10 top tips if you’re applying for schools

The consequences of falling foul of the admissions system are not even worth thinking about. We know some of the stuff we’re saying will seem obvious but trust us, in the heat of the moment, we all overlook things and make mistakes.

So, it's time to get strategic – check through the list, then check through it again!

1. Visit as many schools as you can

Ask yourself: would my child fit in here? Do the children and teachers look happy? Ask as many questions as you want – this is your big opportunity to size up the school. Remember that head teachers can change, so don't be seduced by individual charmers. Express any doubts and see how the head responds. League tables and Ofsted reports will help you build up a picture. Talk to parents, too. When we were looking, we approached friendly-looking mums at the school gates. Once they established that we weren't trying to sell them something, they were incredibly helpful.

2. Fill in any supplementary forms

Some schools may ask for supplementary information forms – make sure you fill them in and return them by the deadline. If you don't, you'll be dumped at the bottom of the pile. Leave plenty of time, as you may need your form signed by supporting professionals – eg, the vicar, if you're applying for a church school. You may also need to dig out baptism certificates etc.

3. Include any supporting medical evidence

If you're applying under social or medical needs, you should send all supporting evidence by the deadline. Make sure your experts name the particular school that you want.

4. Use all your preferences

You've got four preferences for primary and secondary schools... use all of them. Don't just put one school down. Your application won't be given extra weight, and it won't help if you end up going to appeal. You're simply more likely to end up being allocated a school you haven't chosen... which means a school that can't fill its places... which means you won't like it. So don't.

5. Include at least one 'safe' choice

Use SchoolGuru as a reality check and make sure you include at least one 'safe' school in your preferences, or you risk of not getting any of the ones you've chosen... You don't want to go through months of uncertainty, and the stress of an appeal, unless you absolutely have to.

6. Rank your schools by preference

Whatever the schools imply, they won't know how you've ranked them. You should therefore put your schools in your order of preference. There's no point in attempting to be strategic here and you won't win extra points by putting a school first. Herts CC operate an equal preference policy – the schools won't know how you ranked them, when they allocate their places, and your ranking will have no impact on your chances of success. Your preferences will only be taken into account if you qualify for more than one school - and then you’ll be offered the school you ranked most highly. So put the schools in the order that you want them.

7. Don't miss the deadline

All the deadlines for applications are shown here. Miss them at your peril... If you don't apply by the deadline, your application will be classed as late, and everyone else's forms will be processed first. You'll be left with the scraps.

8. Get proof that your application has arrived

If you're posting any applications or forms, use registered post. Ideally, hand deliver everything and get a receipt on the spot. Yes, we know we sound paranoid. But when you've heard as many horror stories as we have, you get that way... If you're applying online, you should get an email confirmation. If you don't, call Herts County Council to check all's well.

9. Apply on time even if you're about to move house

If you're planning to move house just after the deadline, you should apply on time using your current address.

10. Don't forget about applications for siblings

Don't assume siblings will magically get in. You really do need to apply for them, too. We know of one child who spent an extra year at nursery because her parents just assumed that she'd get into her big sister's school. They didn't even apply, as they thought it was a done deal. It wasn't. The school filled its places with other children. Also, be aware that not all church schools prioritise siblings – check the rules – and there have been several situations of siblings not getting into Catholic schools on allocation day. If this could happen to you, make sure you've got a backup plan. Use SchoolGuru to help you find a safe school to include in your preferences.

Good luck with your application!

Find the answers to your school admissions queries in our Q&A section

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