Catchment 22 – which “local school” to choose? A parent’s personal view

As I now have a direct interest in Yr 7 admissions for 2013, I took some time this week to get acquainted with the admissions process as advised by Essex County Council (ECC). Aside from the closing date (October 31st), the letter we received advises that the Admissions section of the website provides information on each school in Essex and from here you can make your application. The following section then follows in bold (their underlining):

“We strongly recommend you use all 6 of your preferences on your application. We also recommend that you list your local (priority admission area) school, if you have one, as one of your preferences, even if it is a lower preference than some other schools. This way, you can help to ensure you do not end up being offered a school many miles from your home.”

I am informed by someone who went through this process last year that the number of preferences requested was 4, I have enquired of ECC why this has now increased to 6 and will post a response when I get it. To put this in perspective there are only six secondary schools listed in the Brentwood area and one of those, Brentwood Ursuline, is an all-girls school.

Of course, this is a policy for the whole of Essex but it still seems a strangely high number to me. It will allow all of Brentwood’s schools to claim, should they choose to, to have applications well above their advertised Pupil Admission Number (PAN) before National Offer Day on March 1st 2013 as preferences will not be known until then. I would be interested to know how this could affect their planning for the coming school year.

Location has always been very important in stating our school preference and was the deciding  factor when selecting the primary school for our children so this is where we have to start. Our closest secondary school is Becket Keys free school which opened this week following the eleventh hour announcement of their funding agreement as reported in this week’s Brentwood Weekly News:

“Free school gets funding – just” http://www.brentwoodweeklynews.co.uk/news/localnews/9911936.Free_school_gets_funding___just_/

As head teacher Mr Andy Scott-Evans states in the article, and has underlined elsewhere in the media this week, the free school places heavy emphasis on the religious aspect of its offer. This may appeal to some, and I have no objection to Church schools on principle (my children currently attend one), but the offer of daily worship is not on my list of priorities for a secondary education for my children and so this, amongst other considerations, means that the free school is not an option for me.

As Becket Keys primary admission criteria is faith based it cannot be named by ECC as a default community school. This means that it does not fulfil the criteria of a “local (priority admission area) school” which seems to contradict one of the apparent requirements of the Department for Education to provide a school to serve the north Brentwood area.

Living to the north of the High Street, I checked the ECC website to see which catchment we were therefore in. The catchment maps available for the next three closest schools are still the 2006 version. I also noted that the information provided for Brentwood County High School (BCHS) is at least six months out of date. As confirmed by enthusiastic tweets this week, Mr Stephen Drew is now firmly in place as the school’s head teacher. Our street, in common with most of north Brentwood and Pilgrims Hatch, was not covered by any of the available maps. ECC have provided a tool on their website to check which Priority Admission Area you fall in and this indicated that Shenfield High School (SHS) is considered our “local school”.

However, SHS is actually twice as far away from us as BCHS which is therefore now our closest community secondary school. Things are further complicated by the fact that our child’s school is named as “feeder school” by SHS, BCHS and St Martin’s school in Hutton.

So, do we choose our closest school, our closest community school, our priority admission school or a school for which we are a feeder? We will of course attend the Open Days (and school tours where possible) of those schools that genuinely interest us and state our preferences thereafter. We clearly won’t need to state six.

Indeed, for those of us in Brentwood, the requirement for six preferences seems particularly bizarre when there is a surplus of secondary school places in the town as acknowledged by the 2009 Consultation that led to the closure of Sawyers Hall College (The Facts: “The Future of Sawyers Hall College” – 2009 Consultation http://wp.me/P2dr6s-ak ). The opening of Becket Keys means that this will continue to be the case for at least the medium term and so it must follow that the probability of securing a place at your first preference school within the town has actually improved on recent years.

We won’t be able to judge the effect of the U-turn from the 2009 position on existing schools per pupil head of resource for the time being but do at least have an opportunity to hear how their head teachers see the future of their schools. We can also see what existing facilities the schools have and find out how they managed to achieve their recent impressive GCSE and A level results.

With that in mind, we have the Open days/evenings on September 25th (St Martin’s), September 29th (BCHS) and October 2nd (SHS) in the calendar and can then make our decision on preferences which, under one definition or another, will be as “local” as possible.

Stephen Mayo

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Comments

  1. You write as though the daily act of worship will not be happening in the secular schools. In fact it is a legal requirement, set out in the Education Act 1944 and subsequently beefed up by Mrs Thatcher. Of course parents do have the right to withdraw their children from it.

    Reply
    • Christine, you’ve opened up a can of worms here! Strictly speaking you are absolutely right, from responses and research since you posted your comment, the key is in its interpretation. It is also worth noting that it applies to “maintained schools” which suggests academies, and free schools, are exempt anyway.

      The Becket Keys website has a seperate section on their approach (http://www.becketkeys.org/worship.php) and the importance of this to the running of the school is clear from statements in the media this week. This is a differentiator for the school and they are absolutely entitled to take that approach.

      I think a blog post on the issue of “daily worship” may be in the offing! Thanks again.

      Stephen Mayo

      Reply

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