Your child starting school can be a stressful time for many reasons, which are simply part of the experience. However, there are situations where stressed can be increased unnecessarily when things do not go to plan. Use the advice and guidance in this section to find out what to do when something goes wrong.
When your child first starts school, it’s a big change in your family life, especially if it is your oldest or youngest child. You may feel anxious or worried that your child will be unhappy, or will not make friends, or will not enjoy their schoolwork. Additionally, you may be concerned about the bullying and discrimination they may face from other pupils, or even teachers. These feelings are to be expected but shouldn’t deter you from encouraging your child to engage as fully as possible with education.
Starting or changing schools can be one of the biggest transitions in a child’s life, but it’s worth remembering that most children thrive at school and go on to make the most of their education. It is important to remember that, should things go wrong there is usually always a solution, and that’s what this section of this website will help you with.
General Advice When Your Child is Starting School
The advice below is general and aimed at parents whose children are attending school for the first time. At this stage, if you have more specific concerns, you should skip to the following sections, or Contact Us for support.
Guide Your Child
- Help your child to develop the skills they need to be independent, such as getting used to playing with other children, dressing themselves and looking after their possessions
- Get storybooks from the library about starting school and read them to your child. In the week before they start school, get your child used to the times they will need to get up in the mornings and go to bed
- Decide early who is taking your child to school on their first day so they can know as soon as possible what will happen on the morning
- Share your memories of your first day or funny and light stories about your time at school so they start to get a light-hearted sense of what to expect
- Plan a treat for the end of the school day; it’s likely they will be tired so a simple trip to the local park or their favourite dinner would be more than enough
Provide Emotional Support
- Talk positively to your child about starting school, as well as listening to and acknowledging any anxious feelings or fears they may have
- Help your child to build their confidence. For example, make sure they know that it is ok to ask to go to the toilet at school
- If you are feeling worried, make sure you have someone to talk to so that your children don’t pick up on any negative feelings – and remind yourself that it is perfectly normal to have a bit of the jitters yourself
- Encourage them to be thoughtful about other children’s feelings and remember to take turns and share
- If you sense your child will feel clingy and not want to leave you in fear they will miss out, let them know what you have planned for the day – the duller the better
Keep Speaking to the School
- Find out from the school how reception children are introduced to the school and what happens on the first day. Talk this through with your child so that they know what to expect
- Tell the school about your child, e.g. any special needs, medical problems, likes or dislikes
- Make a point of finding out more about the school – look around your child’s classroom so that you know what they are doing and can talk to them about it
- Try to ensure you start off on the right foot with the school. Be friendly and open in your phone calls or meetings. If you feel annoyed by anything try to keep a calm head as you will be seeing a lot of them over the years your child is at primary school
- Try to go to as many of the meetings before and after your child starts at the school, as you can. If you can’t attend, give the school a call and ask for the information to be sent to you
Applying for School Places
For the most part, completing school application forms is often straight forward. However, there are some examples where this might not be the case. Families who travel and may not have the required paperwork may feel that they are unable to complete the forms as required. It is important to remember that forms are designed to fit the majority and therefore rarely take account of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
In these cases, we advise that parents complete as much as they can, this should include at least:
- The child’s full name
- The child’s date of birth
- The parents’ names
- Emergency contact details (a phone number)
- Preferably an address (although this is not essential)
Providing you have given these details the school and local authority have a duty to find suitable education for your child when you request it. Please do not be put off by forms and complicated online portals. It is possible to complete this process simply and in a more ‘old fashioned’ way. This advice should also assist those parents who mat struggle with their reading and writing skills. It is also worth speaking with the school to let them know you need help with filling in school forms. Most staff will be more than happy to help, and it doesn’t matter whether you need help because English is an additional language for you, or if you happen to struggle with reading and writing, support should always be offered without prejudice.
If after insisting on completing the process above, the school or local authority do not wish to engage, or insist on the use of online forms, or completing forms in full, they may be acting unlawfully by either indirectly discriminating against you, or by failing to adhere to their Public Sector Equality Duty. In these cases, parents must reach out for support, as an advocate letter or phone call can often persuade the school or local authority to work with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families trying to access education for their children.
Assistance Applying for School Places for Children with Special Educational Needs
School admissions can be stressful for any family. The choice parents have is often limited by where they live, complex admission arrangements and increased pressure on school places in the area. Families with disabled children may have additional concerns about whether a school will include their child, keep them safe and give them the help they need to learn.
Most children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will get a school place in the same way as children without SEND. However, there is a different system for children with an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan / statement of special educational needs.
The charity Contact (For Families with Disabled Children) offer support for parents of children with either registered SEND, or an EHCP. Visit their website to find out more about the support they can offer.
Additionally, the charity SENDIASS offers a similar service. Visit their website to find out more about the support they can offer.
Appealing a School Place
Sometimes parents can be unhappy with the school that their child has been admitted to. Perhaps the school was not their first choice, or perhaps their child won’t be at the same school as family or friends.
Parents have the right to appeal school places. However, it is important to note that although parents have the right to choose which schools they apply for, they do not have the right to determine the final placement. The Government website sets out the process very clear, click here to view this content.
It is worth remembering that for an appeal to be successful there must be a legitimate reason given to enable the local authority to grant the appeal. The legitimate reason must be one that the local authority will acknowledge, just because a parent may think they have a valid reason, this doesn’t mean it will be considered as legitimate by the local authority. For this reason, we advise that families seek support when appealing a school place. This must be done in plenty of time before the appeal deadline. It is important to remember that once an appeal is made and lost, there is nothing anyone helping you can do, unless there is clear evidence that the process itself was unlawful, for example, if a school place was refused based on race. Additionally, help must be sought in plenty of time, to allow for a professional or volunteer to help you.
Things to Consider
When appealing is important to consider the consequences of undertaking such a lengthy process, especially if this results in your child not starting school in line with the other children in their class.
You should be aware that an appeal can prolong the period of uncertainty for parents and children, so it’s important to be realistic about your reasons for appealing and the chances of being successful.
This is particularly the case if you’re appealing a decision refusing your child a place to an infant class (such as reception, year 1 and year 2), where the law prevents a school from admitting more than 30 pupils per teacher, other than in specific exceptional circumstances. As such, there are limited circumstances in which an appeal panel can uphold an infant class appeal.
You should also consider accepting any offer of a school place you receive to ensure that your child has a place should your appeal not be successful. Accepting another offer will have no bearing on your appeal and the appeals process does not limit other options available to you.
Before you make an appeal, it will also be helpful for you to understand how the school allocated their places, so you can understand why your child did not get a place. A school’s admission arrangements can be found on the school’s or council’s website.
General Advice About Raising Concerns and Making Complaints
Sometimes things go wrong. There are an almost unlimited number of reasons something could go wrong with a child’s education or a parent’s relationship with the school. To an extent, some issues are to be expected, with most coming down to a lack of communication or misunderstanding. However, it is important to raise concerns promptly and not allow issues to go unchallenged. There is often a simple and informal way of solving most issues, so we advise that parents follow the below steps in order to try and resolve matters quickly, without complex processes being used unnecessarily.
It is important to add that, should a serious issue occur, parents should take the steps they feel appropriate, or seek advice before acting.
Talk to your child and their teacher
Talk to your child if they’re unhappy at school or you’re worried about their education. Find out as much as you can. You might be able to solve the problem with your child if you can suggest things they can change to make things better.
If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to contact their teacher.
- explain the problem to the teacher
- ask what they can do to help and when
- ask when they’ll give you an update
If you email or write a letter to the teacher, keep a copy. If you phone or talk face to face, make a note of the date and take notes of what you both say – at the time or straight afterwards. Your notes could help if you have to contact the school again about the problem. If your child is struggling to learn or make friends, they might need extra support. You can speak to the the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo) or a staff member who deals with ‘inclusion’.
Talk to the headteacher
If the teacher doesn’t sort out the problem, you can ask to speak to the headteacher. They might ask you to see someone else, such as a member of staff who deals with behaviour. You can still insist on talking to the headteacher if you prefer.
- explain the problem to the headteacher
- ask what they can do to help and when
- ask when they’ll give you an update
If you email or write a letter to the headteacher, keep a copy. If you phone or talk face to face, make a note of the date and take notes of what you both say – at the time or straight afterwards. Your notes could help if you have to contact the school again or make a complaint.
Ask other parents
If the problem is something that affects several children at the school, you might want to speak to other parents. You can then act together – for example, asking to speak at a parent teacher association (PTA) meeting or writing to the headteacher and governors.
You can also ask the school office how to contact the PTA or you might find their contact details on the school website.
Make a formal complaint
If you’re still not happy, you can make a formal complaint. All state schools should have a complaints procedure – ask the school for a copy or check on their website. You’ll usually need to email or write a letter to the headteacher and to the governing body telling them you’re making a formal complaint. You’ll need to explain the problem and why you’re unhappy with what the school has done about it. You should keep a copy of everything you send.
If the school asks you to come to a meeting, you might want your child’s other parent or a friend to go with you – tell the school if you want to do that. It’s a good idea for one of you to take notes.
You can contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you want help with making a formal complaint.
Complain to your local education authority
If your formal complaint doesn’t solve the problem, you might be able to complain to your local education authority (LEA).
Your LEA is the local council that deals with education in your area – you can find your LEA on GOV.UK. Your LEA will let you know if they can help with your problem.
You can’t complain to your local education authority if your child goes to a:
- free school
- private school
You can find out what to do instead on GOV.UK.