Top Tips for your School Application

Getting your school application form right and providing the necessary information can be an important part in securing the school of your choice.

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Even those parents that have previously applied for older children can make basic mistakes or errors of judgment which affect not only the manner in which the application is dealt with, but also chances, some months later, when conducting a school admission appeal.

Effectively, what you do, or do not do now, will have an impact further down the road.

Set out below are some top tips to help you in the process.

1. Completing an Online/Paper Based Application

My preference, if there is a choice, is to always complete a paper based hard copy application form and submit this to the admission authority.

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Be very clear where your application form needs to be sent. Sometimes they can be returned to schools, especially with the new Academies and Free schools, but on most occasions, they must be sent back to the local education authority, i.e. usually your local council. Check carefully where the form has to be sent to.

If you have to apply online only, then there is always an element of doubt as to whether your online application has been received.

With online only applications, my advice would be to take a screenshot on your pc of the page which you will get at the end of the process, that will say something along the lines of “Application Submitted/Confirmed.” This is at least some proof that your application has been received.

There are many parents who I have had to advocate for at appeal hearings who are absolutely certain they had submitted their application on time, but an application was either lost in the post, or lost in the internet ether and an admission authority’s view would be that no application was ever received. At that point, an appeal would be necessary and as much proof as possible would be needed to ensure that an application had been received.

Again, with an online application, and I had to complete one myself a year ago, I ensured by contacting the admission authority, that I received confirmation that my online application had been received and was sitting in the system and shortly after the closing date of the applications, I asked for email confirmation from the admission authority that that was the case. I was then certain that even if the form was “lost”, I had proof that the form was received.

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Bear in mind, an admission authority may be receiving thousands of applications. Make sure yours is one of those that is received.

2. Sending Material and how to do it

If you are submitting your application form or any additional material in writing, make sure that it is typed and not hand written and also ensure that letters or application forms are sent by Recorded Delivery post. You then have a tracking number and again, after receipt, you can very easily print off the tracking details from the Royal Mail website to prove that material has been received.

Alternatively, personally hand deliver your form to the Admission Authority place of receipt but make sure you get a signed receipt with a clearly legible name and designation that is signed and dated.

It might sound like overkill but it is simply too important to rely on a first class stamp !

3. Meeting the Deadline

It may be obvious, but do not leave everything to the last minute. It is highly likely that you will be asked to provide numerous forms of proof of residence, or if you are making a claim under a special social or medical circumstance, that will necessitate the provision of additional material.

Give yourself plenty of time. Nobody wants to be running around on the deadline day, whether that be in October or January, ensuring material that proves your residence, is provided.

Different admission authorities ask for different proof of residence. Some can be relatively straightforward, others can necessitate telephoning other agencies for proof of that residence and this can take weeks.

Always start thinking about your application potentially six weeks before the deadline date.

4. Provision of all Evidence

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In addition to the proof of residence, many parents will be seeking a specific school because of a particular set of circumstances. There may be medical reasons, there may be reasons relating to special educational need or even sibling attendance.

For Faith-based schools, there may well be a religious requirement or test that parents will need to satisfy.

Ensure that all the relevant paperwork proving your claim is submitted with your application. For example, if admission criteria set out that you must have letters from an appropriate professional, ensure that the appropriate professional letters are adequate and again, are submitted well in time.

Sometimes, admission authorities can be vague on the nature on these letters and who can provide them. Again, well before your application is due, ask for advice from a relevant educational professional, or speak to the admission authority as to what they will accept in terms of that evidence.

When you are submitting material, make sure you submit copies, unless of course they ask for originals, so that you can potentially rely upon these at a later date.

5. Looking Carefully at the Admission Criteria

I am surprised that so many parents make an application without looking at the criteria that a school has and attempting to match their application to the criteria.

I doubt whether many parents would attend a job interview without looking first of all, at the job description or specification for that job. It is fairly certain that any interview for a job will be based around that job description, so it makes perfect sense to look carefully and study their document before attending an interview.

The same can be said in relation to your school application. There will be set criteria which a school, or admission authority have set for your particular type of school, whether that be Infant, Primary or Secondary.

For many of the Academies, Faith, Grammar or Free schools, these criteria can be individual to a particular school.

Carefully read these criteria before making your application in order that you might be able to tailor your application to clearly meet the highest priority criteria that you can.

For example, if a school has a criteria which takes into consideration exceptional social or medical reasons, then clearly, if you can demonstrate exceptional social or medical reasons, you will have a considerably better chance of securing a place.

6. Infant or Primary School applications – Making sure you have a full detailed and comprehensive Application

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If you are unsuccessful with any application, for a school, you have a statutory right of appeal to that school / authority. This takes place, normally in April to June of the year in which you are applying. So, if for example, if your child is due to start in September 2013, you will be notified of the school preference decision in March or April 2013. If you are unhappy, you have the right of appeal to an independent appeal panel.

Full details of the appeal process are set out on the website www.schoolapppeals.com.

However, for those appealing for a Key Stage 1 place, where the class size of the particular year group (Reception, Year 1 or Year 2) is likely to be 30, then the criteria under which you can appeal are very restrictive.

I will not go into large amounts of detail on this tip sheet, and of course, as with any application issue, we can provide further advice, but the bottom line is, if you do not put reasons as to why you want a particular school on the application, then it is highly likely that an appeal panel will be unable to take these reasons into consideration at any appeal.

This is a legal technicality, but one of the reasons why the vast majority of people lose this type of appeal is that their initial application fails to deal with the material that they need to include.

I realise that on online applications, there is very little space for this to be included and there may only be a box that says “other information”. It is vital if this is the case, you provide supplementary information to the admission authority in the form of a letter if it cannot be done electronically, and you keep copies of these letters to ensure that you can refer to these, should you have to appeal.

Conclusion
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I hope you find the above tips helpful and they are of course, only general tips.

Over the years, we have seen many parents come to us after the allocation decisions have been made and advise them on appeals. There are many parents who, unfortunately, through no fault of their own, have made mistakes in the application process and these mistakes have cost them a place at their preferred school or meant that they have been offered places at schools, which are completely unsuitable.

It is important to make sure the application process is completed correctly and it is important to know the options that you have and how these options might be effected by the manner in which your application is undertaken.

The tips above are general, but I hope you will appreciate our sound advice.

I am now offering a service to all parents whereby we can discuss with you the nature and content of your application, look specifically at the preferences you intend to make and give you a view on the type of information that you should be outing forward and the implications of selecting schools in a preferred order.

Many parents are now sending me the draft information that they intend to put forward in an application, i.e. the content of the form and this is then checked by me and during a Skype or telephone consultation prior to application, I can provide parents with a review of that information and suggest potential course of action that they might take, or additional evidence/angles to include within that application.
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We have found that this is very useful to parents, whether they be experienced in the admissions system, or first-time parents applying for their eldest child.

If you wish to utilise the School Appeals Services Pre Application Consultation, please call me on the number below and I can provide you with some more information.

The costs of doing this are low and to undertake a review of your application as outlined above costs £90.00 inc vat. Included in this price is our Admissions Guide which goes into detail about the pre-application and the appeal process and is normally sold at £12.99 (call Matt Richards Senior Partner, School Appeals Services on 020 8523 0887 or email him at matt@schoolappeals.com).

Testimonial from Mrs A C who received help with her Admission Appeal Application – October, 2011.

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“While not new to the process of applying for a place for my child at the school of our choice, I was slightly concerned about making sure the right amount of information was provided in our application.

Frankly, while both myself and my husband do not regarded ourselves as unintelligent people, the process did seem confusing, and there was very little help from the schools’ or local council’s website or from staff at the council.

We particularly were concerned about the level of information that we should provide with the application to ensure that we secured the best possible chance for our son in securing a place at the school.

In the end and after discussing our application with Matt, we chose a preferred order of schools which we felt was potentially, in our best interest. At the allocation date, we were offered our second preference school which we were quite happy with and importantly, were a school that we probably would not have included on our list, had we not spoken to Matt.

More importantly, because our appeal was a Reception appeal, Matt advised us on the depth and volume of information that we needed to provide with the application and told us that if we did not do so, then any subsequent appeal could be jeopardised.

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Given that advice, we submitted quite a lot of material with the application.

Even though we had secured our second preference, we did appeal for our preferred school and were lucky enough to win that appeal. Having gone through that process, we were incredibly fortunate to talk to Matt because due to the information that we had provide at the application stage, we were then able to mount a successful appeal.

It was appalling for us to learn that if we had not provided that information, then the chances of us winning our appeal would have been around 2%, but simply making sure that we followed an administrative process that no one at the school or the admission authority told us about, meant that we had a significant chance of winning our appeal.

We cannot thank Matt enough because due to his advice and at very little cost, not only did we secure our second preference school, but also eventually secured the school of our choice.”

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