While the days are tending to blur during the coronavirus lockdown and school closures, one date will be etched into the minds of parents whose children are due to start school this year: 16 April 2020.
This is the date when primary school places are scheduled to be announced by local authorities and parents discover whether their child has a place at their first choice school.
(It’s a Thursday by the way. That’s the one that used to follow Wednesday and precede Friday in a normal working week.)
But with local authority admissions offices working with reduced staff and, in many cases, operations being handled remotely, many parents have contacted School Guide to ask if they can expect procedures to be different in 2020 and if so, what might the differences be.
If a local authority cannot allocate a place at your preferred school because you do not meet the subscription criteria or the school is over subscribed, your child will be allocated the nearest school with a space available.
In this situation, most parents think they have two options: accept or appeal.
But the reality is less black and white and we advise the following 3-step plan if you are unhappy with the school allocated to your child.
1. Accept the place offered. This won’t affect your ability to appeal or go on the waiting list for your first choice school but it will mean your child has a school place for September that, while not ideal, means they will be starting the first phase of the education as planned – assuming the schools are open again in September. It may be the year to ask yourself if it’s 100% necessary to appeal and add extra pressure to the system that will inevitably be hugely disrupted during the global pandemic.
2. Let the local authority know which school or schools you want to go on the waiting list for. Waiting lists do take into account admissions criteria so it’s not just a first come, first served scenario but it is important to register interest if you think you have grounds to be accepted to the school. Waiting lists come into play ahead of the appeals process and you may find a place comes up before you hear about an appeal date.
3. Plan your appeal process. Details of how to appeal will be included in the letter you receive from your local authority with your school offer. If you have questions, the best people to speak to are the admissions experts at your local authority.
Yes. According to the Department for Education, emails will arrive as expected. They told School Guide this week:
“We can confirm that Primary School Offer Day will take place, as planned, on Thursday 16 April. We have been in regular contact with Local Authorities and the vast majority have indicated that they have found ways to ensure they will be able to deliver offers of primary school places as planned.”
The Local Government Association also confirmed its members are following government schedules for key dates such as primary school allocation.
Yes. The appeals hearing process will be more relaxed than in previous years but parents are advised that, if they have looked carefully at the admissions criteria and believe they have grounds for appeal, they should go ahead and submit an appeal in the normal way. Details of how to appeal will be included in the letter you receive from your local authority although please note the normal deadline of 15th June 2020 is likely to be extended. Questions about appeals should always be directed to your local authority admissions department in the first instance.
No. Many local authorities have temporarily suspended Appeal Panel Hearings, and, at the time of writing (10 April), are waiting on confirmed guidelines from the Department for Education about how all education appeals are to be administered at this unprecedented time. School Admission Appeals usually require a panel of three independent members who are trained volunteers and meet to hear and review evidence from parents and schools. These panels cannot meet during the current lockdown.
However, current government advice indicates that they are working on alternative ways for hearing to go ahead before the start of the new academic year. In a statement released on 5 April they wrote: “We are working urgently on emergency regulations and guidance to establish alternative arrangements which are suitable but also flexible. We are looking to put in place enough flexibility for admissions authorities to hold panels via telephone or video conference or in writing. We are also reviewing whether we can extend the current timescales associated with admission appeals.”
UPDATE (14 APRIL): The Department for Education relaxes rules around admissions appeals
In new guidance released on 14 April, the government has announced it will be making regulatory changes, subject to legislation, which will come into force from April 24 and last until January 31, 2021. According to the new guidelines, it's no longer a requirement for a appeals to conducted in person in front of three panel members but a more "flexible" approach means appeals can be carried out by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing.
Plus panels need only to have two members to conclude proceedings if one member of the team of three needs to temporarily or permanently withdraw.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb says the guidelines "give admission authorities as much flexibility as possible to manage appeals in a way that best suits local circumstances” and aim to give the "small number [of parents] who are unhappy with their offer are given the same opportunity to appeal as in previous years."
While there is still a vast amount of uncertainty about when schools re-open. If they do open before the end of the academic year in July, they are likely to do so in staggered phases with primary schools returning first and key transition years such as Year 6 being a back-to-school priority.
One headtacher told School Guide: "Handover needs to be even more carefully thought through than usual, and remote work will be done with both rising Reception pupils and Y6s if needed."
Raj Unsworth, Trustee and Speclialist Advisor to the Heads' Roundtable, says the most important thing parents who are concerned about transition can do is not pass on the stress to their children.
"We understand transition is a worry but schools and parents are in the same boat: we are all in unchartered waters," Raj told School Guide, adding that school leaders and governors have to ensure staff and children are supported when schools re-open.
"Right now they are focused on ensuring families are fed and vulnerable children are safe. There is also increasing concern about looking at psychiatric support and councelling to those staff, families and children who have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus."
Once we know when schools will open, we will all need to work to agree how to ensure as smooth a transition as possible."
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