The Ongoing School Debacle

For the past 15 months we’ve been mulling over a problem in our family. A dilemma about what we should do. It’s something that has been gnawing away at us for so long that it’s had a fairly toxic affect on all of us.

Primary School Results

The Initial Saga

15 months ago we were completely shocked and distressed not to get any of our 4 choices of primary school for our eldest daughter. The local school, less than 10 minutes away, which we’d naively assumed we would get into was hugely oversubscribed, to the extent it has never been seen before.  Despite going through an appeal and being on the waiting list, nothing changed. Alice started at our allocated primary school in September. It took her a long time to settle in, but she now seems happy and to be enjoying school for which we are truly grateful.

You might say, well good for you that’s that then. But then came:

The Latest Saga

A few weeks ago, I found out that our local secondary school which is perhaps a 15 minute walk away from our house, has just THIS YEAR decided to change their policy to only admit children from local “feeder”primary schools. Our local primary school counts as a “feeder” school, but our allocated school where Alice now attends is not.

To add insult to injury the secondary school near to where Alice now goes to school confirmed that their policy is to only take children who live in the nearby catchment area (which we are not).

WHAT THE ?!!!  

I mean really?! How is this fair that schools all have a different set of rules?

This leaves us once again falling down the gap not fitting into any one particular set of rules or meeting any particular criteria. It means in 5 years’ time as it stands, we will be shunted to a random secondary school miles away.

Whilst it might sound a bit neurotic to be thinking 5 years ahead, I can’t help feeling upset and cross that after all the trouble we experienced last year, we are potentially going to face all again in 5 years’ time.

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Alice on her first day of school Sept 15

The Options

1) We looked at moving house. Drastic? Yes. But needing to take the control of the situation rather than let fate decide where our kids should be educated, we started exploring other areas. I’m not convinced this is the right thing to do. Why should I have to leave my friends and family and start again? And there’s no guarantees that we can move somewhere and get both our children into a school.

2) Move to another feeder school. I’ve given up phoning the local school down the road to find out where we are on the waiting list. It was literally driving me mental to find out that I had on several occasions moved DOWN the list. By chance, I discovered that one of the lovely little village schools on our original list was expanding their school and could take on an extra 10 places per year group. We applied and found out we’d got a place! Woo-Hoo! We were all set to move Alice until I read the admissions policy and found out that they (unlike most primary schools) do not give priority to siblings.

What The ?!!!! 

I mean really?! How is this fair that schools all have a different set of rules?

And so because we are out of catchment for this village school and the council have confirmed exactly how many children live in catchment for when our youngest daughter starts school next year, it looks like we are going to have to turn the place down.

We have stressed ourselves out over this for 15 months now. I have been upset and depressed about the situation as well as feeling  bitter and resentful about the neighbours and community all being able to go to the local school except for us. It particularly hurt when our next door neighbour managed to get a place for their little boy this year at the local school because the sibling and birth rate this year is much lower than last year. We’ve really felt like upsticks and leaving. But every alternative seemingly has more problems to bear.

I’ve written to the local MP, the local authority and the department of education as well as the schools themselves to complain about the situation and the lack of consistency in the admissions criteria. But no one wants to know. Everyone has passed the buck and I’m utterly exhausted and fed up with thinking about and fighting it.

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Alice with Eva in their matching uniform

Trying to Retain some Positivity

About a week ago, I felt a shift in my mood. I don’t know whether it was because we have been fighting and stressing about it all for so long and the fight has now gone out of me. I’ve grown tired of being negative and bitter about our situation. It’s not had a good affect on any of us and I’m particularly aware that our stress could well have been taking its toll on our children.

Or I don’t know whether my mood has changed because I’m aware of just how happy Alice seems at her current school and even better, excited to be going into Year 1 in September, her confidence seems to have come on in abundance since last year.

Whilst I’m still UPSET about the initial and latest saga. Whilst I still WISH we could walk to our local school. Whilst I’m still willing to EXPLORE other possibilities that come up, and whilst I’m still SCARED about what will happen to us in 5 years’ time – being shunted to a random secondary school, I’ve decided to focus on what is important:

That Alice is in a good school

That she is thriving both in terms of her learning and education as well as her confidence and friendships.

I’m sorry for the huge rant! I realise that this post is quite selfish in that it’s cathartic; I’ve totally offloaded but I do feel strangely better for it.

If anyone has any thought or advice, I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Pink Pear Bear

Mummascribbles

Cuddle Fairy

Applying For Primary School? Read This First!

Applying For Primary School

This post is a bit of a warning blog to all those mums that have 3 or 4 year olds who are due to start primary school September 2016. You might be casually looking at primary schools before you have to submit your application in January. You might not be giving it much thought at all. I’m here to say “WAKE UP!”

The warning is this: You cannot make assumptions about receiving a place at primary schools anymore. Gone are the days when in the 80s as a child like me, you just “went to your local school.” Primary schools now have a legal limit on the amount of children they can take in Reception classes. As most parents investigating school applications know, “the rules” of who is given priority varies ever so slightly according to different county councils. Most non-church schools follow the similar process of our council (Essex) –

1) “Looked after children” are given top priority – this covers all adopted as well as fostered and children with special needs.

2) Siblings of children who are already at the school are prioritised next.

3) Finally you and your eldest child are considered, and all on the basis of who lives nearest to the school.

The reason for the warning is that there are now a higher rate of competition for school places. Higher rates of immigration, higher birth rates and the on-going housing crisis, means that there are now more families and children than there are places in schools.

Our Situation

This time last year, I was excitedly considering the school application for my eldest daughter. We live 0.3 miles and less than a 10 minute walk from our local school. All of our friends and neighbours go to this school and to be honest I was very complacent about the entire process. I naively assumed that we would get into our local school. I visited just one other school as a possible back up but didn’t give it much thought at all.

That’s why it was such a complete and utter shock when on the 16th April, the results were announced we discovered that not only had we not got into the local school but we hadn’t secured a place at any of the other 3 choices either.

I can look back now and realise that I spent the following weeks in utter shock and disbelief. I’d been severely ill just weeks before that fateful April date and to receive this news on the back of it really did hit me hard. I spent the entire summer planning the appeal and worrying about what to do but in the end nothing could be done. We’d been out-foxed by the huge number of siblings that were applying to the school that year as well as a few “looked after” children. What really affected us though was the number of new housing that had been built in our village which immediately took priority in those families gaining places to the school, as they were deemed nearer as the crow flies. The small local Victorian school was just overwhelmed by the number of people who had applied and we had to accept our unlucky fate that for the first time ever despite living so close to the school we would be allocated to a different school 2 miles away. I am now one of those mums on a school run, driving 4 times a day which I never wanted to be.

What Can You Do

  • As I’ve mentioned, a lot of this entire process is already pre-determined by factors outside of your control. I guess my warning to you is to be prepared. Go out there and look at as many schools as you can even if you THINK you have a good chance of being accepted into a certain school. Ask lots of questions including what the sibling rate of the new intake should be. Schools have a good idea about who at their school has siblings and should be able to give you a fair percentage rate. I realise now that I was never given a proper answer to this question from my preferred school. Check out this comprehensive list of other questions you can ask primary schools by Sian at The Mama Story.
  • Get a good feel for back up schools even if you do have your heart set on one particular favourite. Religious schools often have an extra set of criteria in their admission procedure. Some of them frequently take church-goers from their nearby area over siblings or distance of house to school. Is this something you would consider?
  • Find out from your local council which school is accepting the “bulge” for your intake year. We were not accepted by any of our 4 choices of school and was allocated to the school assigned for the “bulge” of which I was barely aware. Be prepared to find out what your bulge school is and investigate them as a possibility.
  • Keep your ears and eyes open. Listen to what other local people are doing and where they are going. You never know when you might rely on this information. I spent months preparing my appeal case and counted on local information to determine whether the local school had made any mistakes. (They had. Unfortunately, whilst it helped one of my neighbours in a similar position, it didn’t help me to win a place).

I hope this post hasn’t scared you off to much! As the statistics mention, over 90% of parents do gain a place at one of their 4 choice of primary schools so I think we were definitely in the minority.  7 months on from that fateful April day, I am gradually coming to terms with what has happened despite still feeling a bit rejected by our community. Whilst our eldest has had some issues with settling into “big” school, this is nothing to do with which the actual school, it’s more about her anxiety about the transition. If nothing else, I’ve been really impressed with the level of teaching and the way that the staff have eased and continue to help my daughter settle in.  Good luck!

School, Admissions, Appeal and Upset

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Last week parents across the UK woke up early in a state of nerves and anticipation to find out where their little darlings will be starting primary school in September. At 5.30am, we were among them. I’ll be honest. I was 95% certain that our daughter would be going to the local catchment school 0.3 miles away. But no, we were astounded to discover that we didn’t get any of our 4 choices. I’ve read in the paper today that apparently this only happens to 2.5% of parents, so I guess we are one of the unlucky ones. To say I was shocked was an understatement. It took a while for the complete dismay and disappointment to register before I dissolved into tears. We have been allocated to a school which I’ve barely heard of and never even given a passing thought to which is almost 2 miles away.

I spent the rest of the day in a complete daze. I spoke to some friends, most of whom were pleased with their places, but a few have been left as distraught as me.

How Could This Happen?

A week on from discovering the news and I still can’t understand how this has happened. Apparently this year has had a high sibling rate. The school gives preference to children with older siblings who are already at the school before then taking children on a distance basis using a straight line calculation for how close homes are to school. This bizarre calculation means that children who, on a walking basis, actually live further away from us have managed to secure a place despite the fact they will probably still need to drive to the school gate. A new housing estate has been built last year and yet no provision has been given for accommodating those extra children into already oversubscribed schools.

So when I read in the paper today that the head of “Commissioning Education” at our local County Council is “delighted with the result” and “…how this demonstrates a further investment in creating additional primary school places…” I practically threw the paper across the room. A year ago it would have been inconceivable for someone in walking distance to not get into their local school. Government and local councils need to wake up to the fact that they cannot continue to build new homes at such a speed without building the infrastructure and support that is desperately needed to go with it.

I suppose we are incredibly unlucky, but it doesn’t do anything to make the anger, sadness or stress subside. Since when did the entire process become so difficult and so distressing to parents? In October last year we were told to visit schools and make choices for the following year. But what is the point of that if you don’t get allocated to any of those choices?

Not What We Envisaged

Your child’s start in education is supposed to be exciting, daunting and scary. It’s THE big step and a huge milestone in their life as well as for you as a parent. It’s a vision that I’ve had in my mind for a while; we even bought the house thinking that the local school was on the doorstep. As an August baby, I know my daughter will be emotional, I know she will find the transition hard, but I envisaged being there to support her along with the friends and peers that she knows already. The vision has changed somewhat in my mind already. If we don’t get into our preferred school via the waiting list or appeal, we will have to be excited and jolly for her, but inside I’ll be livid and upset on her behalf that she will be going to a school in a strange place, miles away where she won’t know anyone.

Legal Appeal

Launching a school appeal is tough. I’ve been quoted various statistics but the bottom line is that very few people win. Preparing for the case is in itself like having a full-time job. The amount of research and reading I’ve done in just this past week is unbelievable. It’s completely consuming and I’m only now just managing to control it so that schools, appeals and the admissions process doesn’t dominate my every waking thought. The appeal document has to challenge in a legal way using certain legal criteria set out by the council. Ultimately it can’t just be an emotional heart-felt letter imploring for common sense to prevail. The stress of having to cope with this on our own with no real advice from anyone in authority is incredible. In just this week alone, I can already feel it affecting my health and causing a strain with my husband. All of this with just a 20 day deadline in which to lodge the appeal.

What Next?

Tomorrow will be interesting. We find out where we are on the waiting list for all 4 of our preferred schools. That may give me some hope or it could be just as disappointing as receiving news as last week. It’s almost too much to bear. After that, we continue to build a case for appeal. Continue to read, research and hope to find some loopholes on which to challenge this strange decision.

If I make it to September with a good outcome it will be a miracle.

Have you been affected by the schools application this year? Did you not get into your chosen school or were you, like me one of the 2.5% of parents that didn’t get any of their 4 choices? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.