Education: Know the form so you can work the system: The final part in our series helping parents to choose a new secondary school.

Changing Places Part Three
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The Independent Online
The tactics of form-filling

Don't try to evade the rules and rubric of the form-filling in only one school or adding unnecessary comments. It will simply give an excuse for offering you any school.

You may be asked to give a rank order of preference for three or more schools. Be familiar with the local criteria you are up against. They usually include something like this typical set from Hertfordshire but the order of priority may well be very different in your own authority:

1. A statement of special educational needs indicating a specific school (very rarely applied);

2. Medical or social needs (friendship groups are not sufficient grounds);

3. A sibling already at the school;

4. The distance you live from the school (or extra journey involved if it is not the nearest);

5. If you are in a "traditional" area, for a single-sex school intake;

6. parental "old-boy" connections or curriculum subjects offered (because there is now a national curriculum) are no longer regarded as sufficient reasons for allocation of a place.

A real dilemma exists if you live in an authority where you opt for one preferred school but do not rank in order your other choices. Do you go for your highly preferred but heavily over-subscribed school and risk being given one you do not remotely want - or do you go for a tolerable second-best which is nearer to home and more likely to offer a place?

The process

On receipt of your form, the "allocating authority" must then apply in the correct order its stated criteria. If a school's numbers exceed the permissible maximum, it often comes down to how many yards nearer a school you live than someone else - or the precise application of another highly ranked criterion.

Appeals

If you are not allocated the school you desired, you are then allowed to appeal to a Tribunal body (originally set up under Ombudsman arrangements) which is mainly composed of informed lay people who will demand that the local authority representative demonstrates that your application has been handled fairly and consistently within the stated criteria. You may make representation about special circumstances. However, it is now much harder to have a decision overturned, unless, for example, one of the following applies:

1. You have moved since the application was made;

2. Your family and social circumstances have altered;

3. You make a really strong bid for particular qualities of the first choice school - say strengths in individual talents such as music. Remember that the Appeals Tribunal is very much free to make decisions on its own terms and it is the articulate and sensitive parent who is mostly likely to succeed in playing their lack of constraints. Up to 50 per cent of appeals can be successful in some authorities.

4. LEA transfer booklets should state the process of application and method of appeal but further information on this process can be obtained from:

School Choice and Appeals, published by ACE, 1b Aberdeen Studios, 22- 24 Highbury Grove, London N5 2EA. Tel 0171-354 8321 (between 2 and 5 pm). Available by telephone order between 2-5pm weekdays on 0171-354 8321.

The Department for Education and Employment also publishes an information pack called `Grant Maintained Schools Appeals Procedures'. For a copy of this, contact their Public Enquiries Unit on 0171-925 5555

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