On school choices


I went to a seminar this week, hosted by Citymothers, a networking group that I belong to, and presented by Rachel Vecht of Educating Matters. I couldn’t decide if it was because I was a little hormonal, but I found the session surprising emotional and found myself quite tearful after I left. Something about the fact that Pip is no longer even a toddler and that we need to start making “proper” parenting decisions, rather than just trying not to kill or lose her, made me feel a little overwhelmed.

The session itself was very good, setting out the myriad choices, and I liked the fact that the follow up email led with the following:

“Choosing a school for your child is usually a stressful, emotional and time consuming period. It can feel frustrating because we want the very best for our children but so much of the process is beyond our control as there is so much competition for places in both the state and independent sector. Try and be clear about what suits your child and your circumstances. Don’t be too worried about what other families appear to do or not to (I know that this is easier said than done). It helps to be open minded and keep your options wide.”

We don’t have to apply until the end of this year, but that in the same breath as seeming eons away, also doesn’t seem that long. I’m just in the process of finalising my 2015 objectives at work, and not only does it not seem that long ago I did the same for 2014, we are nearing the end of Q1 and I feel like I haven’t actually done much yet. (Of course, I have, it just feels that way).

The seminar covered both state and independent options but I think unless a pressing academic need presents itself, state school will be sufficient for us. Whilst I don’t doubt there is enormous potential in having guaranteed smaller class sizes, I feel this is outweighed by the social diversity and community element of a local state school (if we get a place, that is, otherwise we might have to reconsider). I already baulk at paying for a party for her now and won’t be doing party bags; I don’t think competitive North London private school parenting is for me/us.

I think we get 6 choices for the state school process in our borough, but other parents tell me locally that it’s only worth putting down 3. Competition here is fierce; this seems to be where every professional in the city who isn’t mega wealthy, just moderately well off, comes to have a baby. Some schools have a catchment area of less than 0.3 of a mile, and some have anecdotally only had 2 non-sibling places in some intakes.

That said, I know that what we teach Pip at home matters as much, if not more, than what primary school she goes to. But already diary management is hard work, and my blood pressure levels caused by TFL delays make either end of the day the most stressful part of that. Add to that not only later drop offs and earlier pick ups once she starts school, but the stress that if she doesn’t get into the nearest school and gets randomly allocated something it will require us to buy a car in order to get her to school and suddenly school choices seem rather worrying.

The seminar also included a very helpful list of things that your child will be expected to be able to do when they start school, which included social, emotional and personal development skills, behaviour, speaking, listening, reading, numeracy and IT skills. I hope it doesn’t sound like boasting to say that I’m confident she can do most of the things on the list already, save the IT skills. Having spent the first two years of her life trying to keep her away from screens and technology, both because I wanted her to experience other things, and that she literally showed no interest in TV until one day around 2 and a half when suddenly she discovered it, I now worry she will be behind because she doesn’t know how to use an iPad. What we did to keep her quiet for the first 2.5 years, I don’t remember, but suddenly lie ins are easier as she’ll happily watch A Bugs Life either in bed next to me, or tucked up on the sofa. Hopefully though she’ll pick it up as easily as she picked up other skills.

The thing that terrified me the most about the whole thing was the idea that primary school choices can lead to secondary school choices, so, if we were to have a particular preference about a secondary school, we should factor that into our decision process now. But I don’t even know what the potential secondary options are, or even where we will be wanting to live in 10 years time, so I don’t even know if I want to be able to take it into account. I said it was terrifying, didn’t I. One false move and I may have jeopardised her university options… (again, making a huge assumption she will even want to go to tertiary education).

One step at a time, I think. (and that step, for me, is bed).



  1. Anna February 27, 2015 / 9:04 am

    Do put down all 6 choices. The LA will attempt to give you a school place that you have put down as a choice. Only using 3 choices means that if they can’t offer you a place at one of those 3 schools, they can give you a place at a school at the opposite end of the borough… They might do that anyway, but you just might as well maximise your chances of a school you want by stating you want 6 schools. We have primary place shortages here & grammar schools for secondary, argh! (PS and hello!)

  2. abigail March 1, 2015 / 4:15 pm

    Argh, we’ve just been through all of this! Sounds like you got some really good advice though. I think in reality it all goes on distance, and waiting lists. Its really tough and we’re currently awaiting the news on where we’ll get in. I think you shouldn’t worry too much about the future of secondary school, a lot can happen in that time. I feel you need to concentrate on what best suits you and her needs now and for the next few years. Thats crazy that you get 6 choices, we only got three!

  3. Lori March 2, 2015 / 9:04 pm

    I really struggled with this so I understand your anxieties around it. We had to hand our in and we find out next month! Such a stress as the one we want F to go to we’re not sure he’ll get in unless we move. I have no clue really what’s the right decision at this pont and trying to go on my gut instinct with this one.x

  4. Gill Crawshaw March 25, 2015 / 10:45 pm

    This hit me the other days too – it’s seemed so far away but we’ll have to start at least thinking about it really soon. When me moved to our new area we were told that most of the schools were good, but it’s worked out that the one we’ve moved one road away from is supposed to be very good (so people keep telling me, I still have no idea). I’m hoping that’s the one we’ll get as it’s just so close it would be ridiculous to go anywhere else.

  5. Cara March 30, 2015 / 9:25 am

    Christ. This makes me glad we’re somewhere with only one school and 15 pupils at the moment!

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