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!

 

 

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What to do When You Don’t Get Your Choice of Primary School (By Someone Who Went Through This Last Year)

Primary School Results

On Monday 18th April, thousands of parents all over the UK will be waking up to discover if they have secured their choice of primary school for their child. A bit like getting exam results, some will be relieved and delighted. Others will be slightly disappointed and perhaps a small minority will be in shock, howling with complete disbelief.

This was me a year ago. My husband had checked the email very early in the morning, I had laughed when he read out the name of a school that I’d never even considered, assuming that he was joking. This soon turned to total shock. Not only had we not gained a place at our first choice of school, but we hadn’t gained a place at the other 3 choices either.

Shock, Upset and Fury

I spent the day in tears and utter shock. We live just 0.3 miles away from our first choice of primary school. It is less than a 10 minute walk away, all of our friends and neighbours who live in our nearby roads send their children to this school and I’d naively assumed that we would be joining them in sending our eldest daughter to this school too. I’d even been TELLING her about going to this school when we’d walked past it!

We bought our house expecting to walk both our children to the local school, sent both girls to the local pre-school, forged links with the local community and then we were being told that it was all for nothing and that I’d have to drive my kids 2 miles away to another school where she would know no one.

I was furious! Furious with the school, furious with the system which makes you go through a ridiculous process of listing 4 schools for nothing and unfairly furious with everyone else who had managed to get in!

WHY?

So why had this happened? What had gone so disastrously wrong that for the first time ever we had been the first family that lived so close to the school but who had not obtained a place?

  • Siblings. Children with older siblings understandably take priority for places. We had been completely unlucky in that a huge proportion of last year’s intake had older siblings.
  • Adopted Children. Whilst I agree that fostered children and children in care should definitely take priority, I don’t agree that adopted children who have permanent parents should also take priority over other children. Last year adopted twins who live 2 miles away in another village secured a place before us.
  • Housing. The biggest problem that is affecting the competitiveness for primary school places up and down the country is the development of new housing. I understand that new housing is vital, but it is being built at such speed with no real thought to the supporting infrastructure including doctors, transport and schools. I truly believe that this problem will be exacerbated every year unless something drastic is done to address the problem. Despite living in the centre of our village for 2 years, children living in houses built last year on an estate outside of the village were giving precedence for places at the school because they were classed as being nearer “as the crow flies.” Don’t even get me started on the fact that these people actually have a longer walk to the school than us, I mean who “flies” to school??!

Preparing for Primary School Appeal

What to do Next

If you find yourself in a similar position to me, there are 2 courses of action that you can take to try and obtain a place at your preferred school.

  1. Waiting List
  2. Appeal

 

  1. Waiting List
  • This is your strongest case for getting into your choice of school. When the waiting list opens, (the admissions department at your county council will tell you when this will be, you may have to wait an agonising couple of days), be sure to phone and request to be put on the waiting list for ALL of the schools that you want to be considered for.
  • You can ask to be put on the waiting list for other schools outside of your 4 options and bizarrely, you will be judged on the original criteria (i.e. siblings as a priority and then distance rather than being sent to the bottom of the waiting list).
  • Be prepared for the long haul. Phone the admissions department to find out where you stand regularly but understand that you can move DOWN as well as up the waiting list. I was near to the top of the list but to my disbelief and outrage, went down 2 places on the list when 2 other families moved into the area. This is because they either moved nearer to the school than me or had older siblings that were already at the other school.
  • You tend to remain on the waiting list until Christmas and then you have to request to stay on it. We are still on the waiting list for our preferred school.

2. Appeal

  • Let me be honest with you, very few appeals are granted. This is because councils are bound by the law to not exceed the legal class size limit which in most primary schools is 30. Some primary schools which are very old and small may have an even lower restriction. You will need to build independent appeals for each school that you want to be considered for.
  • If like me, you want to go ahead with the appeal and give your best shot at getting your preferred choice then you will need to do research. You will need to read up on all the primary school admission documents and school admissions policy legal documents in order to quote it back in your appeal. I practically turned into a solicitor last summer, spending hours reading and researching documents. You will have to submit a written document and later on, in the summer, you’ll be invited to present your case before a panel of judges as well as the school. This is scary stuff, but the judges are independent and will be looking to back the parents up.
  • There are 3 main areas in which you can appeal:

1) Legal class size limit. As mentioned above, most appeals are bound by this. But if you can show that the school hasn’t exceeded their legal class size limit or if they are capable of taking more pupils, then this is your strongest argument.

2) A mistake has been made in the application of the criteria. For this you need to know firstly what your school bases their acceptance criteria on. For example, our preferred primary school based their criteria on a) “Looked After Children” (fostered, adopted etc.) b) Children with older siblings already at the school. c) Distance to school.  Has a mistake been made? Consider how the school and council classifies distance. Our school chose as the crow flies from the school front door to the nearest point of your property. You will need to check as some schools use “safest walking distance”. Use online distance calculators to determine if other people that have been allocated a space actually live further away. Keep your ears open!  I discovered that my preferred primary school had made a mistake by accepting a family who lived further away than us because they thought they had a sibling, so the school had to admit another family from the waiting list to compensate.

3) A case for Unreasonableness or is Unfair.  You can’t just say it’s not fair that you didn’t get your local school. You need to use strong arguments for why you think it is unreasonable. A medical reason or a disability will be the strongest case. Consider also your journey to your allocated school.

Ultimately, you can do your best with the appeal but the rest of it is a waiting game.

Gosh, this has turned into a very long post and has brought back many memories from last year. It has been cathartic writing this but also got me slightly fired up again! But I hope it brings some help or comfort to anyone that is going through what we went through.

Whilst it’s very hard to do, I would say be very careful what you say and how you act in front of your child. Children do pick up on your behaviour and mood no matter how much you try to hide it from them. This can bring all sorts of problems for when your child does eventually start school in September. We spent months agonising over whether we would get into the local school, stressing about the appeal which, when combined with the devastation of losing my father-in-law, meant we had a very distraught and unhappy house over the summer. I’m sure this is the main reason why my daughter had such a hard time settling in over the autumn.

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Thankfully our daughter has now settled into school and enjoys it. I’m not sure what we would do if a place ever did come up at our local school. There would be a lot to weigh up and consider.

I’ll be thinking of all the mums and dads waiting on primary school allocations next week. I hope there aren’t too many families going through what we did. xx

 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

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