Mum of two Kelly sees school applications as a parent and an officer

Mum of two Kelly Ahmed knows about the process of applying for a school places both from the perspective of being a parent submitting an application and as a result of being one of the county council officers who processes those applications.

Kelly has worked in Oxfordshire County Council’s school applications team for the last ten years and during that time she’s had to apply for primary school places for both her son, aged 7 and her daughter, aged 5.

And with a key deadline looming on October 31 for Oxfordshire parents applying for secondary school places for their children – Kelly, 37, is all too aware of how parents engage with the process and what’s on their mind at a very stressful time.

“The image of school applications is that parents are often unhappy or stressed about the process. In Oxfordshire the reality is that despite ever increasing numbers of applications the number of parents who get their first choice of school has consistently been at around the 90 per cent mark for many years, ahead of national averages. So the large majority of parents are happy,” says Kelly.

“My job involves processing individual applications, offering advice to parents and visiting the schools in the part of the county that is my responsibility – Didcot.

“The toughest part of the job is when we have a new family move to the area and they have three children and want to get them all in to the same school. That’s a very hard thing to achieve for them and would be in any part of the country.

“The job has changed a great deal in my ten years – mainly because there are now so many academies. Previously when all schools were linked to the county council as local education authority the process was easier to oversee. Now there’s a lot more discussion required with individual schools. In the last couple of years we also have the option for pupils to transfer at the start of Year 10 to a different type of academy now with the UTC Oxfordshire in my area.

“There are also lots more applications overall due to the rising birth-rate and housebuilding, yet despite this we still consistently achieve around 90 per cent of parents getting their first choice at both primary and secondary level.

“In my area of Didcot, we’ve had lots of new housebuilding. People will be well aware of the new development at Great Western Park. So the scene has changed a great deal.

“We’re a very small but very busy team. There are key deadlines each year for applications but there’s always secondary and primary processes, in-year transfers and forward planning throughout the year.”

Simple advice

Asked what simple advice she’d give to fellow parents when applying for places she says: “Always be aware of the deadline and make sure you submit your application before that deadline. We offer three preferences. You should list them in the order that you truly want them, with your first preference listed first.

“Don’t try to over-think it. I would advise parents to include their catchment school as one of their preferences, not necessarily the first preference. Every address in the county and the country as a whole has a catchment school within it, sometimes more than one.

“I’m often asked for my advice by friends and relatives and often find myself busting myths. I have a close friend who in a previous year didn’t get her first choice of school for her child. My best advice to her was to wait. There’s always a waiting list and being on that can often be fruitful. There’s a high turnover, we deal with more applications overall but families move home to a different area of the county and country so situations are always fluid and places can and do come up regularly.”

Secondary school applications

For more information on secondary school applications and to make an application visit https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/schools/starting-school/secondary-school