A north London mum has launched a free new website for parents in London and Hertfordshire to check the catchment areas of their local primary schools.
Natasha Boydell created Primary School Catchment after her family’s own experience of applying for a school place in 2018. She discovered that competition for places at the nearest schools was so high, her daughter was unlikely to get a place at any of them.
Families in the capital and surrounding areas are still struggling to find places at their preferred primary schools. This year, the proportion of pupils getting a place at their first-choice primary school was 86% in London – compared to 98% in some areas. In Kensington and Chelsea, only 66% of children were offered a place at their first-choice primary school.
Nearly 2,500 applicants in London weren’t offered any of their preferences. Of these, the majority were offered an alternative school but 31 couldn’t be offered any school because there was no place available within a reasonable distance.
Natasha, 38, from Palmers Green, says: “Most people assume that applying for primary school is pretty straightforward – you just add your nearest school and press send. But I quickly discovered that in London, that’s not the case at all. Some schools have catchment areas of just 0.2 or 0.3 miles so unless you live on the doorstep, you won’t get in.”
Natasha and her husband Jon moved to Palmers Green when she was pregnant with their eldest daughter Rose. She soon realised that the area they had chosen was a known ‘catchment area black hole’ – and that many parents failed to get places at nearby schools.
She says: “I spoke to neighbours who told me they’d been advised to move house when applying for schools. Others had decided to send their child to private school. There was a lot of confusion about the whole process and how it worked. I spent ages researching the local schools and our likelihood of getting in but I knew others were in the dark about it.”
On National Offer Day in 2018, Rose was offered their fifth-choice school. However, the family stuck it out on the waiting list of their first choice and were offered a place in September. Natasha says: “Rose is absolutely loving school and we are so pleased that we’re able to walk her there each day rather than have to drive to a school further away. But we’re lucky – other people I know are still on waiting lists and have given up hope.”
This experience inspired Natasha and Jon to create Primary School Catchment, a free resource for parents. The map displays catchment area data, where available, for 2019 admissions and users can enter their postcode to find their nearest schools. It also has information and advice about applying for school, starting school and school life.
Catchment areas aren’t fixed and go up or down each year so the map should only be used as a general guide for parents when considering their likelihood of getting a place. Data will be added for future years as it becomes available to create a more comprehensive picture.
Natasha says: “Starting school is a really exciting time in a child’s life but the whole process of applying can be pretty overwhelming for parents. With Primary School Catchment the aim is to provide a resource that gathers all the useful information together into one place for mums and dads to access in an easily digestible and non-scary way.”
London primary schools received 96,598 applications in total this year, according to figures published on National Primary Offer Day 2019 by the Pan London Admissions Board. This figure is expected to rise over the coming years, placing even more pressure on places.
The deadline for applying for a primary school place next September is 15 January 2020 and National Offer Day is 16 April 2020.