London Schooling – Educating E

I don’t want to write this blog post.

I want to put my fingers in my ears and shout LaLaLaLaLa until it all goes away (I appreciate this isn’t a very mature response).
My little girl only had her third birthday two months ago, but two months ago it was August so we must now start the process of “choosing” which school she will be starting in less than a year.

Despite being summer born, it’s very unlikely that she’ll be the smallest kid in her year and I’m fairly happy that she’ll be ready for it. I’m just not sure that I will!

But emotional trauma aside, the process of choosing a school is far from simple. As a friend pointed out on facebook “this is the advantage of living in a village”. That should perhaps be followed by “with a good school” but of course that sort of thing can be planned (and paid for) when moving to said village. Those of us still in the big smoke face a bit more of a challenge. Even though London schools are now rated the best in the country you can never guarantee you’ll get into the one you want. There are 17 state primary schools within a 1 mile radius of our house, this isn’t because we planned to move to an educational hotspot, it’s just like that in London, there are lots of schools and lots of kids and our chances of getting into all but perhaps two of the 17 are very small indeed.

So here’s how the admissions procedure plays out in Southwark:
1- Parents put down up to six schools in order of preference
2-The schools (who don’t know preferences) rank every child who applies according to their admissions criteria*
3-The council put these two lists together and then:

  • If your number 1 school has 30 places and ranks you number 29 you get in there. 
  • If it ranks you 31 and your second choice school (also with 30 places) ranks you 29, you get the second choice school. 
  • Unless four kids at the first choice school already got places somewhere else, then you get       bumped back up to 27 there and get the first choice again, and so on down the list. 
  • If you don’t get a place at any of your chosen schools you are assigned to somewhere else in the borough, or if you’re really unlucky, you’re not put anywhere at all.

4- Parents are informed of the school they have been allocated
5- Parents have a massive panic, followed by a jolly good moan about how unfair it all is on the East Dulwich Forum
6- Parents accept offers, reject offers, join waiting lists at other schools, go private, shout at local councillors, move house, move out of London, set up home schools, set up free schools, moan about it again on the EDF, slay a dragon and win the tri-wizard tournament.
7- Somehow, most kids end up with a school, somewhere.

Oh and then there is the wild card – the bulge class.

There aren’t actually enough permanent primary school places in Southwark for the number of children who want them. So each year the council pick a few schools to take extra kids. This means a one form entry school that normally takes 30 kids, suddenly takes 45 or 60, just for one year.

Good news if you wanted to get into that school but live just too far away, less good if you’d paid a 70k premium to live opposite the gates of the lovely primary with the big playground, only to find that playground now full of portacabins. Or worse still, that you now can’t get a place at all because the bulge was two years ago, and with only the normal 30 slots available this year, they’ve all gone to siblings of the bulge class.

Phew – does that all make sense? I’m not entirely sure it does, but as of this morning we are part of the process, we attended our first school open day. It was one of the two we stand a good chance of getting into and it seemed nice but how to tell? I’ve not been in a primary school since I was a pupil at one. This place has computers and interactive whiteboards, every child learns to play an instrument and the lunch menu contains actual fruit. It’s very different from the tinned spag bol and one slightly prone to exploding BBC computer of my old primary, but as this is the first place we’ve seen I have no idea if what looks flashy and new to me is actually standard issue these days, and that’s before we  get onto mind-boggling things like what system they use to teach phonics, their value added score or latest Key stage 2 results. Gah!

But we still have seven more schools to look at before we make our list and fortunately my husband does know all about white boards and phonics and er stuff and isn’t afraid to corner an unsuspecting head teacher in the corridor and quiz her about them (at least if today is anything to go by).

So perhaps I could just stick my fingers in my ears and leave it all up to him instead? Maybe? Just a little bit?


*Admissions criteria can vary between schools but generally first priority goes to children with statements of special needs, then those in care, then siblings of children already at the school. After that the faith schools can chuck in their religious quota then in goes on distance. In most places, including Southwark, catchment areas don’t exist, it’s normally straight line distance to your house and the furthest away child that gets in can vary a lot year to year.  Last year for one local school the furthest away child lived 191 meters from the school gate.

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