The letters have gone out for another year. Joy, relief, worry and fear will have been the mixture of emotions felt by parents and children depending on whether they secured their school of choice. For school leaders and teachers similar emotions can be felt when you begin to contemplate the impact of Year 7 numbers on your budget at a time it is already falling.
Last year an additional ten pupils were admitted to St. Mary’s on appeal. This had the financial impact of increasing the budget in the years ahead by approximately £45,000. The total over their five years in the school will be about £225,000; that will go some way to ameliorating the real term cuts during this Parliament. This works in reverse where a school is under number and a diminishing budget has a massive hole punched right into the middle of it for the next five or seven years. With churn and increasing demands placed on the school as more challenging pupils, sadly eased out my some schools, adds to the pressures.
The human cost on admissions day is immeasurable; spare a thought for parents and children who wanted so desperately to attend a particular school are allocated another. For some the initial disappointment will give way as they accept the decision and find their allocated school suits them just fine. For others it will affect much of their secondary education. I’ve been in appeals for children who are now in Years 8 or 9 with the parents still reproaching themselves for not trying harder or failing in their attempts to get their child into the chosen school.
Schools are once again choosing children, so to speak, as the spaces of the past five to six years begin to disappear as the current bulge of children in the primary schools feed through to secondaries. As a parent you had a much greater chance of obtaining a place, for your child in a certain school, a few years ago than you do today.
Last year 84,000 eleven year olds didn’t get their first choice school. This year and in the years to follow this figure is likely to increase. Looking forward the situation is only going to get worse. We can’t build the schools quick enough. A combination of a lack of forward planning – the increased numbers aren’t exactly a surprise as we’ve known about them for over a decade – and local authorities with the responsibility for ensuring every child has a school place without the means to actually provide them. The Free Schools programme is coming at a significant cost to the system. I don’t see Free Schools as necessarily a good or a bad thing on an individual school basis – it all depends whether they provide a good education to the children within them – but from a planning point of view it’s a nightmare. I wonder what odd spaces will be found for children to learn in, in the years ahead.
With 290 first choice applications for the 210 places this year will be busier for appeals than last. The local authority has already booked in four days with me on which the appeals will be heard. I find them desperate affairs; presenting the case why we can’t take over our number with a continuous stream of parents politely, angrily and tearfully trying to present the case for their child. My only advice if you are a parent facing an appeal is make sure you go in person, look at the criteria and use these to construct the case for your child and have a plan B. You can appeal for more than one school at a time. As ever these processes favour the educated and articulate, it’s not fair it just is.
Next we will be organising the admission lists for the primary schools; cue more joy and heartbreak.