees

    Sarah Campbell reported live from a secondary school in Derbyshire which is so popular that it can't guarantee that even the children in its own catchment area will get in.

    John Port secondary school in Etwall has just over 330 places on offer each year - and more than 600 applicants.

    Jane Hadden caught up with two families whose children haven't got the secondary school they wanted, in other parts of the country.

    Archie Dickins' life was thrown upside-down when he unexpectedly failed his 11+ exam - and Stacey Brendon is the only child in her class who hasn't got into the secondary school she wanted.

  • We got some tips on what to do if you're not happy with your child's allocated school - from John Chard of School Appeals.org and Dr Pat Spungin - of Raising Kids.co.uk.

    How to appeal

    Unfortunately, there is no magic way to get your child into the school of your choice. But here are a few tips which may help:

  • Read the rules

    The rules on schools admissions are drawn up by your LEA (local education authority) and so the precise details can differ from one area to another.

    What you told Breakfast
    Schools are only successful if they are right for your child. Parents take far too much notice of league tables which only tell half the story. I want my children to be fully rounded people, not academic automatons.
    Diane, Leeds

    But it pays to get a copy of those rules from your LEA and read them very carefully.

    Some individual schools also get the chance to set their own admissions policies: this applies to Foundation Schools - and to many faith-based schools (for instance, Church of England and Roman Catholic schools)

  • Construct an argument

    The most basic mistake you can make, according to John Chard, is to lodge an appeal without stating exactly why you think your child should go to the school you've chosen.

    Do your homework: research your local admissions policy and the school itself - and construct an argument based on what you've found.

    Don't just say you want the best for your child: that's what every other parent wants, too.

  • Be realistic

    Don't set your heart on a school miles from home, simply because it gets the best results in your area.

    Find out what you have to do to get in there.

    It's very common, for instance, for Local Education Authorities to use distance as the key factor in making decisions, especially at Primary level - so do find out whether other people who live in your street have managed to get in.

    At secondary level, your child may need to pass a test (like the 11+) or to have gone to a specific "feeder" primary school: in every area, the rules are different.

    Other criteria used for allocating schools include - "sibling connections" (so parents don't find themselves having to do a double drop-off) and more exceptionally medical or psychological criteria.

    Don't forget that some schools are allowed to set their own admissions policies. This includes "foundation" schools - and many "faith-based" (religious) schools - which may ask you to demonstrate that you're a regular church-goer.

    In some areas where competition for church school places is very intense, you may need a report from your vicar or priest on your commitment to the church.

  • Consider going on a waiting list

    If your school appeal fails, you may find you can still put your child's name on a waiting list, in case a spare place comes up.

    This could mean that your child starts at one school and then transfers to the school you originally wanted, perhaps half-way through a school year.

    Don't forget to ask the school or the LEA how long it normally takes for the waiting list to clear - and whether people who move into the area will be able to "jump" to the head of the queue if they're closer to the school than you are.

    For popular schools in London, children may be on a waiting list for a matter of months or even years.

    You'll find links on the right hand side of this story to websites which may be able to give you more tips on schools places.

  • You can use this form to e-mail your story to the Breakfast team. Don't forget to include your name and a daytime contact number, in case we need to ring you back

    Your E-mail address
    Where you live

    The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

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