My youngest son is due to start school this September so I recently submitted my application for him to follow his elder brother to one of our local schools.
When I applied for my eldest’s school place I remember ringing the local authority. I explained that on the estate where I live some children went to school A, some went to school B. About 50/50 as far as I could tell. School B was closer as the crow flies and therefore easier to walk to, but I wouldn’t be walking, I would be driving. School A was still close, was faster to drive to and was on our routes to work. Also my eldest was at nursery close to the school so it felt like the most local school.So I asked: which do you consider to be our catchment school? The lady I spoke to would not look me up on her database and repeated it would be the closest school. I therefore applied for School A as my first choice, school B as my second choice. We got allocated School A, my eldest started there surrounded by friends from nursery. It all worked out well.
There has been a shift in catchment areas since my eldest was allocated his place which makes it clear that School B is now our catchment school. The local authority does endeavor to place children at the same school as older siblings, so even though my youngest might be treated as out-of-catchment, there’s a good chance he will follow his brother to School A.
If he doesn’t?
- We need wraparound care between 8 and 6 so that we can both work 9-5 jobs. Two schools would mean two wraparound clubs, a logistically impossible journey to both clubs, which open at 8, then onto work by 9. We struggle with time as it is, this could be impossible.
- Two schools means two school offices, two school management teams, two PTAs, two summer fetes, two increasingly complex calendars of fundraisers and non uniform days and cake sales which I already fail to keep up with.
- Obviously, when the eldest goes to secondary school it will be unavoidable to keep up with two schools, but he will be able to walk or cycle to school so the logistics will be less fraught, and we’ll just cross that bridge when we get to it.
Having my youngest at the same school as my eldest is really very important to me. This isn’t about me being a pushy parent asking for my son to be prioritised over local children, it’s about my sons going to the same good local school, giving us a chance to manage our busy family life.
I heard about the Siblings and the Same School group through facebook and learnt through them that the council was considering a super catchment model which gives them the planning tools to allocate children according to all the important criteria. I wrote to councillors and officers to support the idea, and I was recently interviewed by Central News to illustrate the issue. [Hopefully the interview will be broadcast on Monday 13th January on the 6pm Central News]. My story isn’t unusual, but I hope that telling it will help draw attention to the problem of primary school places.
For me, this is about ensuring that local authorities have the power and resources to plan. Primary school places are not a new issue, I’ve heard stories going back decades. We live on a relatively new housing estate that is still expanding, with two similar estates nearby. There have been little baby booms on each estate. No wonder it’s hard to allocate everyone their first choice. There’s no easy answer, which is precisely why schools need some central planning. And yet so much education policy is going in the opposite direction: free schools and academies reduce or remove local authority control. The relentless focus on parental “choice” undermines investment in educational infrastructure.
For me, this is about centrally-coordinated good local schools. Fingers crossed my local council will pursue the supercatchment proposal so that they can continue to help families like mine in the years to come.