Primary school offer day 2012

13.20pm. I submitted the girls’ eApplications back in October and today, sometime after 5pm, we find out which primary school they will attend in September. Before we started this process I thought I wouldn’t be too bothered about which primary school they went to. I’ve always had half an eye on the choices (or possible lack of) they’ll have to make when the move up to secondary school. However, with a number of the friends starting prep school last September (and already appearing to be way ahead of R and G both educationally and emotionally) and the horror stories about a shortfall of places in the area last year, coupled with all those bloody people that have said ‘What will you do if they end up getting in to different schools?’ means I’ve been like this for the last few months weeks.

We applied to three schools:

1. Uber School, 800 metres away (as the crow flies), massively oversubscribed, last child to get in last year lived 280 metres away. Not getting in there, then.

2. Good School, which recently got an Outstanding OFSTED report, 100 metres away. This is the one that Dh really, really likes. If he’d done the application he would have put this one first. He didn’t, so I stupidly put Uber school first

3. The Other School, currently graded by Ofsted as Satisfactory but rapidly improving, 300 metres away. I know lots of alternative parents that have chosen to send their children there over Good School and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the girls went there, but I’m not sure it’s really me us right for the girls

I’ll be back here later with the results….

17.35pm As predicted, the girls (both) got into school no.2, so Dh looks a bit like this. I’m chuffed too, but it’s going to be a logistical nightmare as they don’t offer an after-school provision to under 6’s so we’re going to have to look at alternatives.

The deed is done…

“Online applications submitted before the portal closes on 15 January 2012 will be considered as being on time.  You will be advised of the outcome of your application by email on 18 April 2012.  We will not contact you before this date unless we require additional information”.

I have completed the eAdmissions forms for the girls (one each, of course) and now we must wait. Despite having the option to apply for six schools, I chose to put the three we’ve visited.

I put:

1. Uber school that we don’t live near enough to, but it’s worth a punt

2. Good school that we both really liked and is on the doorstep so should be the school we get

3. Fine school that we saw today that would be ok if the other two didn’t work out

Yes, I changed my mind and reversed our preferences for Uber and Good schools. So shoot me. I put a note on each of the forms stating that R was the twin sister of G (and vice versa), quoting their unique application numbers – I did G’s form first, then did R’s form quoting G’s number and edited G’s form to include R’s number) and that they must attend the same school. We want them to be in separate classes (G isn’t fussed, R wants be to with her sister), but we don’t have to worry about that until they have school places.

We’ve done all we can. Now the waiting begins.

The ‘other’ school

we had to take the girls with us. G is generally more accepting of things and masked her slight confusion with a winning smile. R was NOT HAPPY. R isn’t terribly good at hiding how she’s feeling about something (can’t imagine where she gets it from) and she let us and everyone else know how cross she was. She wasn’t openly naughty or rude, but she had, as Dh says ‘A right cob on’ and she refused to crack even the merest hit of a smile when the Head Teacher said hello to her. I thought she might relax a bit when we went into one of the reception classes and spotted one of the old Big Stars from nursery, but she buried her head in Dh’s chest and refused to engage with the process.

The school was…fine. I kind-of wished I hadn’t read the Ofsted report before we looked round but I could see why they had rated it as Satisfactory. It’s now seen as an ‘improving’ school and I suspect that in 3 or 4 years’ time when the new buildings open (it’s currently housed in a series of 1950s prefabs) it will become a good or very good school. Dh commented that the school looked ‘shabby’ and said that he felt shallow for thinking it. On one level it is shallow to judge an institution like that, but it all helps to form an opinion and is therefore valid.

The Head Teacher was probably the nicest of the three we’ve met. She was happy to answer questions on not only her school, but the whole primary schools admissions process as she had recently been through it herself. The school focuses much less on the academic/results side of things than the other two schools we’ve seen (although literacy and numeracy are, of course, central) and is very community-driven. I had heard from another parent that this school is seen as the choice for families that are not so driven by testing and results and is more ‘arty’ and ‘rounded’ – there was lots of chatter about ‘the whole person’, for example.

This September it went from a one to two-form entry school and that’s one of the drivers for the new buildings (at consultation stage, so no planning permission yet). I thought it might have smaller class sizes but apparently there are 60 children (the maximum) in reception so on that basis it’s the same as the other two schools.

I can now see why other families send their children there, but (gut feeling ahoy) it wasn’t the right school for us. When we left, we asked R and G what they thought. R was still in quiet rage mode so didn’t say anything. Dh and G had the following conversation:

Dh: Did you like the sch..?

G: (interrupting) No.

Dh: What about the…?

G: NO.

So there you have it. It’s the third choice school. Now to complete the admissions forms…

Eye of the tiger

Dh and I visited the second primary school on our list this morning. It’s the closest school to us distance-wise and has an all-round Good rating from Ofsted with an Outstanding for the curriculum. It’s our default school really, so I was hoping it would be at least as good as the school we visited two weeks ago.

There were already four or five families waiting in reception when we arrived, all of whom had blatantly ignored the ‘it’s best if you don’t bring the children with you at this stage’ speech that we were given over the phone. The girls were at nursery today anyway, so it wasn’t a problem. We were soon joined by another half-dozen families (grr).

Several of the parents already knew each other, cue lots of ‘Ooh look who it is! Fancy seeing you here!’ conversations. We recognised one of the other mums from nursery who,like us hadn’t brought her pre-school daughter along but was lugging around a nearly one year old (everyone either has babies or bumps round here- it’s most disconcerting). There was lots of chatter about other schools that people had visited.It seems that some families are travelling miles to visit schools that they can’t possibly get into unless they’re sleeping with the head teacher or donating vast sums of cash.

I digress. Dh and I really REALLY liked the school. It was better than the other school in terms of ICT provision (it has its own editing suite and recording studio!) but everything else was pretty much the same. The lady showing us round (the Liaison Officer’) had trouble dealing with such a large and demanding group of pushy parents, but she smiled resiliently throughout.

I got really hacked off towards the end when we were introduced to the school’s pastoral teacher and she explained the way in which the school deals with ‘disruptive’ pupils. In a nutshell, any child with an issue – emotional, behavioural, social – can choose to spend some time in a separate classroom to talk through the problem and find ways to deal with it.This is available to ALL children in the school, regardless of age. Dh and I thought this was a lovely idea – the child with a problem was being dealt with, and their classmates could get on with their work.

Having worked with social workers for the last five years, I know that no child is naughty without a reason. It might be problems at home, emotional difficulties, problems socialising, problems keeping up with schoolwork. There’s always an underlying cause. I was impressed that the school worked so had to tackle such issues head-on and with parental agreement.

Not everyone in the group felt the same as us. One parent referred to it as ‘the naughty room’. Another talked about ‘disruptive children’. Yet another asked if the school had a high proportion of children with ‘behavioural difficulties’. It was blatantly obvious that this was not the case,but some of the parents wouldn’t let it go. They clearly saw it as a sign of a ‘problem’ school.

After several minutes of a few parents interrogating the pastoral teacher, I’d had enough. She was in the middle of dealing with a clearly upset little girl and had very kindly agreed to talk to our group for a few minutes. Reader, I ranted. ‘NO SCHOOL IS FILLED WITH PERFECTLY BEHAVED CHILDREN. NOT ONE IN THE REAL WORLD, ANYWAY. WANT A PERFECT SCHOOL? SOD OFF AND PAY FOR PRIVATE EDUCATION!!!’ I thought I was muttering under my breath but the parent next to me (seemed nice) caught my eye and started laughing. I looked back at Dh and he grinned and rolled his eyes.

I think some of the parents in the group were antsy because the school was clearly very good and they knew that they didn’t live near enough to be guaranteed a place. We live a road over from the school and it’s 3 minutes walk to the door, so I reckon we’ll be ok. Dh and I felt rather smug as we left.

This is going to be our first choice school on the application form. Uber-school is going to be second. We’re off to visit our current third choice in a couple of weeks (we have to take the girls with us for that visit but they said that was fine) and I’m not bothering to look at the fourth choice because the receptionist there was extremely rude when I phoned up to arrange a visit ‘It’s a bit early in term – phone back in a couple of weeks’. Erm, nope. All the other schools have got their act together, why haven’t you?

I felt quite tigerish for the rest of the day. I think our cubs will do well at today’s school. I might need to kick some other parents’ asses, but they may have already decided to send their perfectly behaved children to the perfect school THAT DOESN’T EXIST. NOT EVEN IN THE FEE-PAYING SECTOR.





Nurse! The screens!

It’s official. I have Primary School Admissions Fever.

Online applications opened on the 1st September in our local authority and close in January. You can choose up to six schools for your child but in practice I think most people limit their choice to two or three.  Logic dictates that the girls will go to the very nice state primary that is one street over from our house but if I’m going to be given a choice or, at least, the illusion of choice, I want to exploit it as much as I can.

Dh can’t understand the point of all this catchment area/choice business. He grew up in a village with one primary school and one secondary school. You went there because there was nowhere else. My poor Mum and Dad purposely moved into an area which was the catchment for very well-respected middle and upper schools (different system in Bedfordshire) and my sister and I both (separately) opted to go out of catchment and attend completely different schools at both stages. Kids eh?

I have identified four schools that I want to visit before completing the application forms (two children, of course, equals two completely separate forms) and we visited one of them this morning.

The school is about 10 minutes’ walk from our house and has an Ofsted rating of Outstanding. For everything. I was fascinated to see what a really excellent school was like and I dragged Dh along for the ride. I’m such a Margot that I made him dress up for the occasion in a shirt and tie. I felt slightly guilty when several other parents turned up for the tour in jeans and t-shirts. I’m a cruel wife.

Anyway, the school was fabulous and when we left I wept silent tears of rage that we don’t live on the same street as the school so would have the best chance of getting in. I have already heard tales of children that lived 180 metres(!) from the school and didn’t get in. It’s THAT good. We don’t have a hope in hell.

I’ve been trying to analyse exactly what made it so brilliant (Ofsted aside) and it was the wealth of opportunities that they gave the children and the commitment that the staff displayed to their work. The school is absolutely obsessed with reading (and literacy generally) and every classroom was filled with books. The Year 3 and 4 children (after Reception they mix the year groups up so 1 and 2 are together, etc.) are doing World War 2 this term so the classroom was decorated with propaganda posters and you had to walk through a camouflage net to enter the classroom. I had to restrain myself from sitting down and joining in with the class! Another class was learning about the solar system so their classroom was decorated with space paraphernalia. Each child is given the opportunity to play a musical instrument and there is a dedicated music teacher. There is apparently a waiting list for piano lessons. When Dh heard this I caught his eye and could see him mentally ticking off the middle class clichés in his head. They have an arts festival each May/June in which external experts are invited in to teach the children different skills. I was impressed that the Head Teacher knew the name of each child we came across. There was a real community feel to the school. It felt like a private school but with an inclusive state ethos.

In short, it was perfect. The school even managed to soften Dh’s rather cynical view of the whole process. We walked to the station ( so I could go to work) and he said, rather sadly: ‘I want to go there and learn about space stuff and play the guitar’.

The only thing that struck me as odd was the lack of uniform. I spent my entire school life wearing a uniform and it was bizarre to see school children in a learning environment wearing Converse and leggings. It reminded me of ‘Mufti’ (non-uniform) Day when I was at school, only it’s every day for them. I asked the Headmistress about it and she said it was a deliberate policy and the children really liked it.

We’re off to visit the school nearest to us in a couple of weeks. It has a Good Ofsted rating and I’m sure it’ll be great. I just got a tingly feeling when I walked round today’s  school and the other ones on our list are going to have to be bloody amazing to live up to its high standards. Putting my sensible head on, I know the girls won’t get into today’s school. There’s no harm in taking a punt though.