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School admissions: your key questions answered

Partnerships for Jewish Schools sheds some light on the process as another admissions season begins

    JFS is one school that will offer its first round of places next week
    JFS is one school that will offer its first round of places next week

    When are offers made?

    The first round of offers for all state schools takes place on March 1, when you will be told by your local authority which school your child has been allocated.

    Who makes the decisions - the school or the local authority?

    The formal offer of a place comes from your local authority. The school sets the admissions policy, and confirms which applicants have satisfied the Jewish practice criteria, but plays no part in the selection process. Nor do schools know where parents have put them on their list of preferences.

    Many Jewish schools are oversubscribed. What should I do to maximise my child's chance of a place?

    The best and only advice is to list the schools in the order you genuinely want them, and then sit tight and remain hopeful. The system allocates places on the basis of the preferences parents put on their Common Application Form. If you try to play the system, or put a school you don't really want higher up because you think you have a better chance, you do not get any advantage and it simply distorts the process. This is one of the main reasons for delays and unhappiness in the admissions system.

    Once your form is submitted, there is nothing further that you can or need to do.

    I have heard about several "rounds" of offers. What does that mean?

    After offers are made, there is always some "movement". Some families decide to go to private schools or move away, freeing up places. This place can then be offered to someone who put the school as their first choice, but who was allocated their second choice school. This, in turn, means there is a space at the second school.

    As a result, there are often quite a few places that arise after all this shuffling happens - and these are the additional "rounds".

    When are the "rounds"?

    Schools tend to make a fresh round of offers every few weeks, if there are places to offer; however, this varies between local authorities. It is quite common for 30 or more places to become available in this way for each school. If the offer you receive is from a school you put lower down on your list, your child's name remains on the waiting list of your first choice school.

    How does the waiting list work?

    Schools and local authorities maintain a waiting list for places that become available after March 1. The first round of offers have to be accepted or rejected by March 15. When local authorities receive this information, they update a child's status on their system. Each school cross-checks its list of available places with its local authority and then offers places to those on the waiting list. If your child's name is not selected, it will remain on a school's waiting list until September. Schools will try to update you from time to time on the status of the waiting list.

    Can I change my mind about the order I put schools in?

    You can do this via your local authority in certain circumstances, but they may insist on having a concrete reason for the change. It is important to get the list right first time.

    Why do some people who put a school as second choice get places ahead of people who put it first?

    The system gives your child a place at the highest school on your list that has a place. If your first preference cannot offer a place, the computer automatically treats the next highest school on your list as your first preference. It may seem baffling for those who listed a particular school first and didn't get a place, but it does mean that the school that they are offered is as high up on their list as possible.

    Surely the schools should talk to each other, to match pupils with their first choices and make swaps?

    That is exactly what the computer system is designed to do automatically. It is not perfect, but it would quickly cause far more chaos and grief if individual schools operated a separate "matchmaker" process.

    Is it worth an appeal?

    Everyone has the right to appeal against their allocation. The appeal process is designed for cases where you think the system has operated unfairly or where the school your child has been allocated is unsuitable. It is not designed for cases where you simply don't want the school you have been allocated. Each case is heard by an independent panel and the process is professional and humane, but emotionally demanding. Statistically, the proportion of appeals that are upheld is small.

    The system seems so inefficient and unfair - isn't there a better way?

    The system operated by the local authorities is as efficient and fair as it can be, but that doesn't mean that everyone can get the school they want, or sometimes any of the schools they want. If all the schools on your list are heavily oversubscribed, there is a chance that you will not get any of them. That will feel unfair, but it doesn't mean it actually is unfair. It may be bitterly disappointing, but that is not quite the same thing.

    It is clear that there are not enough places at Jewish schools. Can't one of the schools expand?

    There probably are enough places at Jewish schools, but they are not perfectly distributed in line with the demand. Pajes is looking at ways to improve the situation, which might include extra places at some schools. We are commissioning extensive research to inform this discussion.

    The JC Podcast: Education special on admissions

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