As Christmas approached, I should have be wrapping my lastfew presents, sitting by the fire eating mince pies or singing Christmascarols. Instead, I was working on my daughter’s primary school applicationform. It’s been playing on my mind and we had a reminder through the post, so Idecided to it in before Christmas.
However, and this is why I’m blogging now... the further Iget through the process, the more difficult it seems to be for off-lineparents. Here’s my experience and thoughts on the process, please let us knowyour experiences in other local authority areas.
The letter telling me to choose schools for my daughter camethrough at the end of October. I opened it and the letter stated that thepreferred option was to submit online. “Great”, I thought, as an online parent thisshould be easy.... I logged on straight away to the website but couldn’t findthe link to the application form anywhere. Undeterred, I sent an email to thecontact address asking for the link. The response? - The online form wasn’tgoing to be available until 1st November. Rubbish.
I decided to visit some local schools then try again withthe online system. How do I find my local schools? Those with access to theinternet can type their postcode into the Ofsted website, as I did, and immediately find links to their nearest schools, theOfsted reports, school websites and often the school’s online prospectus. Thosewithout the internet have nothing – not even a list of their nearest schools inthe letter from the local authority.
When I visited the schools the differences were amazing.Only 2 of the 4 schools were able to provide me with paper copies of theprospectus. The others directed me – yes, you’ve guessed it! Back online. Yetagain, offline parents are being denied access to information that would helpthem decide on the best school for their child.
Back online, I decided to try to submit the application. Havingstruggled through the form and clicked through the pages to select the school Iwanted, I found that I could write up to 3000 words to support my choice ofschool for each school. I managed to type up a few notes for my first choice ofschool and then had to log out to go and collect my daughter from nursery. WhenI returned, it had lost all my notes and choice of school and I had to startagain.
Safe to say, I was truly fed up by now and that’s probablywhy I’ve left it until now to try again to resubmit. This time, I’ve typed mysupporting statements in Word and copied and pasted them in. However, while Iwas doing this, I noticed another difference. The paper form has only 1 smallbox to justify choosing a particular school (see photo). No chance of getting3000 words in there!
There’s no referenceanywhere in the letter to being able to attach a supporting letter for eachschool or a mention of the 3000 word submission online parents get to make.
There are also guidance notes on school admissions that theletter says must be read beforesubmitting a form - obviously only available online. If you want a paper copysent to you then you have to submit an A4 envelope with £2.50 postage on thefront – sounds a bit ‘Blue Peter’ like to me.
Overall I’ve found that the process disadvantages off-line parentsat every turn: Finding your local schools, evaluating their merits, statingyour preferences and supporting your child’s application to get into a good schoolall favour those online.
However, to finish on a positive, I’ve found there is asupport service in Gloucestershire that offers help to parents when choosingschools. I only found the details on the internet but will be contacting thelocal authority to suggest they include the charity details in the letters infuture. That way at least offline parents will get a bit of help.
I can only comment about the process in my local authorityarea, but perhaps you could let me know if other areas are better.