Didn't get your first choice school? How to turn it around

Dad and daughter smiling
If you child won’t be going to their first choice secondary school, how do you make the best of it? Camilla Chafer investigates.

There are a number of factors that can influence school place allocation, such as sibling priority and geography, which vary year on year leaving thousands of families disappointed when they don’t get their first choice.

However, it’s not all bad news... 

Things aren’t always what they seem

Not getting your first choice of school can actually work out well says mum of one, Kim. After being rejected by their local primary school, she sought out a school further away where her daughter was accepted.

“I felt everyone else was looking at me pityingly,” reflects Kim. But by the time Kim’s daughter reached year four, the tables had turned. Their first choice school received a ‘good’ Ofsted report, whereas the school Kim’s daughter was at shot up to ‘outstanding’. Kim admits to feeling smug that their second choice ended up being the better-performing school.

“If you get your second or third choice school, it's worth wondering why these ones didn't top your list and whether they ‘beat’ your first choice in another way. For example, that school with mediocre results may have a cohort of children who have English as a second language, and so their average scores were really excellent for them; or the buildings may not be brilliant but the children's behaviour might be,” says a chair of governors at a north London primary school. “Don't write off any school; you can always improve it, even the very best.”

Invest your own time

Parents are no longer bystanders at their child’s school. Instead they can be a force to be reckoned with when they team up for a common purpose. A good school will recognise this and be keen to harness parents' power to help them with fundraising and other activities. You can work with a school to create the results and atmosphere that you want.

“Schools always need active, involved, interested parents. Whether that's volunteering half an hour a week to sit with a small group to help with their reading, leading a fundraising project, or becoming a parent governor,” says the chair. “Schools are pretty much always short of money, so don't be put off by facilities that need a lick of paint or equipment that needs updating. The chances are that the budget has gone on something that really matters instead, like staffing.

Your school may welcome your offer of help so think about what skills you can bring to the table. Can you:

  • be a classroom helper (think listening to reading practice and other similar tasks)?
  • create a website to give the school a professional web presence?
  • make costumes for school plays?
  • donate costumes or needed equipment such as PCs or musical instruments?
  • provide ad hoc technical support?
  • fundraise to get together money for needed equipment?
  • develop a relationship with local businesses to ask for donations or sponsorship for the school?

Find out about how to appeal

Determined to make every effort possible to get your child into their first-choice school? Read our step-by-step guide to school appeals, with sample appeal letters to download and a timeline of what will happen when. Good luck!