NOTHING strikes fear into the hearts of mums and dads like the scrum for school places.

Parents of children set to start primary school next September, like my wife and me, have from now until January 15 to submit the application.

Then the sleepless nights (about 90 of them) really kick in as parents have to wait until April 16 to discover what school their child has been given.

Will they have to attend a school miles away? Will they get a place at a different school to their friends? Is it the “right” school for them?

The application process is supposed to give parents choice - they can put up to four schools down.

The thing is, most of our schools are bursting at the seams.

For our son, a school half a mile away from our home has told us we can’t have a tour because we’re not in its priority catchment.

Another school just over a mile away received five times as many applications than it had places two years ago.

A teacher applying for her son this year said she has been warned by parents she will not get a place at her closest two schools.

The biggest priority for many parents does not appear to sending their child to a school in their community or finding a school best suited their child’s attributes.

The main issue is, sadly, Ofsted. Its reports can do huge reputational damage to a school.

We went to a “preparing for primary school” evening at our son’s nursery.

A parent told staff: “I don’t want to send my daughter to our nearest school because I’ve heard it’s not very good.”

It turns out the school was given a “requires improvement” grade in 2010, but by 2014 it was rated “good”.

In fact, despite a decent track record (11 years as a good school out of the last 15) and a new headteacher, Ofsted’s mud sticks.

I can’t imagine how morale- draining that must be for teachers.

Of course we have to maintain standards, but Ofsted’s grading system is too general and can cause long- term damage to a school.

Instead of being encouraged to get involved in improving their community’s schools, parents think they have the option of applying for “better”

schools across town.

I can appreciate that a few years ago, when are schools were not all close to capacity, there was scope to choose a the school best suited to your child.

That simply isn’t the case any more.

If it was, why would parents move to a house as close to their preferred school as possible, put the address of a relative or house being rented out on an application, or suddenly find an urge to attend church every Sunday? We’re very lucky in Colchester with the quality of education.

There is no point putting parents through the process when, in most cases, it comes down to a choice between two very similar schools.

I would be happy sending my son to the ten nearest schools to our home. (It would’ve been pointless to look further afield.) So here’s my solution: don’t have an application process.

Let’s make sure children get a place at the school closest to their homes, be it good, bad or indifferent.

We should stop this charade of choice and instead concentrate on creating a level playing field for all schools.

Application tips

1. Visit as many schools as you can: You’ll get a feeling for which kind of schools will suit your son or daughter and, hope - fully, it will put your mind at rest if you’ve heard bad things about a school.

2. Be realistic: Don’t put down a school you know is popular and it not among one of your nearest four.

3. Speak to other parents: They’ve been through it and will give your advice on what to expect, what schools are really like and potential pitfalls.

4. Hit the deadline: If you don’t, you will be put to the back of the queue and, poten - tially, get give a school miles from your home.

5. Don’t worry: 95 per cent of parents got their first or second choice last year. The “unlucky” 5 per cent were probably too ambitious. And there is always an appeals process