In the USA and most of Europe when one moves into an area then the local school is required to grant your child a place. In the UK although a place must be offered by the Local Authority (LEA), a school can only offer a place if it has one available and thus the authority may offer you one in a school with a poor rating in the League Tables which is not what you want if you refuse that place they have legally undertaken their obligation. Likewise there is a maximum of thirty in any class and that figure cannot be exceeded.
When a family moves to the UK and wants a State place they have to realise that before a place will be offered they must have a residential address. This means that before the LEA will offer any place they need to know you are resident in their area and in the case of a school within its catchment area (catchments differ at every school but are normally as large as the distance to the home of farthest child living from the school).
Here is the Catch 22 scenario because no parent wants to buy or rent a house until they know they have a place at a good school. British parents will move home so that they can be in the right catchment area and yet still may have problems.
There was a case recently in one London Borough where a parent who moved into an area, could not get her son into a particular school with an excellent record because the waiting list was very long AND SHE WAS ITS NEW HEADTEACHER! The British national past time is queuing and it would not matter who you are you do NOT jump lists.
Likewise another parent who bought a house next to a good school and could see into the Headmaster's study from their lounge window. However, they could not obtain a place for their son in the school even after having gone to Appeal.
It is important also that you realise that residency means the child you cannot have one parent arrive early, find a house and register the child and expect a place to be offered ahead of the childs arrival. The school will only offer a place when the child is here. The reasoning for this is that if only one place is available and someone else moves into the area ahead of your child it must go to that child. Likewise if you are not here before the summer term ends in late July NOTHING will happen in the State system until the beginning of the new term in September, so do not despair everyone is in the same boat!
So what needs to be done?
1. Look at the Primary and Secondary League tables area by area (these are arranged by Council or County areas).
(a) The Primary League Tables (which do not include the Independent Preparatory Schools) observe schools marked out of 100% in Maths, English and Science thus one with a mark of 300/300 is excellent.
(b) The Senior School League Tables (which will include the Independent Senior Schools) show the GCSE and A level pass rates the GCSE rate shows the percentage of students obtaining A* to C grades. The A level points show the average points achieved by the sixth formers undertaking the exams.
2. Try to find a residential property in the catchment of the good schools and see if they have places. Ensure if your child is approaching 10/11 that you have not only found a good primary school but it is close to a good secondary school.
3. Ensure you obtain the Tenancy Agreement or contract as quickly as possible. In some cases families sit in hotels until the legal documents are signed and faxed through to the Education authority they will not make exceptions.
4. If you are moving in with young children then register them as soon as possible even if they are only a few months old in some areas a delay can mean places!
5. If you are wanting a church school then ensure you have the children's baptismal certificates to hand and a letter from you former Parish Priest and in some cases it requires one from the new Parish so ensure you are attending church from the moment you arrive.
But most importantly DO NOT DELAY!
An Individual Member of the European Council of International Schools, Martin joined the Sterling Education Team as an Education Consultant in 1999, and has since addressed a number of conferences in regard to educational placements in the United Kingdom and abroad.