Applying for school places out of normal age group: school 2 says yes, school 3 says no

The last time I blogged about our journey of applying for school places out of normal age group for our summerborn twins was in March. At that point I had confirmation from our first choice school that they would support us in our request for them to start reception at compulsory school age (5 years). Schools 2 and 3 had said that I needed to apply first and then they would consider our request. For school 2 this meant waiting for the admissions team at Birmingham City Council to pass on our request via the application form I did on the BCC website; for school 3 this meant filling in a separate application form. So we were waiting to see what would come first – offer day or replies from schools 2 and 3.

At 7pm on the day before offer day, I finally got an email from the head of admissions at BCC (I called her D in my previous blog post). She said that she was still waiting to hear from schools 2 and 3 with their answers about our case. She also said that I could proceed with our application on the basis of school 1 only, but if we did that then we wouldn’t be able to put schools 2 and 3 on our application form for next year. In Birmingham the system is such that I have to apply for places this year, then decline them and apply again on a separate paper form for next year, because their electronic system can’t cope with a DOB that’s not in the normal range. Not all local authorities work this way, it varies across the country.

So I replied that I would definitely like to wait for the other schools’ answers, because I wanted to have at least one back-up school. This was the day before we found out that we had indeed got places for this year at school 1, so her email was kind of suggestive that we’d got these before we knew about it. In any case, I wasn’t going to decline them until I knew we had a back-up to put on our application for next year.

Offer day came and went on 16th April. On 20th April I heard from school 3. It was a simple “no”, with no reasons as to how they had reached that decision. This is an unlawful response, because the School Admissions Code states that:

“When informing a parent of their decision on the year group the child should be admitted to, the admission authority must [emphasis original] set out clearly the reasons for their decision.”

School Admissions Code (2014, section 2.17)

So I replied quoting the code like this and asked them to please set out their reasons. I will write a separate blog post about school 3 one day, because unfortunately I am still having to pursue them for a lawful answer a couple of months later. I can’t name them at the moment because I don’t want that to get in the way of the formal complaint procedure that I’m going through. However, whatever the outcome, I will publish the correspondence I’ve had with them, as it will be helpful for others who are going through a similar experience with other schools.

Anyway, back to school 2, from whom I’d heard nothing. On 28th April I decided to email school 2 to check that they had received our application via BCC. It’s a good job I did, because they hadn’t received anything! So D had told me she was awaiting replies from schools, but hadn’t passed on the info this school needed in order to reply. Did she assume I was giving them the info?! Even though the school had told me they wouldn’t give me an answer until they’d had the info from BCC. What an absolute mess of a (non)system!

Thankfully the office assistant was very helpful and finally took the decision that they would just talk to me rather than wait for BCC any longer. So I forwarded her our application that I’d made to BCC, and within 24 hours the head teacher had made a decision: it was a YES from them too. Hooray! I finally had a back up. Both school 2 and I told BCC of their decision, although I heard no confirmation that they’d received this until June. The moral of the story is keep chasing, and don’t assume the local authority has any idea about what they are doing with this. They seem totally incompetent to me.

The cut off date for declining unwanted places which were offered on offer day was 30th April. But I couldn’t formally do that until I’d had answers from the three schools, and I only (just) had two answers on the 30th. As time went on with my pursuit of school 3, I was aware that there we were holding two places at school 1 which could be offered to two families on the waiting list for this September. I told school 1 that we didn’t need these places, but until they’d heard this officially from BCC, they couldn’t offer them to anyone else. When it became clear that school 3 were not going to act quickly in the process of providing me with a lawful answer, I asked D at BCC if they had any power to set a date by which they needed to answer.

Eventually I heard back from her this week (22nd June), both with a confirmation about school 2’s yes response, and a slight change to BCC’s policy regarding my ability to formally decline the places. She said that I could decline them on the basis of an agreement with the two schools, and should school 3 change their mind by 15th January 2022 (the cut off date for next year’s admissions applications) then I could add them on to the agreement and apply to all three schools next year. So I immediately confirmed that I consented to this agreement, and for now our case is settled. 

As I said, I’m still actively pursuing school 3, which warrants a separate blog post in the future. But for now I’m pleased that we can apply for places for next year knowing that two schools support us, so the twins would be placed in Reception rather than Year 1 at either of these schools. I wouldn’t actually want them to go to school 3, given how they’ve treated us, but I am willing and able to challenge the way in which their decision has been made, so I see it as a cause worth fighting for. Other parents in the future will apply here with the same question, so if I can help them, this makes it worthwhile. If nobody challenges the system then nothing ever changes. I’ll stop being stubborn just as soon as they’ve fulfilled their legal obligations. Two schools have managed to do this perfectly easily – Bournville Village Primary School and St Mary’s CofE Primary School B29.

The twins enjoying their forest school playgroup – they’ll enjoy an extra year of play before entering into formal education in September 2022.

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