When did it become like this? Do you remember anxiety, bated breath and crossed fingers when your parents applied for your school place? I don’t recall any of that – there was a process(probably just a chat with a nice lady at the council, back in the 80s – I’m not sure), they followed it, and I went to school.
But this weekend, parents up and down the land are waiting in unison for their big news on Monday. I am one such parent, itching to find out how the next few years – and maybe many more – of my children’s lives will be framed. I have a four year old, starting for the first time in September; and a six year old who has attended an infant school for the last three years, and who is required to move along up to a junior school. So we are bracing ourselves for the two-school-place-whammy to be socked to us, on the imposingly-titled National Offer Day of 2018.
If things really were much simpler in the old days, I think I can see a few reasons why they’ve changed so much in the last few decades.
Number 1: There is a lot more flexibility around which schools you can apply to, and be considered for; and an expectation that parents should take advantage of that. Even if you have an excellent local school, you are given four options on the application form, suggesting very strongly that you need to investigate even more than that number, before you can make a properly-informed decision about your preferred schools. Instead of simply applying for your catchment school alone, this practically forces you down the road to Number 2…
Number 2: You invest time, consideration, and even petrol and time away from work, in visiting various schools to come up with a shortlist, with your top choice at the pinnacle. You combine what you see and hear on these visits with the overall feel of the school for you; this means you now have an intelligent and emotional investment in the outcome, which makes it matter even more.
Number 3: You can’t control that outcome. You put in all that rationale and gut feel into the choosing process, identify your top school, and fill out the form. Then you have to wait for up to six months while the application window closes, and the place allocation process grinds into motion. You have had so much control over your child’s life and daily environment up to this point, and now it’s all in someone else’s hands. A particular nightmare for us control freaks.
Number 4: It’s because it’s all in someone else’s hands that the urban myths and anecdotal disasters begin to seem likely, or even inevitable. Everyone has heard about a second cousin’s friend who was allocated a place ten miles away, in a school rated Inadequate by Ofsted, requiring them to drop one child off at 8:30 and the other at 8:32. After all, mistakes have been known to happen…and if you don’t get the place you want on National Offer Day, you’ll have to appeal, won’t you? Another nightmare, but you’ll have to do it, because after all the research and emotional investment you’ve put in, you know your child can’t POSSIBLY go to any of the other options out there!
It’s a tough time. Not only do you have to face up to your baby going off to school – last baby going to school for me this time, too! – but you have all of this rollercoaster to navigate as well, to even get to that point. And reassure your children that whatever the outcome, there’s nothing to worry about (eek).
I will be on edge all day Monday, until the sound of that email dinks into my inbox; and I shall be sending out happy thoughts and good luck vibes to all those nerve-ragged, fellow control-freak parents doing the same. May we all get the news we are hoping for…