Applying for a school place in Lancashire: top tips from the woman in charge of the process

Parents in Lancashire who are applying for school places for their children next year are being advised to do their homework – and try to include at least one “realistic” option out of the three preferences which they can select.

With the process now under way for children starting primary or secondary school in September 2020, parents and guardians are also being warned that late applications will be considered after all those which arrive on time – putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to securing a place of their choice.

Debbie Ormerod is the admissions manager for Lancashire County Council

Debbie Ormerod is the admissions manager for Lancashire County Council

Secondary school applications are due in by 31st October, 2019 and those for primary places by 15th January, 2020. All of them must be submitted via Lancashire County Council’s own system and not direct to an individual school.

The authority’s admissions manager, Debbie Ormerod, is recommending that parents do some research before making their final decisions – not only based on what a school has to offer, but also the chances of their child getting in.

“I’d suggest asking questions of the pupil access team here at the county council, or the schools themselves, about the likelihood of securing a place,” Debbie explains.

“We can’t guarantee [anything], but we can look at historical data to see the probability of securing a place at a particular school.”

Schools which are oversubscribed for places have to judge which children they admit by assessing them against a list of published criteria, including whether the child lives in their catchment area.

For schools under the county council’s control – so-called “community schools” – that criteria is the same across the board; however, faith schools, academies and free schools can set their own admissions policies, so as long as they comply with the law.

Infant class sizes must not exceed 30 children, increasing competition for a place amongst children taking their first steps into education.

Debbie says that parents keen to get their child into a certain school sometimes try to use the admissions form to give their child an advantage – but without success.

“Each year, we get parents who just put down one school or put down the same school three times, believing that it will increase their chances of being successful – and it doesn’t.”

It is for that reason which parents are being advised to include at least one school on their list of three for which their child is likely to meet the admissions criteria – giving them at least some control of which school their son or daughter will end up attending.

“I’d encourage parents to make use of one preference [for a school] where they have a strong likelihood of securing a place,” Debbie says.

“If you put down three preferences which are aspirational, for very oversubscribed schools, then there is more chance of you not being successful.”

In that scenario, the county council steps in to allocate the child a place at the next nearest school to their home which still has spaces available.

Across both the primary and secondary phases, Lancashire County Council receives around 14,000 applications per year.

Against that backdrop, there is one thing which can drastically reduce parents’ chances of securing a place for their child at one of their preferred schools – submitting the application form late.

“It’s not ‘first come first served’, but each year, we receive a number of applications [after the deadline] – and they are considered after all of those that are on time.

“We get more late applications for primary schools, because sometimes parents [incorrectly] think that if their child is in the school’s nursery or has a sibling at the school, that they will automatically [be given a place].

“If [parents] don’t manage to make an application on time, they are often disappointed,” Debbie says.

All offers of a place are made on the same days nationally – 2nd March, 2020 for secondary school and 16th April, 2020 for primary schools. Parents can appeal, within 20 days, if they are not happy with the outcome.

However, Debbie stresses that parents should not be daunted by the process – and that most will find that they have been successful in securing a place at one of their three preferences.

“I know it’s a stressful time, but the vast majority of parents secure a place they are happy with. If it comes to offer day and you’ve not secured a place, keep in contact with us and we will do what we can to help,” Debbie adds.

WHAT ARE YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING A PREFERRED PLACE IN LANCASHIRE?

Last year, 97.9 percent of school place applicants in the county received one of their top three choices, just above the England average of 97.5 percent. 90.4 percent were handed their first choice, compared to 90.6 percent across England.

HOW TO APPLY

Paper applications forms are available, but Lancashire County Council says that its online application system is the simplest method – and applicants are sent an acknowledgement that their submission has been received. Visit www.lancashire.gov.uk/schools for more information.

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

When a school receives more applications than it has places to offer, it decides the priority in which children should be admitted by judging them against a list of criteria. By law, there are certain things which cannot be taken into account, such as a family’s finances, the marital status of the parents or the first language of the child.

In community schools and so-called “voluntary-controlled schools” (including some faith schools), Lancashire County Council lays out a standard list of measures, in order of the weight attached to each:

Secondary

1) Children currently or previously in care.

2) Children where the council accepts that there are exceptional medical, social or welfare reasons which are directly relevant to the school concerned.

3) Children living within the school’s geographical priority area with older brothers or sisters attending the school when the younger child will start.

4) Other children living within the school’s geographical priority area.

5) Children living outside the school’s geographical priority area with older brothers or sisters still attending the school when the younger child will start.

6) Other children living outside the school’s geographical priority area.

Primary

As 1) and 2) above, then:

3) Children with older brothers and sisters attending the school when the younger child will start.

4) Remaining places are allocated according to where a child lives – those living nearest to the preferred school by a straight line measure will have priority.

Other types of school

Academies, free schools and faith schools which are classed as “voluntary aided” set their own criteria, which can vary by each school. Children currently, or previously, in care are often still given high priority, but measures used by faith schools can also include whether a child is baptised or if their parents attend particular places of worship on a minimum number of occasions each month. This can be checked via references which have to be obtained from the church which a family attends.

Schools which are not controlled by the county council can often require a supplementary form to be filled in providing additional information – but parents must still apply via the main county council system, irrespective of the type of school in question.

Be honest

Lancashire County Council warns that it will investigate any inaccuracies which come to light during the application process – and places can be withdrawn if they have been obtained by giving false or misleading information.

CRISIS COMING?

Recent research suggests that there will be a shortage of 134,000 secondary school places across England and Wales by 2023/24, because of a boom in numbers filtering through from primary schools.

The Local Government Association forecasts that more than half of councils will be unable to meet demand within five years. However, details of the research, obtained by the Post, reveal that Lancashire County Council will still be below maximum capacity by 2023/24 – with 96 percent of its primary school places filled and 95 percent of secondary.