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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 14:36 GMT
My struggle for a school place
As parents across the country find out whether their child has been given a place at their preferred school, the BBC News website speaks to parents who were disappointed last year.

They told us what they had to do to get a place at a school they considered acceptable for their child.

'WE'RE FULL'

Shirley West

Kwane West, from Croydon, spent the first week of the school year in a school his mother never wanted him to attend because of its reputation for poor discipline and results.

Shirley West said it was "horrifying" to discover he had not been accepted at any of her five preferences, and had instead been assigned another school in Croydon with poorer results.

All her choices were within five miles of her home, although some were out of her catchment area.

Her son had to sit entrance tests for all of them, Shirley said, as the schools allocated a percentage of places on academic criteria after considering siblings and social or medical need.

But Kwane, who is an only child, did not get accepted at any.

Shirley then appealed unsuccessfully to three schools before realising she had no choice to place him at her allocated school and hope something better came up.

"It was daunting and a bad experience," she said. "You are representing your child and I felt I was letting him down."

"The schools just told me they had no more places and I should try somewhere else."

Shirley said her experience was not unusual among parents of Kwane's classmates. "The appeals were all we talked about," she said. "We decided we had to go through with them."

A week into the term a place came up at Chestnut Grove in Balham - a different borough, but not too difficult a journey for Kwane.

Kwane says he has settled in fine and he was not as stressed about the appeals as his mother. "It's true none of my primary school friends came here, " he said, "but I had a few out of school friends who did so I wasn't completely alone."

MEDICAL NEED

Dawn Hepburn

Dawn Hepburn was so intimidated and upset by the appeals panel at her first-choice school that she left the room in tears.

Her daughter Catherine had been refused a place at Greenshaw High School, which is seven minutes' walk away from her home.

She did not receive a place at any of her five choices and was instead allocated a place at a school a little further away - one which Ms Hepburn considered unacceptable because of its "bad reputation".

"I was so angry and frustrated," she said. "I told them I didn't think there ever was any place for my daughter - I thought we were just going through the motions."

But the panel told Dawn her daughter would have got a place if Dawn had detailed on the application form some ongoing medical problems she faces following a liver transplant eight years ago.

"It didn't occur to me to write all that on the form. There was no place for it - and it is my daughter who is going to the school not me.

"Why would I want the school to know about my medical problems?

"It didn't occur to me that Catherine wouldn't get into Greenshaw because we live so close. My brother used to live here with his children and they both got into the school."

Dawn decided to appeal to her second choice school, Cheam High School, which is a bus ride away but the school Catherine most wanted to attend because many of her friends had a place.

This would also be convenient for Dawn since her friends' parents sometimes helped out by picking her daughter up when Dawn was at hospital appointments.

"I was dreading the appeal," she said. "But this time, because I've had a long involvement with the Brownies, I went along in my Brown Owl's uniform to make a good impression."

Dawn won the appeal and she says Catherine now "loves it" at Cheam High School.

A SUCCESSFUL APPEAL

Lila Robinson said she was "devastated" when her daughter Hayley was offered a school with relatively low standards of achievement miles from her home.

"I thought it was a misprint," she said. "I had never heard of the school.

"It was two bus rides away and she would have been going there on her own - of around 60 children in her year she was the only one not to have been offered one of two local schools which were our first two choices."

After receiving the school allocation letter in March, Mrs Robinson waited until April for an appeal to get her daughter into Baverstock Foundation School - her first choice and the nearest school to her home.

In the meantime she accepted a place for Hayley at their third choice school - Light Hall School in Solihull - also a significant distance away.

But she decided to pursue the appeal for a place at Baverstock because Hayley wanted to attend the school.

"I wouldn't recommend the appeal to anyone. It's all about how well you put your case - the school did not talk to my daughter, but they did ask me what she liked and disliked, and I was honest.

"You do feel they are judging you as a person. If I hadn't been smartly dressed, it may have made a difference."

In May Lila Robinson was told Hayley had been given a place at Baverstock, where she is now happy and doing well. "I know the authorities are trying hard to improve the school they wanted to send Hayley to," Mrs Robinson said, "but there is no way I would have sent her there.

"I didn't want my daughter to be a guinea pig."

You can tell us about your experiences of the admissions system by using the form below.

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


In my experience the whole system is a complete farce and the idea of any parental choice an illusion. With a signed letter from a registered child psychologist and international expert on childhood development our child was still allocated to a school with a reputation for bullying and rejected on appeal at first choice school as it was "full". We declined the offered place, currently pay for private school and are exploring home schooling as finances are tight. Wouldn't it be more honest to admit there is no choice?
Tim, Fareham Hants

I know the main discussion seems to be secondary schools admissions but I have had an absolute nightmare to get my four-year-old boy into a primary school. The school nearest to our house is very poor, with low results and very bad disipline, therefore I selected three schools that were local and of a good standard. He did not get into any of our chioices. We appealed three times and had many problems with this.
Kirsty Metcalf, Bradford, West Yorkshire

I totally empathise with the above stories. My son didn't get into the only school we are in the catchment area of, even though we specifically moved into the area for this purpose and my son went to the main feeder primary school three years ago. I appealed, which is just a procedure the council go through to fulfil their obligation to hear parents' grievances. Our case was ruled against. I eventually approached my MP and my son did get a place.

Today I have just received a letter offering my daughter her third choice of school when we were assured at the pre-selection meetings that over 90% get their first or second choice. My daughter will be heartbroken tonight and a studious, hardworking, successful child will have all her hopes dashed.
Sharon Trott, Rainham, Essex

While I sympathise with these parents, surely there are parents fuming at people like Dawn Hepburn whose child occupies a place in a school which is not the nearest to her home, because it is more convenient for her to get a lift home.

I have no doubt that there is at least one child who wanted to attend that school who couldn't even though it was the nearest, simply because she wore her Brown Owl's uniform to her appeal.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex-UK

My son was not offered any of the three schools he wanted. What has been most difficult is being around all those parents who are obviously ecstatic at receiving one of their schools of choice. They don't all seem to realise what it feels like for us having to fight for a decent school place.
Michelle, Hertfordshire, UK

Occasionally, you wonder if it's pushy parents trying to force their darling children into a "respectable" school, but then you have to wonder why the admissions procedure isn't primarily done on location, with places automatically allocated to those children living closer to a school. Then if there are places left open them up to others a little further afield...
Christopher Teague, Wales

How do you think the schools get high marks, ladies? Not because they are better schools or have better teachers. No, it's because they choose better children. Your children may be in the top third, but if they aren't in the top 10% (as example figures), they won't get "the good schools". The good schools don't take on non-academic or unruly kids, where the less popular schools have to take these children. You have lost nothing in not getting your kid into the school you picked. Your child will live their life in the best way they can find and the school has little to do with that. You do.
Mark, Exeter, UK

As a teacher and a parent of five, I am keenly aware that pupil placement and subsequent security is crucial to settlement and ultimately success. As adults we would not want to work somewhere we did not feel settled. We need to acknowledge children as individuals and stop being so preoccupied with only letting in students who seem to fit the academic mould.

All the time education is driven by and judged against performance tables, pupils will only be regarded as statistics not personalities.
Paul Goodman, New Zealand

While it is understandable that the parents described in your article want to avoid "sink schools", it is important to understand that the situation has arisen out of the policy of parental choice. Social cohesion will never be achieved by bussing children out of borough or by buying your way into a school catchment area.

Uniform improvement in all schools (no pun intended) will only be achieved upon returning to the much derided system of having to send one's child to the nearest school. This system served me well: I came from a working class background and went to the local comprehensive in a town of mass unemployment along with children from more affluent backgrounds. I subsequently obtained a good degree and have ended up as a successful professional. I really can't believe the snobbery of the parents in your article.
Rhona Johnston, Birmingham West Midlands

My son has just got a place in our second choice secondary school. He didn't get his first choice because it was a religious school but it had to be first on my list for him to be considered for it. I am delighted that he has got his second choice. I know it is upsetting not to get your first choice or to end up in a school you didn't even ask for, however I thought it should be known that the system does work as well.
Caroline Willis, Greenford, UK

As a former LEA employee in admissions, I am all too aware of parental concerns regarding co-ordinated admissions. Most LEAs operate clear, transparent admissions criteria which are fair to all. My former employer does operate on a fair, open process where the majority of places are allocated based on distance from the home address to the school - the further away the school, the less a chance of getting a place as local children will take priority. However, in many cases it is a fruitless battle when parents make unrealistic choices, contrary to best advice. Sadly, we can't teach common sense anymore.
Anon, London

This morning we received the great news that our son has been selected for our first choice school, which is a faith school. However, I am well aware that the school chose him and not the other way around. And I am glad I will not be on the school run this evening as I am sure there will be others stood around the primary school playground who are not so happy.
Mandy, Sutton

We moved into a new home in June three years sgo. The junior school was five minutes walk from our new home. As it was full my son was refused a place. I appealed but the panel decided that is was acceptable for a 10-year-old boy to walk 45 minutes each way to his old school. Luckily, a place came up just before the new school term.
Elizabeth Pearce, Portsmouth, England

School admissions can be a nightmare. For your eldest child, you need to view the local schools in year four (year five at very latest) so you have an idea of what's on offer. Popular schools will have the information about how far away from the school the last pupil admitted has lived for the previous few years. This should give you a good idea of whether your child will get a place. If you find you're living in the wrong place, then you've got time to try to move!
Janet, Birmingham




SEE ALSO:
Schools warned over admissions
04 Nov 05 |  Education
How much choice do parents have?
30 Sep 05 |  Education


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