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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Planning to move to the UK with your children?

Looking for an English school for your child? It's a jungle out there, but we'll help you through it. Read on...

1. How far ahead should I start researching schools? 

Um... now? We’ve had enquiries from women who aren’t even pregnant, but just like planning ahead. However you have to bear in mind that schools can change dramatically over time - eg a sink school could become a desirable school with a change of head. We've seen this happen. Of course the reverse can happen too…

2. So, how do I suss out schools in the UK? 

Use local sources, if you can, to find out about a school's reputation (friends, community websites, social networks etc). Plus look at the most recent Ofsted reports and exam results. Also, check out the schools' websites – and if you can, arrange to visit them during term time. There’s no substitute to seeing how happy the children look, and being able to assess the staff, facilities, and environment for yourself. Consider whether your child would thrive there. Also, be brave, and talk to parents outside the school gates. We did – and once people realised we weren’t trying to sell them something, they were very helpful...

3. How do I start applying for schools?

First of all, check which year your child will be in. 

Be aware of the deadlines if you're applying for schools at the conventional  time - eg you want a Reception place at a primary school, or a Year 7 place at a secondary school. Make sure that you’re living in the UK by then, so that you can submit an on time application. If you miss the deadline, your form will be processed after everyone else’s – reducing your chances of getting the school(s) you want.  You'll need to be based here for your application to be accepted. 

If you're applying for an In Year place (ie not at the usual time) you normally won't be offered a school place until you're living in the UK (or can prove that you'll be here within two weeks and can take up a place within that period). The exception is if you're in the armed services and can provide an official letter showing your relocation date, unit postal address and quartering area address. Contact your local County Council, and ask which schools have spaces. Do some phoning around yourself (or email if it's easier). You may be asked to provide proof of residency (eg an endorsed passport or entry visa).

If you own a house in England, you can't use it as your address until you're back here and your child is living in it (for at least the majority of the week). 

4. Do I have a right to a school in England?

All children (aged 5-16) have a right of access to education. If you've moved to England, you can apply for a maintained school, academy or free school regardless of your child’s immigration status. However, different rules operate if you’re not in the UK yet. For more information, visit Gov.UK's website.

Please note that if you're only here for a short period (eg half a term) you may be refused admission to a school. 

Private or independent schools are another story. Just get your bag of cash out and tell them what you want.

5. Do you think it's OK to phone or email the schools? 

Yes – be proactive. Not only will you get direct access to information, but you’ll get more insight into what the school is really like. While you’re on the phone, ask them about school clubs, trumpet lessons… whatever you want. Beware: some receptionists bite. But don't let that put you off. 

6. How can I find the ‘hidden’ gems? 

There are so many hidden gems in the UK – lovely, well equipped schools that are only undersubscribed because they’re in small villages. You can use SchoolGuru to help you seek them out in Kent and Hertfordshire. For other areas, cast your net wide, phone around lots of schools, consider driving a little bit further… and see what you come up with. 

7. The school I want is oversubscribed, what should I do now? 

Look at their admissions’ criteria, which should be published on their website (or the County Council’s). Then contact the school to ask for a realistic assessment of your chances. Don’t assume anything until you know whether someone in your position would have got a place last year, the year before that, and so on…

8. Do I need to live in the same area as the school I want?

Not necessarily – you can apply to schools that aren’t in your county, under the coordinated admissions scheme. But of course you might not get in. Many parents do travel long distances to get their children into the schools of their choice. However think of the logistics and don’t underestimate the benefits of attending a local school – such as having friends nearby, and feeling part of the community. Weigh everything up carefully…

9. Is it OK to contact SchoolGuru for help if I find everything baffling?

Of course, if you're a member, we'd be pleased to help.  Just join up and fire away...

10. Any final advice?

Try not to get too hung up on one particular school – cast your net wide, be as flexible as you can, and include at least one ‘safe’ school in your preferences (or you risk not getting any of them and being allocated a school that can’t fill its places. Make sure you send in your form on time, and provide any supporting documentation that you are asked for (eg a letter from your priest). If you don’t get in on allocation day, go onto the waiting lists and stick with it. There’s always a bit of movement and some people get offered places at the last minute… we were offered the primary school we wanted a week before term started. We’d already bought the uniform for another school! So, be persistent, stay positive – and good luck!

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