Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Decisions decisions

I've been inspired to write about the School Application Process (which was so stress-inducing it merits title caps) after reading Kate C's blog post.

We lived in London when I had my son. I spent a lot of time looking into local schools and nurseries and the lack of choice scared me (we lived in a very large, badly planned, new estate/area). So when my son was nearly 2 we decided to move "a bit further up the A1" to be slightly closer to family in Lancashire and to hopefully have better choice of schools.

I produced a highly annotated OS map with local towns we were interested in, with all local schools marked on and whether they had good Ofsted reports (seriously, I was a bit nuts, although in my defence, I was very early pregnant!).

We eventually bought a house in the town we now live in. It has three lower schools, all with outstanding Ofsted reports. Perfect. So what was so stress-inducing about applying to one of them?

I soon realized that, among the people I was friends with, one particular school was most popular. It was the only Church school in the town, and as a regular Churchgoer (my children also attend the Sunday School) I particularly wanted my son to get in. The problem was I lived outside its catchment area, and religion was not very high on the school's criteria (sad reflection in my opinion).

But all good stories end happily, and I can say that we did get a place at the school. We were really lucky. The year we applied, the school was oversubscribed by 20 places. Nine children were offered a place at a school more than 10 miles away (fancy sending your 4-year-old on a bus up the A1 on their own?). Several children who applied on religious grounds but lived further away from school didn't get in.

The parish council stepped in and helped the school fund nine extra places for the children, and eventually, most families were happy. Sadly, a similar situation arose this year, and history looks certain to be repeated during this coming application process. I was stopped on my way home today by a family looking at homes to rent; the question they asked me: "is this road in the catchment for St X's?". Oh dear.

I only hope that when I come to apply for school for my daughter next year, having a sibling already at the school AND going to church will help our cause.

It's such a shame that applying to school is such a stressful experience for parents. Not only does it affect them, it rubs off on the kids because they can sense mummy or daddy are worried about something.


  1. Ooh, thanks for the mention.

    You know, the one thing that does make me mad about faith schools is that often, genuine churchgoers lose out. A friend of mine is a regular and extremely active churchgoer and does a lot for the church she attends. It just happens NOT to be the one nearest her house. She applied to the local church school but didn't get top priority as you had to attend the church to which it was "attached" - a whole 6 times. She didn't get a place and was not offered a suitable alternative so she contemplated not putting her daughter in to reception. Thankfully, someone dropped out so a place became free and they were top of the waiting list.

    We get so many people "queue jumping" here (Lancs generally does not have catchment areas) by attending church to gain priority, particularly if they are far from their preferred school. I think that's wrong. People justify it by claiming they are doing the best for THEIR child. I say what about the child from whom they steal the place? Is cheating really fair on them?

    Someone is either religious or not. I don't see how it can be made to suit for their own advantage, particularly when it is to the detriment of others.

    As for the stress of applications, we all suffer it. I was even slightly stressed this year when applying for my daughter - to a school that has not been oversubscribed in years, and she was a sibling that got priority over other kids! Admittedly, I was worse waiting for the results for my son - largely because we are nearly 2 miles from the school but we were fine. It did however feel like a long wait from early November to March when the places were sent out.

    Good luck and thanks again for mentioning my post.

  2. I don't think parents stress about schools that must here in Finland. Maybe because there isn't that much competition? Hard to say. I'm still glad your son gets to attend the school you wanted him to be in and I really hope your daughter gets to go there too! x

  3. I'm going to be going through the same sort of stress later this year for secondary school.

    Our problem is that our daughter, who goes to a Catholic Primary School, isn't a baptised Catholic.

    The order of priority is baptised Catholics, their siblings, kids with Special Needs, then kids from feeder primaries.

    I knew that we would always face this when I sent her there but it was the best choice for her when she was 5. I think that 7 years at her excellent primary school has equipped her to deal with starting somewhere new away from her friends.

    Still a worry,though.

  4. I was very lucky, living two minutes from our preferred primary school, and it being a feeder school for our preferred secondary school, I didn't have any problems at all getting my kids in to the schools I wanted them to attend. Funnily enough, we bought this house before we had kids so schools weren't even considered then.

  5. Thanks for everyone's comments. This subject obviously touches people emotionally!

  6. It really is a nightmare I wasn't aware of. My post (being cheeky!) is along similar lines but asks schools what they do to encourage children. http://bit.ly/9luY2T


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