I can’t quite believe it’s time to apply for Reception at ‘big school’ already. J will be 4 in December and the forms have to be sent off by 15th January 2019 in our area. I’m actually far more emotional than I thought I’d be. I was bad enough when choosing a nursery for J, but the idea of him being away from me 5 full days just fills me with a giant hole. It’s like I’m losing a piece of him and he’ll have a whole other life away from me. I know I’m being daft and he’ll have an amazing time. I also know that if the worst happens then I’m lucky enough to have home schooling as an option.
For those who have never applied for school before here’s a few things you need to know and some ideas for how to choose the right school for you:
When do children start Reception class?
Children usually start Reception the school year after they turn 4 (school/academic year starts in September). However, legally a child does not have to be in FULL TIME education until the term AFTER they turn 5 (terms are usually September, January and April). That means you have the option to go part time if you wish. If you child is summer born (1st April till 31st August) you have the option to defer your child until the next academic year. This is helpful if you feel that your child is not ready for reception and will struggle. Be aware that you still have to alert your local education authority so there are still forms to fill in.
Do children just automatically go to the local school/school attached to nursery?
The short answer is no. Even if your child lives next door or they have attended the school nursery you still need to apply for the school and there are no guarantees you will get in. This is why the forms ask for you to state up to 3 preferred schools. Often it will depend on your local area and the reputation of the schools. In my local area there are some school with waiting lists and others with plenty of space. If you don’t get your first choice school you can appeal.
When do you find out what school your child gets into?
Usually its in April after the panel has made their decision. You will get an email and/or letter stating your child’s school. You will usually hear from the chosen school shortly after with registration information and visit dates.
Does my child have to go to their catchment school?
Nope, and my children certainly won’t (that’s based on my informed opinion of the schools). I am looking at out of catchment primary schools that offer the education and services that suit us and J. You can choose whichever school system you feel is best for you such as a local authority school, private school or academy system. Just remember once you are in a particular school/system you are not tied in forever. If it doesn’t work then you can apply to change schools/systems.
My child has additional needs-do I choose mainstream or special needs schools?
Look at all the options. Have a chat with your professionals and see what will work best for your child. Some schools have more support available to help with mainstream but others get in better in a more specialised environment. You may find your child can do a dual placement so they get best of both worlds. The application process does change for this though so speak to schools and professionals ASAP. No your child does not need an ehcp… my son attends a dual placement between mainstream nursery and special needs nursery and hasn’t got one yet.
Should I choose the school based on my child’s friend/my friends choices?
No! You have to go by what is right for you. By all means get others opinions and views but remember that what works for one wont work for everyone. I have friends will schools in various different schools in our area. If you think about it, how many of you are friends with the children you played with in preschool? Or in primary school? Do you pine for the friends you don’t see? Children often make new friends and form new relationships a lot easier when younger. Even if they go to school with their friends it doesn’t stop them or the other child from forming new relationships and that friendship changing. Although its nice for your child to know someone in their class, just remember its got to be the right place for you.
Once you have chosen your school and got your offer, you can always look on social media to see if there’s any parent groups. Or post on local parent boards asking for play dates (meet somewhere public and be safe).
Shall I send my child to the same school their sibling attended?
That depends…if it’s right for THIS child then go for it. But don’t fall into that trap of ‘I don’t want them having different experience as my other child/ren’. Each child needs to be treated as an individual and what works for them. End of the day your chid isn’t going to turn around to you in 10 years time and tell you that you screwed up their life by not letting them follow the exact footsteps of their sibling.
How do I apply for Primary School?
The best way is to complete the forms online. This way there are no chances of it getting lost in the mail and it is done instantly. You will get email confirmation and find out by email rather than having to wait for the letter. If you don’t feel able to complete on line then there may be options to download the forms and post them instead. If you get really stuff then speak to your childs early years provider or local childrens centre, or the school itself and they can give you advice.
What to look for in a school:
- Location-can you get to it without getting up at the crack of dawn? Can you get to the school in the event your car breaks down or it snows? What if you’re unwell, can someone else get your child to school for you?
- Ethos-have a nosey on website, OFSTED, have a look around and read the prospectus. You’ll get a feel for what the schools focus is on and whether it matches your ideal eg: do you want lots of outdoors/forest school? Do you want church values? Do you want STEM focus? etc.
- Space-check out the class sizes, do they combine year groups? Is there a playing field? Would you child suit a smaller, more intimate school or somewhere with space?
- Staff-how many staff are in a classroom? Are the TA’s qualified or parent helpers? (nothing wrong with parent helpers but I’d like trained staff to be available alongside). How much time is with the teacher vs the support staff? Will there be support staff for child’s additional needs?
- Special Educational Need Provision-how do they include and support children with additional needs? What support and outside professionals link with the school? DO they support EHCP plans? What are the behavioural policies and procedures? What’s the sensory aspects of the classroom? Do they allow for sensory breaks, allow fidget/sensory toys/ear defenders? Do they use Makaton, symbol communication systems or have training in additional needs?
- Food-Do they allow packed lunch or hot dinners? What is the menu like? Do they have experience catering for dietary needs? What are the lunch time arrangements?
- Communication-how will the school communicate with home? Do they have opportunity to talk to the teacher? How often do they update learning documents? Do parents have a say in target setting?
- Education-what is the OFSTED rating in the ‘outcome for learning’ area? What does the report say? Is the school addressing the areas for development? What educational system does the school use? What areas of learning do they place emphasis on? What’s the homework policy? Do they still support Learning Through Play in early years but with the balance of adult led learning too?
- Safety-What’s the layout of the area? Would it be easy for child to get out? Are there adequate fire exits? Do they have a safe collection policy? Where do you drop child off/pick them up?
- Hours-do you need before/after school club? What are the start and finish times? What’s the procedure for absences and late attendance?
Here’s what I personally want from J’s primary school…
I need a school that is drivable but not more than 15 minutes away so we don’t have to rush in the morning. I need a school with experience of children who are autistic and enough support staff to address his needs in the classroom. I want a school with smaller class sizes and qualified staff I need a school which works with other professionals and has experience of EHCPs. They must have knowledge of symbol communication and allow him to have sensory time and use ear defenders as and when needed. I want a school where play is still a big part of early years as well as decent outdoor space. I want a school which is safe and he can’t get out the doors/gates. I need him to be somewhere that will push him academically and has a good or outstanding OFSTED rating in ‘outcomes for learning’. I want a school that has a good communication system with parents and plenty of open days/parents evenings/parent events. They also need to allow for possible dual placement with the local Special Needs school for at least the first year. I’m not worried about which school it feeds into as I will see which secondary school works for us nearer the time, not just follow on. I want a school that when I go to visit I can truly picture my child having a lovely time and making wonderful memories.
Don’t rush into your decision. Book to look around lots of different schools, even if not your first choice. This way you can see what is available and the options. You will quickly pick up what you like/don’t like and will either cement your decision or open you up to possibilities that might work for your child. Then get onto your local county council website, download the admissions policy and get applying BEFORE THE DEADLINE.
As an early years professional I have helped parents and families with the move up to ‘big school’ so if you have any questions please feel free to ask. As the Mummy of a child with Autism I am happy to chat if you have any specific concerns too. Just let me know in the comments or you can get in touch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.