One down

Yesterday we were informed that A has been allocated the same secondary school as T. Relief. As I said in Monday’s post, the 5% niggle of doubt was not to be ignored. Combined with the perennial pessimistic attitude that I seem unable to shake off (I am trying) it was a tense few hours. Thankfully, the emails arrived earlier that anticipated so the wait wasn’t too prolonged.

It appears that the initial intake this year is higher than last year. The class of 2015 had a high number of eldest/only children and it was only siblings that made it through on the first round. This year all siblings are in and a high number of eldest/onlys. It’s great that far fewer families are having to go through the agony of the wait for the first round of continued interest lists and it seems likely that most of those will be allocated a place in the first round. Last year the majority were successful in the first round and only a handful had to wait for round 2, with even less going to appeal.

It is so unfair that anyone should have to go through this. Should a small village (where there is no secondary provision) be split geographically with some children being allocated a place and others not? The issue is widespread and not just isolated to our area, but is exacerbated by our village being one of four in the local area that are vying for school places in three outstanding schools in neighbouring Harpenden, along with the children that actually live in the town itself. This causes tension with the townsfolk who believe that their children should be given preference over the village children. Social media is ablaze with virtual conversations on this topic and emotions run high. As more houses are built and more families move into the area the situation is not likely to improve in the short term. A fourth secondary school has been proposed but progress is incredibly slow and does not offer any real hope for the children in the current years 5 and 4. The alternatives are limited to a recovering school in Hemel (involving 2 buses to get there) and a very good, but not outstanding, school a long bus journey away in St Albans.

In a small village school with a year group of 30 children this is a big deal. It’s a daunting enough prospect for the children to be moving on to secondary school (to be part of a year group with the same number of children as there are in the entire school they are currently at), without the added upset of not knowing if they will be going to the same school as their friends – children they have, in most cases, grown up with and known all of their lives. They will undoubtedly make new friends and most will relish the idea of being part of something bigger – they are nearly all always ready for the move by the end of year 6 – but it’s human nature to look to the familiar in an unfamiliar situation. T has the same local group of friends that he has had since he started playgroup 11 years ago. He has made new friends but living further out of the town restricts socialising and he tends to spend his free time with his local friends. If he was at a different school to them entirely he would probably not have such a strong bond with them still.  Faced with the prospect of not being with your mates is scary stuff and probably more important to an 11 year old than whether the school you are going to is “outstanding” or “failing”. From a parents perspective, the desire to protect and provide for your child is infinite. No-one wants their child to get a sub-standard education; to travel for over an hour on two different buses to get there; or to be isolated and anxious.

Yes, we knew when we moved here (or did we? did it even register on our radar? we perhaps should have) that we were on the outskirts of the catchment area. We knew that we had paid less for our house than an equivalent one in Harpenden – hello? that’s why we moved here! we couldn’t afford to live there, full stop. But we certainly had no idea until we moved within the village 7 years ago that we had moved to the “safe” area. Were we in a ghetto before? No, just beyond the dividing line that sends some kids one way and others another. However, even the “safe” area is no longer as cosy and buffered as it was back then. It’s all baffling. It’s baffling that someone in an office somewhere decided, and was agreed with, that the village should be split in two for the purpose of secondary catchment. It is as baffling as the fact that our village children are not funded by the county council for bus transport to school but those in the other villages are. The reason I was given when I challenged this was that our nearest school is in Luton. Is that in our catchment? No. So we can’t apply for that school (not that we wanted to, but just for arguments sake)? Not really, no.Well you can but you won’t get in. So we can get funding for a bus that takes our child to a school that they can’t apply to; but we can’t get funding for the one that they are able to apply for and which other children who live just down the road are funded for? Yes, that’s correct. O-kay. As I said, baffling.

As much as we don’t have to worry about this for ourselves any more, as both children are now sorted, it doesn’t stop it being a concern. A concern for other friends. A concern for the village as a whole (and this from a very reluctant member of the “community”). In the years ahead there will be no “safe” areas and, possibly, no guaranteed sibling places. One of the schools in the Harpenden area has made moves to do away with it’s allocation of places for “village” children, putting even more pressure on the other two. The new, fourth, school is crucial and I hope that things start to get moving soon. I wish all the children going through the process this year very good luck.

Now we just have the wait to see if T’s options are what he wants. Another computer. Another lottery. At least I have the fondant icing ready for A’s cake……



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