Improve the school assignment process

Today, it is three months between the deadline for applying for a primary school place and receiving an offer of a place.  This seems like a long time.  The shortage of primary school places in the city means this waiting period is very stressful for many families in the city.

Perhaps there is the potential to move this online and improve the process in doing so.

Basic:

Move the algorithm to determine school places online.  Retire paper forms for the application process.  Instead, have sessions at local libraries where people are available to get children registered online if they don't have a computer at home.  

Once registration is closed, execute the algorithm to determine the classes.  Integrate Google Maps to determine distance, and based on preferences, the class lists should be able to be calculated in a matter of days, if not hours.  Notify parents of the outcome in mid-February instead of mid-April.

Move the acceptance process and waiting list systems into the online system.  Have the waiting lists fully transparent so parents can see real-time what place they are in the waiting list without having to call in to the admissions office.  

Have a deadline by which parents have to accept or turn-down offers.  Make it clear that an offer expires by a certain date, so people on the waiting list can be accommodated.  Today, many people who are going to go to a fee-paying school still hold onto their state school place until the last minute.  Families on the waiting list for that school miss out on all of the school's induction meetings if they don't hear about their school place offer until July.  

Potential enhancement:

Have the online registration system show a count of the applications received to date for first preferences, even during the registration period.  This can help parents make better decisions about which schools to select or in which preference.  For example, if we are located between two schools, and one has many siblings going in and the other has fewer, I might select the one with fewer siblings as a first preference.  Not sure if government permits us to do this, but more transparency in the process would be helpful.  (Shame we have to do this, but it's better than missing out on school places in both schools and being offered a school place miles away.)

Why the contribution is important

- Brings more transparency to the process

- Reduces the very stressful wait time to hear about school place offers 

- Reduces paperwork which needs to be sent by the council - the statistics for each school could be shown directly from the system (e.g. # of applications, # of siblings, etc)

- Could be part of an online Neighbourhood Partnerhship portal, where application statistics could be visible to all people in the Neighbourhood Partnership, even those who don't have children in school.  We have found that most residents care about the availability of school places for the children in their neighbourhood but don't have easy access to this information.

- Transferable to other cities.  We all use the same algorithm to determine school places.  (Although how does it work with Academies?  Do they make offers separate to the process?  Perhaps it could be built with a rules engine so they could even have some flexibility for academies admission criteria in later phases of development...)

- Gives families more time to work out alternatives if they don't receive a school place which works for them or work out how they will get their child to school if the place they are offered is miles away.  

- Potential cost savings - e.g. the admissions office must spend considerable time answering calls about the status of waiting lists from April to July...

- We could be one of the first cities to have this process fully automated and much less stressful on families in the city.

by annebristolian on December 08, 2013 at 12:41PM

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