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Wednesday, 11 March 2015 07:36

British Council Families Association newsletter, Jan 2015: Finding a school on returning home

In recent years, I have been contacted by a number of British Council employees returning to England as their overseas contract comes to an end, for assistance in finding them a state school place in Kent or Medway, the two Local Authority Councils in whose areas I operate. This article does not consider private schools which will operate to their individual rules of admission.

Most are aware of the relevant section of the school Admissions Code, dated 1st February, 2012, which provides the binding rules for school admissions. Section 2.18 states that for families of service personnel with a confirmed posting to their area, or crown servants returning from overseas to live in that area, admission authorities must:

Allocate a place in advance of the family arriving in the area provided the application is accompanied by an official letter that declares a relocation date and a Unit postal address or quartering area address when considering the application against their oversubscription criteria. This must include accepting a Unit postal address or quartering area address for a service child. Admission authorities must not refuse a service child a place because the family does not currently live in the area, or reserve blocks of places for these children.

The problem is .....

that the Code sounds far more beneficial than it actually is. The exact interpretation of the paragraph is left to each Individual Local Authority, which will publish it in its Determined School Admissions Scheme for the year in question, which I advise you to read. As you will be aware, although British Council employees are treated as Crown Servants in most contexts, this is not explicit in the Code, and you may need to argue the point.

Children can be considered at the normal time and age of admission for primary or secondary schools. For primary schools this is from the September following their fourth birthday, although this can be delayed until the term when the child reaches their fifth birthday. For secondary schools, it is normal for children to have reached the age of eleven by the September of admission. Some Local Authorities have alternative patterns of admission, including Middle Schools (typically aged 9-13), or different arrangements for post sixteen students, such as Sixth Form or Tertiary Colleges.

For other ages, you are looking for an In-Year Admission, covered further below. These are considered on an individual basis and you must consult the Local Authority Prospectus as arrangements for applications can vary widely between Authorities.

For normal age admissions most LAs allow a date for admission applications later than for normal cases, for those BC Servants who can place the child in a school by 1st September and have a confirmed address to move to by that date.  You will need to check the LA definition of “confirmed address” which catches out a number of families, and be prepared to argue your case.

What this does not do is provide you with any priority for a particular school place, but you will be considered equally with other applicants according to your confirmed address-to-school distance and other oversubscription rules laid down by the school if the school is oversubscribed. If not, you will be entitled to a place wherever your address is in England. Make sure you check the oversubscription rules for each school you are considering as these can vary widely.

Schools are not allowed to hold places back for any special circumstances or for children considered by appeal after rejection, although appeal panels can instruct schools to take additional children, and a BC background can often impress an appeal panel.

There is enormous pressure on popular schools in many places, in Medway, one secondary non-selective school turning away 173 first choice applicants. Primary school places are particularly pressured in many parts of the country, especially London and the SE. The LA is obliged to offer each child a place at a school, but this could be an unpopular one, a failing one, or one some distance from your confirmed address. In such cases, you may well wish to appeal to one or more of your preferences.

However, most families will be applying for places outside the normal round of admissions, which will be considered on an individual basis through what is called the In-Year Admission process. The number of schools you can apply to varies by LA. If a preferred school has vacancies in the appropriate age group, then you will be offered a place (except grammar schools where tests will be administered first).  Contact the LA to find a list of current vacancies, although this can change rapidly.

If the school is full, then you have the right to appeal for a place and again, many appeal panels will be sympathetic to your circumstances, but only if they feel the school has room to accommodate your child.

Many families returning from abroad seek admission in school age groups different from the norm, but if you are considering a state school now or at some time in the future, you will usually find this very difficult to get approved. Private schools are often more flexible but you should see this as a permanent decision.

You will find much advice on the admission and appeal processes on my website: www.kentadvice.co.uk. Although this is targeted at Kent and Medway schools, there is much information and advice that is generally applicable. 

I wish you well in what is inevitably another stressful process as you prepare to return home. 

Last modified on Friday, 03 April 2015 10:47

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