What Can You Do If Your Child Misses Out On A Primary School Place?

The evening before the primary school admissions were announced I posted on Facebook that the process was like the tombola at your village fete. Except that the prize wasn’t a Dundee cake or a box of Matchmakers. It was your child’s future.

Well the next day we discovered that we’d pulled out a losing ticket and I wished I hadn’t been so flippant.

My son was not allocated a place at our first choice school. Or the second. Or the third or the fourth. Admittedly the fourth choice was something of a wild card, given that it was two miles away. My initial reaction was shock. Followed by a biting sense that at the first opportunity to fail my son I had done so. Perhaps I had been blasé, perhaps I hadn’t been duly diligent in helping my wife make the selection.

Our first choice is around 500 yards from our house and is the school which adjoins the pre-school that my son currently attends. We looked back at previous intakes and reckoned he’d have been admitted four out of the five last years. It seemed like a relatively safe bet. And anyway our second choice provided an attractive contingency. I was feeling quite smug.

But we played the odds and lost, knackered by the unfortunate geography of it. The school he was given was undersubscribed, which told us everything we needed to know about it. At first I was incensed by the arbitrariness of the allocation, the sort of ‘tape measure says no’ culture of it. Apparently the distance is measured from the front door of the home to the front gate as the crow flies, although as far as I’m aware no crows actually applied for a place this year.

Of course the process has to be arbitrary. It is not left open to interpretation or nuance and emotional pleas or appeals can be waved away with the swipe of a ruler. In a sense there isn’t anything you can do to change the situation but as nonsensical as it sounds, I would suggest do something. It may be an act of self-delusion but both my wife and I felt comforted by being pro-active.

We rang the council to confirm the next steps and important dates. We made sure we were on all the waiting lists for our original choices. We contacted the offices of those schools, not because we can exert any influence on their decision-making but more in the pursuit of information, a notion of where we stand. I’ve taken odd pleasure in the detective work involved, sniffing around like Columbo.

We sat down and looked at private school options and worked out how many internal organs we’d need to sell to finance it. Kindly grandparents have offered to take up their cudgels in the fight, wherever that fight needed to be fought. We accepted the place at the school he’s been offered, in spite of our misgivings. It is important to do this. It’s very easy with a few rash, angry clicks to reject that place and catapult your child out of the school system entirely, only to have to slink back to the end of the queue later.

Among the other more unviable options that were mooted were to for me to quit my current job, train as a teacher and apply for a vacancy at our preferred school. Or temporarily move the family to live in the caretaker’s hut and put us at the top of the waiting list. Or reduce the distance by bricking up the front door and pretending that the back door has been our front door all along.

Perhaps the flippancy is a coping mechanism.

Any good?

I Am In Real Need Of An Education Into Education

The time has come to select our preferred primary school for the Major. I have dreaded this decision for some time and there are three reasons why. Firstly and fundamentally because I have a heavy sense that for the first time we are allowing him out of our grasp a little.

The Spartans of ancient Greece sent their children to military school aged six, where their teachers prepared them for the basic shitness of life by not feeding or clothing them. The children were encouraged instead to steal their essentials, but were also beaten if they were caught.

The Spartan education authority was clearly run by fucking wallies and bears no comparison to today, but I am weighed down by the feeling that we are now lashing the Major to life’s mast to be bashed by the winds and rains of human existence. Left to face real issues like being misunderstood or underestimated by your seniors or being ostracised by your peers.

Secondly because I am nervous that a misstep in our decision-making here has a serious material effect on the Major’s happiness. I have been told that we should listen to our gut when evaluating schools. But my gut has only really contacted me when I’ve put too much rich food in it. We’ve never discussed education. And so I don’t trust it as an advisor.

I have therefore composed my thoughts on our choices based on two factors: proximity and Ofsted findings. We are very fortunate that our closest school has been given the thumbs-up from the Ofsted bods. So in truth I had already made my mind up before we visited, although my wife still wanted her gut to have a look around.

I was impressed immediately, largely by the vivid gallery of art on the walls and the ginormous flat-screen television fixed to the wall of the school-hall. It’s this kind of stupid detail that influences me. My own primary education does not form a satisfactory basis for comparison. The first school I went to consisted of 23 pupils in one room, overseen by a headmaster who later turned out to be a paedophile. The school closed down with a year of me being there.

The third and most feared reason is that our choice may not be a choice at all, given that we are beholden to the swelling and shrinking of the school catchment area. Sometimes it feels like we’re tying the Major’s name to a balloon, releasing it and educating him wherever it drifts off to. We don’t know what will happen. There is no red dotted line on the pavement to denote the catchment area.

We’ve heard the stories. The families that have tried to game the system by renting near the school only to find that the catchment area has ebbed away from them like the tide. The sad people who moved to the road adjoining the back of their preferred school only to find that the centre of the catchment area was measured from the school gates at the front, and they were cast out. Or the bizarre influx of twins in one year that froze anyone else outside of spitting distance of the school.

Oh I don’t know. All we can really do is to be a robust mast and make sure we’ve lashed the Major tightly to us.

Any good?

Handing Your Child Over to Near Strangers at Nursery is Difficult Obviously

There is a roundabout near where we live that has become a point of reckoning for the Major. Turn right at the roundabout and the road leads to his grandparents’ home: land of love, nurture and malted milk biscuits. Go in the opposite direction and there lies his nursery.

The Major is now intuitive to the significance of this intersection and his tension can be felt wafting through from the backseat as we approach. And when the car noses ominously to the left the screaming begins, underscored by the clacking beat of the indicator signal.

The first time I dropped the Major at nursery he protested in the most ferocious terms, unleashing a meltdown of terrifying intensity. At least I was terrified. The nursery staff presumably are battle-hardened to these kinds of explosions and his classmates only looked up briefly from their Rice Krispies before balefully chowing back down.

Each grim little finger had to be prised off individually by the nursery staff until the lapels of my coat were as shredded as my nerves. As I drove off I was filled with an onerous sense of having abandoned my own child, but consoled myself that the process would naturally become less taxing for all. But after two and half years it hasn’t.

Every time I leave him and escape from his room I can hear his yelps bouncing around the nursery corridors like a haunted mental asylum. His nurses have hit upon a tactic of carrying him to the nearest window to watch me walk to my car. I haven’t yet fathomed the reasoning behind this except to confirm to the Major that I am indeed deserting him and to confirm to me that the Major is still crying.

We introduced a reward scheme which incentivised the Major not to cry in return for Kinder Eggs. But this promise didn’t work. In fact the sight of Major sort of physically suppressing his tears down under his rib cage in a pitiful quest for chocolate even more upsetting. The Kinder Eggs went off a few months ago so obviously I had to eat them all, the small pile of unopened prize capsules a depressing visual reminder of the failed ruse.

Perversely the easier days are when the Major wakes up truculently and refuses to work with us on any level, requiring actual contorting into his clothes. On these mornings it’s a relief to hand him over, like passing on a peculiarly uncooperative relay baton.

In fairness to Major the nursery doesn’t offer an enticing proposition. It’s full of sad-eyed dolls and ancient fusty teddies. The walls are plain and often when the nurses are late switching on the energy-saving lightbulbs it more resembles a medieval dungeon. It’s regularly understaffed meaning that I’ve often presented the Major to a solitary harassed carer in the midst of a Rice Krispie distribution nightmare.

State of the art
State of the art doll technology

The nursery is owned by a holding company based in the US. A Google query reveals a very healthy share price, a nod to the fact that the Major’s caregivers are being run for profit and perhaps investment in the nursery isn’t as forthcoming as we’d like. It’s a concern that has been corroborated by a few of the less discrete nurses. There are no market forces at work here, no means of exercising consumer choice. We are beholden to our postcode; my wife looked at an alternative nursery nearby that boasted something called a dedicated sleeping room for babies, which turned out to be a cupboard.

We have removed the Major from his nursery. We are extremely fortunate to be able to fund a nanny for two days a week and a sainted granny who can pick up most of the slack in the mean time. We just have to find a nanny now, the mostly likely source currently is one dangling from an umbrella on the East Wind. I’m aware that this is an obnoxiously middle-class problem to have, but a problem nevertheless. And at least we’re turning right at the moment.

Any good?