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

Mum of two Kelly Ahmed knows all about the process of applying for school places because she’s a parent herself as well as 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 eleven 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.

With a key deadline looming on January 15 for Oxfordshire parents applying for primary school places for their children – Kelly, is all too aware of how parents engage with the process and what’s on their mind at an often 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 preferred 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.

“Dealing with parents via the primary school application process differs to secondary applications in one key way – there are more parents who are going through the process for the very first time and who therefore have more questions and need more guidance. Our aim as a council is to give every child a good start in life and working with parents through this process is all part of that.

“My job involves processing individual applications, offering advice to parents and visiting the 13 primary 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 eleven 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.

“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 preferred school 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 and I would advise listing three preferred schools. You should list them in the order that you truly want them, with your highest 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.

“There’s a very useful ‘Parents Guide’ available on our website that I’d advise parents to consult and it is always of great benefit if parents pay a visit to the schools they have in mind. You can also contact us via the website using our help and advice link - https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/schools/starting-school/infant-and-primary-school

“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 preferred school and my advice to her was to wait and join the school’s continued interest list. Every school has a continued interest list that will run for the whole academic year. Places often become available and being on the lists can often be fruitful. There’s a high turnover, families move home to different areas of the county and country so situations are always fluid and places can and do come up regularly.”

Primary school applications

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