As the six-week summer break draws to a close for another year and children prepare to go back to school, it’s this time of year when many parents start thinking about catchment areas.
Sheffield and Chesterfield are blessed with a glut of great primary and secondary schools. But if you are considering moving to a new house, or renting a property, to secure a place at your first choice of school, there’s a number of things you need to be aware of. Whether you are local, or new to the area, here’s what you need to know.
Planning ahead is essential. Even with the most efficient buyers, vendors and estate agents, and a small chain, a house sale isn’t something which can happen overnight. You need to factor in enough time from initial offer to completion.
Do your research and take the opportunity to visit schools and review their admissions data, which they are required to publish on their website. Be clear on catchment boundaries for Sheffield and Chesterfield and the average number of sibling links.
Catchment areas and distance criteria are different. Schools with a catchment area have a defined geographical area from where they will accept applications. You could be within catchment for just one school, or several. Children living outside the catchment area are unlikely to be offered a place.
Some schools don’t have a set catchment area but offer places to pupils from any area based on their distance from the school. It all depends on the school’s popularity. If a school is oversubscribed, they’ll take into account factors including catchment areas or distance from the school when they decide who to offer a place.
It’s important to be aware that catchment areas can change and sometimes with very little warning. You can check the likelihood of getting a place at your chosen school using websites such as admissionsday.co.uk and www.192.com/schools/.
Ofsted reports and league tables can be useful to give a flavour of the standard of education and care offered at each school. Many people place great importance on these ratings which can impact on house prices in certain areas with the properties around the ‘top’ schools attracting higher prices. If Ofsted reports and league tables are important to you, it can be worth reviewing the ‘value added’ sections, which highlight how well the school has done with a particular intake of pupils.
However, there’s no real alternative to visiting a school, checking out the facilities, chatting to teachers, speaking to some of the people who will be responsible for your child’s education and meeting the pupils. It’s a great way to see in person if the school would suit your child.
When you apply for a school place, you must use your child’s permanent address at the time. In most cases, you’ll be asked to provide at least two proof of address documents. This could be a council tax letter for the current year, a copy of your tenancy agreement, TV licence or a utilities bill dated within the past three months. There’s usually a cut-off date by which you must have moved into your new property for that address to be used for your school application, and you’re usually obliged to still be living at that address when your child starts school. If you move during the application process, you’ll need to provide the admissions authority with proof of your new address.
If your preferred school is oversubscribed, it can be tempting to play the system, but using a fraudulent address will land you in trouble with the admissions investigators. Examples of fraudulent applications include renting a property close to a school but keeping your previous property, applying from a relative’s address but keeping your previous property or renting close to a school but moving out before your child’s school start date
You might have your heart set on a particular school and a particular property or area, but you should always research the alternatives. If your child doesn’t get a place at your preferred school, make sure you have a back-up plan. When choosing schools, you can select three options on the education authority admission form. Failing to select a second and third option increases the chances of your child being given a place at a school you do not want. Check out lots of different areas to see where you would be comfortable living. If you are moving from elsewhere in the UK, spend some time getting to know different areas. There is loads of information available on our comprehensive area guides.