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State school applications in London: the 5 pitfalls to avoid

Don’t sleepwalk into the state school application process. With so many variables to contend with, this requires your undivided attention. To help you focus on the task at hand let’s learn from other people’s mistakes by exploring five common pitfalls.

State School Applications: 5 Common Pitfalls

Sending your child to the right school will underpin the most important aspect of your relocation: your family’s happiness! Don’t cross your fingers and hope you secure them a place; take the time to understand the application process – so you can ace it.

The state school application process is littered with hurdles that are waiting to trip you up – from form filling and deadlines to catchment areas and admission criteria. This exposes parents to pitfalls that – if left unaccounted for – can derail their plans. Here are five of the most common:

1 Failing to check admission criteria

All the schools listed on your Common Application Form (CAF) count as choices – whether your child is eligible or not – so don’t waste one of your options because you don’t know the admission criteria. You should be able to find this on the school website and the local authority’s website. If your child doesn’t meet the criteria and the school is oversubscribed, look at other options.

Three key factors are commonly overlooked during the state school application process:

  • Faith schools have strict admission criteria – such as requiring regular attendance at a specific place of worship – that might exclude your child or reduce their chances of getting a place.
  • Siblings typically have priority. In such cases, your child will have higher priority if they have an older brother or sister at the school you are applying for. The older child must still be at the school when the younger child starts.
  • Catchment areas are designed to stop the admission process from being a complete free for all. Children living outside this area are less likely to be offered a place, but can still apply.

2 Failing to supply the right documentation

Don’t forget to check if any additional documentation is required along with the CAF. For example, some schools – such as faith schools – require a Supplementary Information Form (SIF) to be submitted. Unlike the CAF, however, which is returned to the local authority, the SIF must be submitted directly to the school – and it usually has a different deadline.

Also, check your verification documents are valid. Most local authorities will request a utility bill dated within the past six to 12 months, and another proof of a permanent address. Some parents also make the mistake of sending in photocopies when the application requires originals.

3 Failing to use all choices

Even if you have your heart set on your child attending a particular school, make sure you fill in all your choices on the CAF. Most local authorities request a list of three or four schools in order of preference – London requests six generally.

Not using all your options doesn’t mean you are more likely to be offered the school you want; it risks your child being allocated one of the least popular ones – potentially some distance away from your home. Also, if you appeal the allocation, the panel may look unfavourably on your application if you only listed one option.

4 Forgetting to double-check the deadline

Don’t make the mistake of sending in your child’s forms and documents after the deadline. Applications for state primary school reception classes (age 4-5 years) must be submitted before 15 January, preceding the start of the academic year in September. The application deadline for secondary schools is the end of October of the year before entry.

Applications received after these primary and secondary school deadlines will be processed, but after the ‘on-time applications’. Therefore, fewer places may be available, especially at high performing schools.

5 Not keeping a copy of the CAF

If you decide to appeal your school allocation with the local authority, you must have a photocopy of your signed and dated CAF if you applied by post, or a print-out of your online application, to provide evidence of the schools you applied for – and in what order.

If you’re posting the CAF, send it by recorded mail and get proof of posting; if you’re applying online, take a screenshot of the page confirming your completed form has been submitted. It’s also worthwhile phoning the local authority a few days later to confirm receipt.

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